Making the best of holiday meals when you have special diet needs

If you have a food allergy, sensitivity, or even serious food-related disorder such as Celiac disease, you may already know that family and friends aren’t always the most understanding. My sweet grandmother wouldn’t let anyone leave her home without eating something she’d prepared—and being both southern and Italian, she could be quite insistent. She meant well.

But for some of us, certain foods can derail your health in very serious ways.

Dr. Terry Wahls, author and creator of The Wahls Protocol, has some very helpful advice that may come in handy over the coming holiday season, and it’s about your very own personal food story. Being able to tell your food story can help you maneuver through difficult situations, like helping Aunt Peggy understand that even though her bread pudding is famous in three counties, just one bite could leave you in misery for several days.

Last year, before the holiday season began, Dr. Wahls, who changed her diet to overcome the debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, shared this advice…

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What is your food story?

How do you eat the right foods and avoid getting pressured or seduced into eating foods that will likely provoke trouble for you or your health? This can be tricky, especially during the holidays and on special occasions. Sticking with the food choices you know are best for you is much easier if you know how to gracefully share your “Food Story” with others. Your “Food Story” explains why you choose to not eat certain foods and why you stress specific types of foods in your diet. When others understand your “Food Story,” they are more likely to stop pressuring you to eat foods that are harmful to you.

My daughter Zebby is gluten- and dairy-free and is now old enough to make her own choices about what she will and will not eat. Though it has taken her a few years, she has learned how to navigate her “Food Story” with friends and family who don’t always understand gluten sensitivities. When she was younger, one of her biggest challenges was Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at Grandma’s house.

Grandma believed that a little of her special Thanksgiving food wouldn’t hurt anybody. However, knowing what my body could and could not handle, I made an equivalent dairy- and gluten-free meal for small family. Zebby, however, felt bad that no one was eating Grandma’s food, so she had dressing, gravy and two servings of green beans, saying how delicious the food was. The gluten and dairy trigger migraines, often accompanied by vomiting, that can last for days, sometimes a week. So I was not surprised that Zebby woke up the day after Thanksgiving with a severe headache, light sensitivity and vomiting. It made the five-hour drive back to Iowa miserable for everyone. She ended up missing almost a week of school because of the severe migraine.

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When we went back to Grandma’s for Christmas, Zebby ate only gluten- and dairy-free food. She explained to Grandma that the gluten in wheat triggers terrible migraines, which can last for days and are often accompanied by vomiting. She told Grandma that she missed a week of school because of the migraine and didn’t want to risk getting that sick again. Even though it was difficult, my daughter learned how to communicate her “Food Story” to Grandma, who understood why Zebby had to avoid certain foods.

It’s like that for all of us — even I have eaten the wrong foods on several occasions early on in my journey back to health. Because eating gluten or dairy gives me a flare of my severe facial pain within 48 hours, I receive very prompt feedback on my food choices. This has made it much easier for me to commit to being meticulous about my food choices. I tell family and friends who invite me for a meal that I will bring some food to be sure I have something I feel safe eating, and typically bring a big batch of greens. It is also helpful to eat before going to an event that has questionable food so that you will be less tempted to make a poor food decision.

You can learn more about the work of Dr. Terry Wahls from her website:

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Kellye Copas

By Kellye Copas

Staff writer Kellye Copas has several years experience writing for the alternative health industry. Her background is in non-profit fundraising, copywriting and direct mail and web marketing.