Eileen Laird is using the Paleo Approach to heal rheumatoid arthritis, with great success. She has reduced her symptoms by 95%, without the use of biologic, steroid or immunosuppressant medication. She started her blog, Phoenix Helix, to connect with other autoimmune travelers on similar journeys. Her blog’s name has a special meaning: the phoenix represents rising from the ashes; the helix represents the magic of epigenetics – our ability to change the expression of our genes and therefore our health. She hosts a weekly AIP Recipe Roundtable, where bloggers share AIP-friendly recipes. You can also find her on Facebook.
The holidays are meant to be about beautiful things: celebration, love, family, fellowship. But they come wrapped in a package that includes stress, pressure and a tradition of foods we can no longer eat. So, how does a Paleo Warrior survive?
- Plan For It: Look ahead at your holiday schedule, both the annual traditions and this year’s invitations. Which ones pose challenges? What are your personal temptations? Write them down, so you can make plans in advance to help you navigate them smoothly.
- Communicate: Angie Alt recently wrote about how she handles food-focused events, and she shared these wise words: “If you act wishy-washy, uncomfortable, or uncertain about your food choices, the people around you will also act weird. They won’t take you seriously.” Instead, calmly let people know what you need, and take steps to make sure your needs are met. Be confident. If you don’t feel confident, “fake it till you make it.” Seriously, pretend to be confident, and with practice, it will start to feel real.
- Create New Food Traditions: Paleo isn’t about deprivation. Browse the Paleo foodie websites, and that becomes quite clear. Just because some traditional celebratory foods are off the table, doesn’t mean you can’t find even better options. Here’s a Thanksgiving Roundup of 75 recipes that are not only Paleo-Friendly but meet the Autoimmune Protocol as well. And check out Sarah’s recipe for Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, as well as her delicious Holiday Treats.
- Offer to Host: This is the easiest way to control the food that will be served. It’s your house, your kitchen, your diet template. If you don’t want to take on all of the cooking, assign some potluck dishes. Just make sure you cook enough that your plate is full of Paleo goodness, so if SAD foods show up, they’ll pale by comparison.
- Host a Paleo Potluck: More and more people are using the Paleo diet to heal, and they face the same challenges over the holidays. Advertise a meet-up group through Facebook, your local health food store, or your local newspaper. Picture a party where you can eat everything that’s served. Now, that’s a holiday celebration!
- Bring Your Own Food: Sometimes, you are going to be the guest of people who don’t follow the Paleo lifestyle. The easiest solution here is to bring your own food. Let your host know ahead of time. Remember Step 2 above? Communicate calmly and clearly. You’re not asking them to plan the menu around you. Let them know you’re really looking forward to their company, and bringing your own food is the easiest solution.
- Eat Ahead of Time: If bringing your own food isn’t an option, or your simply don’t want to have that conversation, then eat before you go. A friend of mine does this, and she has another technique she swears by. When she arrives at a party, she gets herself a glass of water with ice. She said that if you have something in your hand as you mingle, people don’t notice if you’re not eating.
- Pick the Restaurant: Are you meeting a group at a restaurant for a celebration? Is your workplace ordering food for a staff lunch? Advocate to pick the restaurant. Let’s face it; you have great taste! Scout out the menu in advance, and follow these tips on how to order. Don’t be afraid to use the “allergy” word with the waiter, to make sure your needs are met.
- Bring a Friend: When I went on field trips as a child, we were always assigned the buddy system. The theory was that we’d keep each other safe, and it worked. Why not apply it to our adult lives? Are you going to an event where you know you’ll be tempted to eat SAD foods? Bring a friend to bolster your willpower. Are you going to a family event that often carries high emotions as part of the package? Bring someone to act as both your buffer, and your support while you’re there. There’s one caveat: choose your buddies carefully! You don’t want to bring anyone who’s going to add to the challenges.
- Take a Break: When we’re surrounded by our families, it’s a gift in many ways, but it’s also true that these people can push our buttons better than anyone else. They’ve had a lifetime to practice, after all. This is the time we tend to reach for a drink, or stress-eat. Instead, take a time-out. Go outside, breathe some fresh air, turn your face up to the sun or the stars. Or find an empty room in the house, close the door, and savor some solitude. You can create your own peace this season. Choose to relax and recharge, rather than react.
- Meditate: I know, you get this advice all the time, but there’s a reason for that. Meditation is powerful. And if there’s ever a time you need a research-proven method to reduce stress, the holidays are it! Meditation is often misunderstood as stressful in itself, when we picture ourselves trying to sit still and force the thoughts out of our head. There are actually many ways to meditate: guided visualization, moving meditation like yoga and tai chi, meditating to music, etc. Research shows that 15 minutes is enough time to produce positive results. So, give it a try!
- Build Up Your Reserves: When stress ramps up, those are the times we need to take care of ourselves the most. Prioritize a good night’s sleep. Consistently good nights’ sleep turns off inflammatory genes. Since stress increases inflammation, you have the power to counter this effect every night. And don’t forget your healing foods. When we think of holidays, we think of desserts first and foremost, so go ahead and enjoy your Paleo treats this season (in moderation). You’re less likely to reach for gluten-laden baked goods, if you’ve allowed yourself some Paleo indulgences. Between holiday events, eat lots of healing foods: organ meat, seafood, bone broth and home ferments. Think of these foods as your holiday health booster-shot.
- Make Time for Joy: This season is supposed to be about peace, joy and gratitude, yet often the reality is the opposite. You have the power to change this. Schedule joy into your life. Don’t make it optional. Seriously, put it on your calendar in pen. Plan time with friends who relax and rejuvenate you. Make a date with your spouse or significant other to reconnect and take a break from the busy-ness of the season. Is there a special event that symbolizes for you the beauty and real meaning of the holidays? Buy tickets now. You may think you don’t have time for any of this. The reality is that you need rejuvenation the most, when you feel you have no time for it.
- No, But Thanks For Asking: People often say that “please” is the magic word. I disagree. I think the magic word is “no.” It’s incredibly powerful in protecting both your mental and physical health. Learning to say no is like strengthening a muscle; your ability icnreases with practice. Try it. If you’re invited to an event you know you won’t enjoy, decline the invitation. If you’re asked to take on a task that pushes you to the tipping point, politely decline. I’m going to teach you a magic phrase. I’ve used it many times, and it takes people by surprise because it’s crystal clear, yet totally polite: “No, but thanks for asking.” Practice it in the mirror, and say it with a smile. This phrase also works beautifully when someone is trying to pressure you into a food you can’t eat.
- If You Fall Off the Wagon, Get Right Back On: So, you ate some foods you shouldn’t? Forgive yourself, rest up, drink some ginger tea, and re-dedicate yourself to your healing diet tomorrow. Don’t use it as an excuse to binge throughout the season. You, and your health, are worth more than that. Remember why you’re following the Paleo lifestyle in the first place. Remember how you felt before going Paleo. It’s okay to take a mis-step, but too many are too much.