How to Eat Wheat-Free at Family Celebrations
Family celebrations and holidays can be a tough time to eat wheat-free, besides being a time to come together with family and friends and rejoice in the occasion. However, with these celebrations come dietary challenges that can wreak havoc on your health if you don't confront them. An awareness of these challenges and how they affect you is the first step in heading them off at the pass:
Copious amounts of easily accessible food: From the proverbial fruitcake in the mail to wedding cake and tables of buffet food, food is often a central part of celebratory occasions.
Emotional eating: Most people eat in response to their emotional states. Indulging a bit at a family gathering to be part of the festivities is one thing; retreating to the snack table to nurse your hurt feelings when an old family conflict reignites is another.
Excuses/coping mechanisms: Statements like I'm too busy right now. I'll get back to my diet and exercise program after the holidays, and It's the holidays; let's just celebrate! are ways of allowing yourself to splurge. Relying on them too heavily for justification can spell major trouble if you don't have the discipline to bounce back quickly from an indulgence.
Fear of social confrontation: Try one of my cupcakes, or I don't want to eat this by myself! is a subtle way for a friend or family member to put pressure on you. This type of pressure can overwhelm the best of intentions. In some cultures, refusing food that's offered is specifically considered impolite or rude, a situation that can compound this fear even more.
Stress: The body produces the hormone cortisol in response to elevated stress levels, and cortisol stimulates a desire for sweets. Celebrations and family time can be major stressors (financially, emotionally, and logistically), so be aware of how this stress may influence your food choices.
Lack of sleep: Insufficient sleep increases insulin resistance and the production of cortisol, which contribute to your food choices and your level of hunger.
Different standards for special days and the everyday: Most people view special occasions differently from their daily grinds. This discrepancy is often what they use to justify having separate sets of guidelines when it comes to food choices.
Most people experience some or all of these issues when dealing with family celebrations and holidays. Thankfully, relief is in sight. Here are some ideas to help you devise a wheat-free plan that will help you emerge victorious when it's all over:
Plan ahead. Eating at home before or after the celebration gives you total control over what you eat. By eating before the event, you lessen the temptation to overindulge in wheat-filled offerings. If you plan on eating a full meal at home after the celebration, you may want to have a snack before the party to make sure you don't get too hungry.
Bring a dish. If you'll be a guest at someone else's celebration, offer to bring one or two of your favorite wheat-free dishes. This approach ensures you'll have some wheat-free options.
Drink plenty of water. Make sure you're adequately hydrated leading up to the big celebration (and throughout the holiday season in general). People often mistake thirst for hunger; drinking a glass of water can often put the kibosh on wheat cravings.
Create new, healthier family food traditions. Find wheat-free recipes that resemble traditional holiday and party foods and add them to your spread. Pretty soon, the old wheat standbys will be a distant memory.
Eat the healthiest wheat-free options first. Whenever you're a guest at someone else's gathering, eat the wheat-free foods first. You may find they're enough to satisfy your hunger.
Practice mindful eating. With each bite, focus on how the food looks, smells, tastes, and feels (its texture). By taking the time to focus on each bite, you're less likely to eat something that you weren't planning to.
Leave the table when you're done. When possible, remove yourself from the table after you finish eating the healthiest food at the celebration so you won't be tempted to eat the next course, which is usually wheat-filled desserts.
If leaving the table isolates you from the rest of the group, offer to help clear off the table of dishes and food as everyone's eating dessert. Doing so removes you from the social obligation of eating dessert without making you seem standoffish.
Recognize and avoid emotional eating. Holidays and special occasions have a way of stirring up both positive and negative emotions. Pay close attention to how your eating patterns are affected by these emotions.
Host your own gathering. Even though planning an event sounds stressful, it gives you total control over what will be served at your house. Designing a wheat/grain-free menu not only eliminates your snacking on off-limits foods during preparation but also increases your options during the celebration.
If your guests insist on contributing dishes that may contain wheat, politely insist that they take their leftovers with them when they leave.
Watch your alcohol consumption. Drinking too much may impair your decision making process, leading you to eat foods that you may not ordinarily eat. (Plus, some alcohols contain gluten, which is problematic if you've eliminated wheat because of a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.)