The holidays can be stressful enough as it is, but then figuring out how to navigate a feast when you’re dealing with dietary struggles and restrictions? Yeah, not exactly a cake walk.

Well, it can be, when you have the right tools. But if this is your first (or hey maybe even second or third!) time going into the holidays on a specific diet that you need to follow, you might be freaking out. The holidays aren’t exactly naturally geared towards the Paleo eaters, nor vegans, nor gluten-free foodies, etc. 

Not only that, but now you have to deal with people’s commentary on your dietary changes and choices?! We know. It’s frustrating, overwhelming, and you might even feel like skipping it all together.

But with these tips, you don’t have to. You can enjoy the holidays just as much as anyone else! So read along, take what resonates with you, and go forth with confidence into the holiday season (and hopefully some more peace of mind!).

  1. Remain calm.

These are the holidays, remember? You’re supposed to have fun! Nowadays, we’ve added a lot of unnecessary stress. The last thing you need to be worrying about is someone commentating on your diet or whether or not you’re going to be able to eat anything.

So take a deep breath. It’s all going to be okay. It doesn’t have to inherently be difficult! And adding stress to your plate (so to speak) won’t make anything better. If you or a loved one have some dietary restrictions, it can always be solved and in a way that’s enjoyable and beneficial to everyone, including you. 

Try not to allow anxiety to build up leading to the event, whether that’s Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, a holiday party, etc. What helps relieve some anxiety is going in with a plan, which is what we’ll talk about here. But leading up to the feast, make sure you’re doing things that help ease your stress, such as these ideas:

  • Get outside for some fresh air
  • Move in a way that feels good to you
  • Eat foods that you enjoy and that make you feel good
  • Connect with friends and family that leave you feeling full of joy rather than depleated
  • Practice meditation
  • Organize your space

These activities will just help you go into these sometimes difficult situations with an open mind! Because if you’re expecting an open mind from someone, you need to also demonstrate that 😉 

2. Listen with open ears.

Open mind and open ears go hand in hand. If you’re at a party and someone makes a comment, try not to be quick to defend or interject. If a concerned family member is urging you to try their green bean casserole, but your doctor has advised you absolutely no dairy, allow them to be heard. 

No one likes to feel like they aren’t heard, and I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with the feeling. Something I always like to practice- this is going back to our kindergarten days- is treat others the way you want to be treated. They might not show you the same respect back, but at least you’ve set the example, and it absolutely will make it’s way back to you. 

So allow your family member to say their piece. Recognize that they just might not get it because they don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, and that’s okay. They don’t need to get it in order for you to enjoy your life and have a good time. They can have their own stories, while you can live your truth. It won’t do you any harm!

3. Explain yourself with a smile!

Now that you’ve allowed your family member to say their piece, you can absolutely explain why, as much as you’d like to try this family recipe, you unfortunately can’t and state a brief reason why. You don’t need to launch into several reasons why you can’t have it (hey, maybe you just don’t want it either!), so keep it brief at first. If they’re genuinely interested, go ahead and share more!

Just keep in mind that some people aren’t receptive to the long-form reasoning behind why you are choosing to eat the way you eat, even if they’re curious. And that’s okay! Not everyone will be open minded. But it will be better for you to remain open minded, at the very least for peace of mind. 

4. Accept that you can’t control how people react.

Life is a lot easier when we accept that no matter what, we will never be able to control how people react. Take a deep breath here because I know how annoying it is that Great Aunt Betty is very stuck in her ways. 

And you, allowing yourself to be hurt by someone else’s reaction, is unnecessary, and sometimes excruciating, mental suffering. So take a deep breath and realize what you can control: your next reaction, or better yet, your response. Some family members try to push our buttons, whether they make fun of your diet or say what you eat is weird (trust us, we’ve heard it all!), but just because they make the effort to doesn’t mean we have to allow it to disturb our mental peace. 

If it’s getting to be too much though, you always have permission to excuse yourself from the conversation. We don’t expect you to just grin and bear it, especially is someone is being persistent. Take a few moments to gather your composure, a deep breath always helps, and calm down before re-entering the party.

The next time someone reacts in a not-so-great-way to how you’re eating, remember this: isn’t it funny how worked up people get over someone else’s diet? How odd, right?! Keep that in mind and hopefully it will bring a smile to your face while someone else’s tail feathers are getting ruffled- but not your own!

5. Bring something that you’ll enjoy and can share with everyone else.

Saving the best tip for last. The best way to integrate your diet seamlessly into the holiday feast is by bringing a dish (or two!) to share with everyone. We always recommend bringing a few because naturally, you don’t want to be only eating one thing at the party! 

It may sound like a lot of work, but you can also enlist the help of trusted family members to help you. Sometimes we get lucky, and the host will graciously extend to have something prepared for you so that you don’t have to sweat what the heck you’re going to eat! But that doesn’t always happen, so we recommend making sure that you have a few options. Choose two easy put-together dishes and one that you absolutely love. That way, you won’t be hoarding what you made, scared you’ll be leaving starving, and you’ll actually get a few different flavors in there!

Stumped on what to make? We have a round-up post of Thanksgiving and holiday dishes from all diets: Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free! Be sure to check that out for not only side dishes and mains, but desserts too! 

Also remember that if you don’t have to follow a diet so strictly all the time (i.e. it’s not an allergy nor prescribed by a doctor or a lifestyle choice), then it’s okay to go easy on yourself. Not everything has to be perfectly Paleo if it doesn’t need to be, nor completely dairy free, gluten free, etc. And if it’s causing you more stress to restrict when you don’t need to, then allow yourself to have a bit of your favorites! It is the holidays, afterall!

Most importantly, remember to breathe and have fun. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed. Don’t take yourself too seriously and know that it’s all going to work out in the way that it should. And now you’ll have a plan to help you actually relax during this time of year!

Happy holidays!