Dietitians Corner: Heading into the Holidays, Part 2
In Part 1 of our holiday series, we talked about how when at large family meals like Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day, it may be worth it to liberalize some of the Paleo concepts to enjoy favorite foods and connect easier with family. However, the caveat is that binging on gluten and sugar can really wreak havoc on the body, particularly digestion and immunity, so it’s best to stay gluten-free and limit sugar intake. Obviously when you’ve got Paleo recipes up your sleeve that you love, take them, own them and celebrate well with them!
Part 1: Pay Attention to Emotions
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, 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 that was a scratch and sniff book remembering peppermint, gingerbread cookies, evergreen, and hot cocoa. 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.
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. These pathways suggest that Thanksgiving/Christmas won’t be so without <insert favorite food> even though 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, take some time to connect with Grandma herself rather than just her rolls. 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.
I fully recognize that these emotional connections to holidays and food are not present for everyone but can be very confining, and laden with pressure and guilt when they are present. 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:
- Robb Wolf’s 2011 Holiday recipe contest results
- Everyday Paleo’s holiday meal with recipes
- PaleOMG Chai Pumpkin Bread (had this last week and it is fabulous!)
- Balanced Bites 2012 Holiday Recipe Roundup
Blakely Page RD, LD
Blakely has been a dietitian in Kansas City for 7 years and is passionate about the health of children and families. When standard public health messages were failing both herself and her clients, she turned to a more holistic/alternative approach to nutrition. She uses a traditional food/ Paleo template to help people thrive with real food for the long haul rather than surviving day to day with health issues that can be improved. Blakely believes real food from quality, sustainable sources is one of the main keys to unlocking the full potential of our bodies