If you are on an elimination diet for your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other autoimmune disease, the holidays might be a source of serious anxiety. Sticking to a specialized diet can be enough of a challenge on a normal day. When we add in travel, unfamiliar restaurants and grocery stores, family events and social outings, the challenge — and potential consequences — can seem insurmountable. However, with some good planning you can not only survive but thrive during the holiday season.
Below are time-tested suggestions to help you navigate the holidays with ease when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other autoimmune disease.
Look at your holiday schedule to see which events or plans pose challenges. Write them down and plan out what you need to do to avoid pitfalls.
Travel. Whether you drive or fly to see family and friends, plan ahead for your food options.
Airlines allow you to bring pre-made food even if it’s in a soft-sided cooler pack.
However, airlines won’t allow you to carry on any items in glass jars so make sure your pre-made items are canned or in a box.
If you are unsure about what you can bring on a plane each airline has a webpage where the food rules are listed.
Easy items to bring on the airplane or in the car include:
- Canned fish
- Protein bars
- Dried fruit (but not too much!)
- Coconut butter packets (not in a jar)
- Nut butter packets (not in a jar)
- Homemade energy bars
- Cut fruits and veggies
If you are driving overnight bring along a pre-made dinner and breakfast in a cooler.
If you plan to eat in restaurants along the way, research them in advance and call ahead if needed to verify gluten-free or other diet needs. Trying to figure it out in the car is likely to create poor results and leave you either hungry or sick.
Bring digestive enzymes to help your system break down food proteins.
Bring GlutenFlam by Apex in case you get glutened.
Stay hydrated — it’s one of the best remedies for recovering from food reactions.
Being a guest at a party or holiday meal
Educate your host. When your host is aware of your food limitations and the medical reasons for them they are in a better position to support you. Explain your diet and why it’s important for you to stick to it.
Send a list of ingredients you can eat or even a couple simple recipes well in advance so they can accommodate you (keep in mind their kitchen may not be gluten-free).
Bring your own food. When your host understands the importance of sticking to your diet they may welcome you bringing your own dish.
Bring food to share. It helps others to appreciate your dietary protocol when they can try your food. Bring something simple but delicious such as soup or pumpkin pie. They may not even realize it’s different — until you tell them. You may even provide a welcome surprise for another guest with food allergies who didn’t plan ahead.
Eat ahead of time. If you are unsure about what will be served, eat ahead. You can also tell the host ahead of time that you need to eat light due to a medical issue.
Always have an emergency snack in your purse and car. You never know when you’ll find you can’t eat what’s offered or get stuck in traffic or at an appointment. Having an emergency snack on hand can make or break your day. See the food list above for ideas.
Family and friends’ attitudes
This can be one of the hardest parts of the holidays for those on a restricted diet. The hard work of smoothing this over likely has to start with you, but the effort can really pay off.
Educate your family and friends. Explain your health condition and how your special diet helps it. Also explain what symptoms you experience when you eat the foods you are supposed to avoid. Not everyone will want to listen, but those who do are more likely to become your allies.
Find an ally. If someone in the room is on your side, whether sibling, parent, partner, or friend, it can make a big difference when others pressure you to “Just have a slice of pie!” Decide on a secret signal to let them know to speak up on your behalf in front of others.
Direct the conversation elsewhere. Nobody wants to spend the whole party telling the crowd about their Hashimoto’s, autoimmune disease, brain fog, IBS, or arthritis join pain. Try not to draw attention to your special food, and if asked, give a simple answer such as, “I’m on a medical diet for health reasons.” The use of the word “medical” tends to get more respect than other options.
If someone refuses to understand, or if you receive rude comments, share a link to the “Spoon Theory” of chronic illness.
Host your own event
One great way to enjoy holiday food is to host your own event. If you have the reserves, cooking a full meal for family and friends can be a great way to show them how amazing your “weird” diet is. It can also help bridge the gap of understanding and respect that commonly emerges in family groups.
If you don’t have the bandwidth for hosting a dinner party, create a potluck with specific food rules. Assign some dishes and explain why you need to keep certain foods out from under the roof.
More and more areas have autoimmune paleo, or AIP meetup groups, and the holidays are a great time to organize an AIP potluck. Many people on special diets have nobody who understands. Having a room full of people who understand and appreciate their needs — not to mention a room full of foods everyone can eat — can create new friendships and really make the holidays shine again.
Falling off the wagon
The holidays are about celebration and sometimes a bit of excess. If you fall off the wagon don’t punish yourself. Just get back on and keep going. If you start each day with intention it’s easier to stay on track.
However, don’t use the holidays as an excuse to throw caution and dedication to the wind. You worked hard to get where you are, do you really want to backtrack to square one?
Learn to say “no”
The holidays are full enough of stress. Sometimes we get invitations to events we’d rather not attend, unwanted requests to help with tasks or events for community or kids, or pressure from friends and family to try foods we know we ought not to eat.
It’s hard for most of us to say no especially when we’re worried about hurting the feelings of friends or family. But remember, your health is paramount and sometimes a “no” is the most appropriate and self-loving answer.
A simple way to say no is, “No, but thanks for asking.” Don’t give justification or any reason for them to attempt to dismantle.
Saying no can be difficult and scary for those who aren’t used to using it. However, the more you practice, the easier it gets and the less “bad” you will feel for saying it.
Ask my office for more advice on managing your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other autoimmune condition through diet and functional medicine protocols, including the GlutenFlam mentioned above.