Holiday Hacks, Part 2:  Eat Well


We're studying about staying well this holiday season, and our first session was "BE well."  Next up is "EAT well." Not my favorite topic when there's delicious food all around, but one we definitely should look at. So, let's dig in!

It’s hard not to misbehave during the holidays. All that delicious food… and so much of it… different varieties… in such indulgent abundance... we just have to have a little bit of it all, right??? And before we know it, we’ve over-eaten, over-indulged, and are in over-drive pain because of it. For chronic pain sufferers, eating well really isn't about weight control, though that's definitely a part of eating healthy. For us, it's pain control. We just want to enjoy a little eating and still be able to move, right?

Almost anyone who understands even a little about the term “healthy” knows that what we eat is extremely important to our overall health. We are what we eat. Trash in, trash out. Food is our first medicine. All of these phrases and more, right? But talking the talk and walking the walk are two totally different things! It’s pretty easy to talk about all the healthy things we should do regarding our diets and the food we put in to our trap.  But it's realllllly hard to walk out eating healthy with that cheeseball and crackers on the table… and that yummy gravy… and the dressing... and the sweets – have mercy!

Some foods are huge triggers for inflammation and pain. CDP's are keenly aware of the pain, fatigue and malaise that can follow ingestion of certain foods. So, what do we do?

Naturally, we can do the obvious and simply resist. That is the healthiest thing to do. This #duh moment doesn't take a PhD in biochemistry, right?? But if you’re like me, there’s nothing “simple” about resisting good food. EsPECially when it's on the table right in front of us. In copious amounts!! And at the holidays, we're supposed to eat, right? The yummy taste, Grandma making her famous pecan pie, the huge, huge spread on the family table… it’s Christmas, for Heaven’s sake. Pig out!

And so, we do. It’s just one season of the year and some indulgences are worth it. Making memories, having fun cooking in the kitchen, tasting Grandma’s pie or cobbler – family traditions are beautiful. So, have that piece of pie. Have seconds on the turkey and dressing. Enjoy every single minute of it. Just remember a few tips to help us get close to the cliff’s end without going totally over the side.

Make eating decisions ahead of time

This is a good idea, whether it’s eating at the holidays, a work party, or some other important event. Kind of like dating in the early years, some decisions just ought to be made before we even leave the house. We're less apt to get in to trouble that way! If we make food decisions on the spot, staring at the yummy food – and lots of it! – we’re more apt to make poor decisions. Not just the amount of food, but types of foods that aren’t good for us. Sugar is a particularly inflammatory food, so definitely limit the intake. But decide how you'll do this before you even leave the house. Or before you start cooking at your own house. Any of these things – decided ahead of time – can help us limit the amount of over-indulgence we enjoy this holiday season, helping us avoid a crash and pain flare, especially in the moment.

Bookend the holidays with a week of really clean eating

Get in front of the 8-ball on this one, and try really, really hard to stay there. Gain some “cheat points” by going really, really clean before and after the holidays. Be decisive that the way we’re eating through the holidays is absolutely not acceptable outside a few holiday meals and Christmas goodies. Stick to this. Plan for a few cheats because we’ve gained some points to spend with pretty strict clean eating on either side of the Christmastime calendar. Any time we can take a gain-some-ground-ahead-of-time approach, whether eating or other things along this chronic journey, grab the opportunity. If you end up not spending the points, then that's just the better. Fighting the chronic life is hard enough on its own. Chasing our tails because we're always behind the 8-ball is just exhausting. Bookending around holiday eating is smart, relatively simple, and will save us some energy down the road.

Have an answer ready for Grandma

There's nothing more fun than family memories in the kitchen, or Christmas dinners near the fireplace. The moment will happen, most surely, when a family member will want you to do a taste test, or two, or three, or ten, and whoever brought the yummy treats will definitely want you to eat a nice-sized helping! So, ahead of time, have an answer ready. Maybe "Thanks, but I'm really watching it this year," or, "I'm cutting back but I could do one or two bites," or some other ready-beforehand answer will do the trick. Don't hurt Grandma's feelings, but feel free to set your own boundaries and guardrails. Especially if you have one of the invisible illnesses, you won't look sick, so unless you say something, others won't think about how food interacts with our illness. Having a nice, gentle answer ready can eliminate on-the-spot concessions that will trigger pain symptoms with the pain of hurt feelings.

Movement and Exercise

It seems so counter-intuitive to move and exercise when we hurt, but moving is one of the best things we can do to alleviate pain, whether we’re stuffed from holiday eating, or hungry because we tried to eat just the salad for lunch. Sometimes I prefer to just call it "movement" because it's less of an obligation and sounds more palatable, more achievable in my head. My husband jokes that "exercise" is a bad word in our house, haha. Movement and exercise will make us feel better, lift our mood, and move things on through, if you know what I mean. So really, exercise is all about the “mooooving…” move our bodies, move our food, move, move, move. It's just a good thing, all the way around. I read earlier today that sitting is the new smoking in terms of dangerous to our bodies. It's true! Many times we make the mistake of thinking that unless we’re doing some sophisticated hour-long workout at the Y, then it doesn’t count as exercise. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Any movement is better than none, and full workouts are always great if you feel like it. But truth is, we don’t always feel like it. There are some simple things we can do to move more than we are currently moving. Bite the bullet on this one and just do it. I promise, you’ll thank me for it later.

Make Healthy Trade-off’s

Just like in relationships with people, our relationship with food and healthy eating habits are all about trade-off’s. Give-and-take. I’m not a proponent of the all-or-nothing diets like the no-carb ones, because often it just gets old and we cave in. Then it’s all-out stuff-your-face time, and that’s just counter-productive to what we’re trying to achieve. But trade-off’s, we can all do some of that. Below I list a few thoughts for healthy trade-off’s in our holiday eating.

Put the end in sight - be a stickler for this

We’re probably all familiar with the concept of having an end in sight when we’re going through a tough season. Problems. Struggles. "This, too, shall pass." We hang on to the comfort that at least, there’s an end in sight, it won't last forever. Putting an end in sight to our holiday eat season is a good idea, too. In fact, this really is a must-have. So have a piece of pie, have seconds on Christmas day lunch, but do so with the knowledge that there’s an end. It won't last forever. You’re just giving yourself permission to indulge a little for, say… the week of Christmas. Or between Christmas and New Year’s, but nothing else. Or some other small amount of time. Then, it’s right back to healthy eating. Circle it on the calendar. Set a calendar reminder in your phone. Go ahead and plan out the first two weeks of the next chapter – salads, soups, low-fat meats or fresh vegetables, or whatever your diet plan is. Mine will be very much Paleo of some sort, and I know it will kick in on January 2. That gives me New Year’s Day to enjoy some yummy treats, watch some football, celebrate the new year coming in, and spend time with family and friends. Then, it’s back to the grind. Back to normal. Routine. Here’s the trick – stick to it. Be a stickler. No compromises. Not even one. Not until, say, February, and then you can have one, small indulgence, like a cookie from ChickFilA.

Everyone’s illness is different, and always, always check with your doctor regarding diet changes, implementing a new diet, exercising, etc. Definitely listen to your doctor and to your body. If you feel bad after eating a certain treat, or if your stomach starts to feel off, or something just doesn’t sit right, then don’t eat it. Keep the probiotics handy, and keep things “moving” on through, whether it’s exercise, some fiber-type assistance, or whatever is needed so the plumbing doesn’t get stopped up.  (Our non-AI friends will think I’ve lost my mind talking about this, but my Rheumies and Sjs CDP’s will absolutely appreciate my point on this one).

Here are some helpful holiday hacks to keep us in check for holiday eating, while still enjoy some yummy goodies!

Agree that some limiting is probably a good idea; for example, limit the number of foods, limit portions (at least for some foods), limit seconds and thirds down to just a few seconds this year. 

 Limit meats, as they sit heavy, and especially processed meats. Choose ham or turkey, but not both.

⇒ Eat left-over turkey sandwiches wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of bread.

 Eat a small serving of something healthy before you leave the house headed to your party. Fruit, salad, almonds - there are many healthy choices. Eating a little something will curb your appetite and help you eat less of the "bad" stuff that tastes so good

⇒ If you're hosting the meal, make sure there are some healthy items to choose from. Instead of having desserts that are all sugar-based, have some alternatives, like fruit and yogurt dip. Or apples and almond butter.

Choose roasted or baked sweet potatoes over loaded white potatoes this year, or 1/3 serving of each, but not full servings or seconds of either

 One dessert this year; or a half-helping of one dessert with a tiny taste of another

 Trade rolls and dressing this year for an extra, small dessert helping

 Instead of all 6 side dishes, choose 1 healthy and 1 indulgence, skip the rest  

 Eat earlier in the day, Christmas lunch instead of supper; small snack (only) after 5 pm

 Limit alcohol intake. Lots of calories here

 Use celery or carrots with dips instead of crackers

 Make dips with yogurt instead of sour cream

 Skip processed anything – make it all from scratch

 Eat cranberry relish instead of traditional/jellied cranberry sauce

 Decrease your first portion sizes by 30% and enjoy a small round of seconds

 Resist the urge to use the huge cardboard or plastic plates; use regular- or smaller-sized

 When watching TV, walk around the house inside or out during commercials

 Dance or do some squats when you have short breaks in the kitchen

 Stand on one leg while stirring pots on the stove; this is balance work and gets the muscles moving

 Move up/down on toes while stirring posts or during TV commercials - it's a great calf muscle workout

 Lift/move dishes one at the time and make multiple trips from the kitchen to the table or living room. This is great for walking step counters. I've managed 2 miles in a day doing this little trick.


 What holiday eating hacks are you using this season? Share your ideas in the comments below!  ⇐ ⇐ 


Merry Christmas, everyone - 

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