In Part 1 of our holiday series, we talked about large family meals like on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day and how it may be worth it to liberalize some things but to still remain gluten free if you’ve been previously eating this way. Secondly, it is worth continuing to limit sugar since the “holiday season” can be a good two months or more which can really take it’s toll on gut health and immunity.
Often, it is the emotional or memory connection to certain foods and smells that drive us to over-emphasize their importance during the holidays. Some of you may not have strong emotional connections to foods around the holidays. There may not be a “grandma’s” this or a “mom’s famous” that, but for a lot of people, holidays are times when childhood memories, deep connection to family, history, and nostalgia kick in. This can make food choices not only more difficult but laden with deep feelings that aren’t there in the day to day of living, working, and eating.
Growing up, my favorite book at Christmas time was The Sweet Smells of Christmas – a scratch and sniff book remembering peppermint, gingerbread cookies, evergreen, and hot cocoa. We read this so much my mom actually got essential oils of all the smells so we could keep reading and smelling over the years. It’s the first book I bought my niece when she was born. Those smells mean Christmas to us. It’s scientifically proven that the olfactory (smell) system in the body is connected to the amygdala (emotion center in the brain) AND the hippocampus (memory center in the brain). A couple interesting articles here and here. These are real connections.
My husband’s family always decorated Christmas cookies at Grandma’s house. That time makes up some of his deepest and fondest memories of his family… one of those times when “all was well” with the world. I believe traditions and memories around the holidays are important, but when navigating food sensitivities or special needs diets/restrictions it can be difficult to create the memories without additional stress.
Around the holidays it is important to take a step back and disconnect from emotions embedded in memories, traditions and even smells that might lead us down convincing pathways suggesting that Thanksgiving/Christmas won’t be so without <insert favorite food> when that food will be disruptive to the healing journey with which you’ve had great success. The truth is, those memories are embedded in the connection with the people, not the food – even if the smell brings back the memory. If it’s Grandma’s homemade rolls, then take some time to connect with Grandma herself. If Grandma isn’t there to celebrate, spend some time remembering her as part of the meal. In the past, remembering my Poppy’s love of Dr. Pepper made me go to the garage fridge at Grandma’s house and drink one, even though I couldn’t care less about Dr. Pepper in any other circumstance. Now, I can step back and remember how fun it was as a kid to stop at the corner store with him to get a Dr. Pepper after we’d been out to feed the cattle but the Dr. Pepper isn’t necessary.
When we recognize the emotion, memory or person behind the food connection, we can then disconnect from the food and still hold tightly to the traditions and memories that surround the holiday season. In this regard, we get to “have our cake and eat it too,” or more appropriately, have our health and memories too.
You can create new traditions and vibrant deep memories around the holidays with your family even if the long-standing tradition gets tweaked a bit. For example, if decorating Christmas cookies is an annual event in your family like ours, then make gluten free cookie dough using quality ingredients and consider making a limited amount of cookies so the time spent together as a family can take priority over the massive amount of cookies and sugar high.
Have high protein, low sugar snacks/foods available during the event, and consider making some cookies to enjoy and some cookies to share where the event can be less focused on the cookie and focused on giving something to someone else.
A special night of Christmas books, tree decorating and family connection can still happen with a special bread like this one from PaleOMG (writing can be crass, but recipe is stellar). What if the foods your kids grew up looking forward to around the holidays were full of rich, nourishing, clean ingredients? How beautiful to pass on such traditions to the generations to come.
Be empowered to improve the family traditions surrounding food and don’t let the pressures of the past stop you from embracing new recipes, new traditions and new meal ideas at your holiday table.
If there’s one thing that I hope gets communicated through this series, it is that I hope you can eat well, eat clean and focus on the people around you rather than being hyper-focused on the food. It’s a balance and a dance and process for most, but shouldn’t rule our holiday season.
Here are some Paleo* holiday recipe resources for your cooking pleasure:
– Everyday Paleo’s holiday meal with recipes
– PaleOMG Chai Pumpkin Bread (had this last week and it is fabulous!)
*I chose Paleo recipes because they will automatically be gluten, dairy, and soy free. It simply takes the guesswork out having to adapt recipes and doesn’t use processed gluten free products. This can make your holiday meals deeply nourishing for body and soul.