Samantha is the author of the blog Sweet Potatoes and Social Change. She writes about apartment homesteading, simple living and healing her autoimmune condition through diet and lifestyle. Outside of writing she is also a wife and a childbirth doula. Connect with Samantha on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
There tend to be a lot of expectations surrounding the holiday season. We expect to be filled with joy and surrounded by loved ones. We expect to have fun at holiday gatherings, to eat familiar and tasty treats, and to feel content in every way. Granted, these expectations may be a bit of a stretch for most of us. However, if you’re actively sick with an autoimmune disease you may feel as though none of these expectations will be fully met and your thoughts of supposed holiday cheer may be filled with dread. That is where I was last holiday season.
I had been suffering from a non-stop ulcerative colitis flare for almost six months. My body felt like it had fought a war and lost. Blood loss, abdominal pain, joint pain, severe fatigue and unpredictable digestive ailments had left me almost bedridden and as I thought about the looming holiday season I wasn’t filled with glad tidings and thanksgiving but rather with anxiety and sadness. I didn’t know how I would manage to drive out of the state to see my family, let alone enjoy myself. I didn’t know how I would help prepare holiday food when I could barely look at food without getting sick, but most of all I couldn’t bear the thought of ringing in a new year sick and exhausted.
After over a year following the paleo diet and six months spent trying what felt like everything from steroids to standing on my head, I finally decided to try the autoimmune protocol. I had done my research, I knew that it made sense and I knew that it could work, but in my miserable state and with Thanksgiving literally a week away, the thought of giving up so many of my favorite foods seemed almost as daunting as being sick.
A year ago there were no published AIP books or cookbooks on my bookshelves; I had only a handful of blogs and a small set of resources, but I was determined to ring in the new year in a state of health, no matter how daunting. My first full week on the autoimmune protocol diet was the week of Thanksgiving. By Christmas I had gone two full weeks with no blood loss, and I welcomed 2014 in a state of healing. It took me months to fully recover my health and return to normal, but last year will forever be remembered as one of my most joyful holiday seasons, because there are few gifts greater than the gift of health.
This year, I feel so blessed to be healthy and I feel even more blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing AIP resources and recipes that allow me to enjoy the flavors of the season without compromising my health. That being said, I know the holidays can be an especially challenging time to follow a restricted diet so here are a few tips that helped me make it through the holiday season while on the full elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol:
- Be Honest with Your Loved Ones: Whether you are celebrating the holidays with family, friends or neighbors, be open and honest with them about what the autoimmune protocol is, what you can and can’t eat and why you are eating this way. Give them lists of foods to avoid and help them find recipes that meet your needs. Chances are your loved ones care more about celebrating with you than they do about the menu and they will be more likely to help accommodate you if they know what is going on.
- Give Yourself Options: One of the biggest reasons I hear for “cheating” or “falling off the wagon” on the autoimmune protocol is a lack of options and an emotional desire for a food. This is especially true around the holidays. Many memories and emotions can be tied up in holiday meals and that may make it hard to simply abstain from eating something unless you have a suitable replacement. If you know that your mom’s Christmas cookies are a treat you look forward to all year long, make sure you have an AIP friendly dessert nearby to satisfy your desire for something sweet. If you like to ring in the New Year with a glass of champagne and the thought of only having water or herbal tea makes your shudder, make sure you pour some beautifully bubbly kombucha in a champagne flute and enjoy the toast! Is it the same? No, but it will allow you to get through and enjoy your traditions without sacrificing your health or feeling deprived.
- Don’t Get Overwhelmed: Its easy to get overwhelmed if you start thinking about creating new menus for multiple holidays or events, but just remember to take each day as it comes, ask for help, and treat the experience like an adventure. This adventure will give you the opportunity to create nourishing meals for the ones you love, try new things, celebrate the holidays without feeling deprived, and give yourself the gift of health and wellbeing, which will last a lifetime. I promise it is worth it.
So, as you begin to think about this year’s quickly approaching holiday season, don’t shy away from making a commitment to your health. There is no need to wait. If you are already following the autoimmune protocol then there is no need to worry about “cheating”. You can still enjoy all of your favorite flavors of the season while taking control of your health and reversing your autoimmune disease. To help get you started towards a fun and nourishing AIP holiday season, here is a special little recipe the make your celebrations just a little bit sweeter! Enjoy!
- Serves 10-12
- Prep time: 10 mins
- Cook time: 25 mins plus 3 hours to set
- 10 dates (soaked in warm water if hard)
- 1 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1 tsp ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 1 TBS coconut oil
- 1⁄4 cup of honey
- 1⁄4 cup of maple syrup
- 3⁄4 cups of coconut butter
- 1⁄2 cup of coconut oil
- 1 1⁄2 cups of pureed pumpkin
- 3 tbs tapioca starch
- 3⁄4 tsp vanilla
- 1⁄4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1⁄4 tsp ginger
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper or silicone liners. In a food processor, combine all of your crust ingredients and pulse until they form a ball. Take a spoonful of the crust mixture and press it into the bottom of a muffin tin. Bake for 25 minutes or until the crust becomes slightly firm and golden. Remove the crusts from the oven and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of your filling ingredients and mix until well combined. Pour the filling into the muffin tin until full. Allow them to cool in the fridge until they have set and become firm, about 3 hours. Serve cold and enjoy!