I remember the first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2016.
It was the first holiday since:
- My mom had passed
- I was diagnosed with MS, and
- I started the Wahls Protocol.
It was a lot.
And I hadn’t told my extended family about my diagnosis.
Needless to say, I was carrying a lot of emotions that day.
I just wanted things to feel normal.
But how could they when the entire day revolved around food and I just committed to a new diet that prevented me from eating virtually every food that was being served.
It wasn’t even like we were eating at a restaurant where I could have a side conversation with the server or the chef about my food restrictions.
No this was one big family meal being cooked in a home kitchen with all the gluten and all the dairy.
And I decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to compromise my health for one meal.
It wasn’t worth it.
As much as I love my Uncle Joe’s stuffing which I’m convinced has more butter than it does bread, the risk of what it could do to my health wasn’t worth it.
Make a Decision
And that’s what I want to help you decide now.
Because you have to decide before you show up at that Thanksgiving dinner table what you’re going to do.
The decision is not going to be easier if you’re making it when you’re surrounded by the amazing smells of food and seeing everyone else putting food on their plate.
If that’s the moment you’re waiting to decide, you’re not exactly stacking the odds in your favor.
So let’s think this through.
Let’s do a little game of choose your own adventure.
Adventure 1: You throw it all to the wind and eat whatever you want.
Adventure 2: You stay on your diet but have to worry about what you’re actually going to eat..
Adventure 1: Having a Free-For-All
First, adventure 1 – having a free-for-all.
You’re loading up your plate with whatever looks tastiest.
I can think of no better way to tell this story than to tell you about a nutrition coaching client of mine that I worked with probably about 6 or 7 years ago.
My Client’s Thanksgiving Confession
She eliminated gluten and dairy from her diet and she really wasn’t sure if it had done much for her, which is very common because the changes that you feel from food are more gradual – so subtle that it’s easy to forget how bad you felt on day one.
Anyway, she had been following her plan for probably about 3 or 4 months at this point and Thanksgiving rolls around.
And she comes from a big family – a family that absolutely loves big family dinners.
Well she decided that gluten and dairy didn’t affect her that much and it was Thanksgiving so she was going to eat the traditional meal.
It was one meal and then she would go back to her plan on Friday.
So she had her normal thanksgiving dinner and didn’t feel much different after dinner.
She actually got kind of excited at the thought of not having to go back on her plan the next day.
That was until the next morning when she woke up to all her symptoms acting up.
The impact from the food was undeniable.
But from her perspective, which I agree with, that was actually validating.
It helped her to see that all those changes she had been making were actually making a difference.
They had just happened so gradually that she didn’t notice it.
But then having a regular Thanksgiving dinner with gluten, dairy, and all the fixins it was like a shock to her body.
It was such a sharp contrast from how she had been feeling.
She also hated the fact that her symptoms held her back from enjoying the rest of the holiday weekend – all because of one meal that seemed rather innocent at the time.
She called me the next week and said, Alene, I’m more committed now than I’ve ever been because I felt awful and I don’t want to feel that way again.
That’s why I always encourage my clients and I encourage you as well – regardless of what you choose to eat – pay attention to the results.
And the results are not always immediate.
They can be felt up to three days later.
They’re also not just GI related.
Common Effects of Gluten + Dairy
They’re often more commonly felt as fatigue, brain fog, aches and pains, mood swings, headaches and so much more.
So pay attention to how you feel not just after your meal but for the next couple days, and pay attention to not just your stomach – with gas, bloating and constipation or diarrhea, but to energy, mental clarity, mood, skin, sleep – basically pay attention to your whole body.
Because food doesn’t just affect your stomach, it affects your whole body.
And if you are going to have a free for all at thanksgiving, you might want to mix in some digestive enzymes.
They’re not a safeguard against the effects of gluten or dairy, but they can just give your body a little help with digesting the foods.
So if you have digestive enzymes in your supplement stash now, grab two to have just before dinner.
If you don’t, one of the ways you can maximize your own digestive enzymes is to slow down when you’re eating, pay attention to your food and chew each bite well.
Again, it’s not a cure all, it’s just a little extra help for your digestive system.
So if you’re choosing Adventure 1 – pay attention to the results – how you feel for the next couple days – and you might want to buffer some time over those days to rest more if you do have a flare.
Adventure 2: Staying On Your Diet
Now, let’s explore Adventure 2 – staying on your diet.
You’re decided that you’re not deviating from your plan.
There’s too much on the line.
This is the decision that I made my first thanksgiving after my diagnosis and the decision that I still make now.
So what do you eat?
First, it depends if you’re hosting.
I know a lot of my clients like to host for this very reason because they have more control over the food.
But I don’t host.
My cousin hosts everyone at her house for Thanksgiving.
Now if it’s just one person hosting, you could call them ahead of time to talk about what they’re making and see if there’s anything, as is, that you can eat.
With my family, everyone contributes a dish, so there’s not one cook for the whole meal which makes it really tricky.
So what I do, I actually bring my own meal.
My Thanksgiving Dinner
I make a meal at home that looks almost identical to the traditional thanksgiving meal but doesn’t include any of my allergies – gluten, dairy, soy, nut and eggs.
This year we’re cooking a turkey at home, but the majority of the years, I just went to Whole Foods, and they have a “Just Turkey” in their deli section that I ask them to cut thicker slices and that’s my carved turkey.
For mashed potatoes, I make mashed cauliflower.
For stuffing, if I could have gluten free bread, I would probably just toast that on the side, but I can’t because most gluten free bread has egg in it, so I do a stuffing with roasted vegetables – roasted parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and all the traditional thanksgiving spices and then put it through the food processor.
And then I just have a side of veggies – peas, corn, brussels… that kind of changes each year.
The Logistics of BYO-ing
Now I don’t like to make a big production about having a separate meal, so the first year, I called my cousin and told her that I had to make some changes in my diet because of some health things I had going on – because again I hadn’t told the family about my diagnosis yet – I kept it short and direct,
I let her know that I was going to bring my own meal and she didn’t need to do anything differently, I just wanted to give her a heads up.
So I make my meal at home and bring it in a container that can easily be microwaved. And nobody sees it when I’m walking in because I’m carrying so much other stuff – purse, wine, appetizer, whatever.
After I say my hello’s I put it in the fridge and then once the main meal is getting ready to be served, I heat my meal up and put it on the same plates that everyone else is using.
Honestly everyone is so consumed by what they’re about to put on their plate that nobody really pays attention to what I’m doing.
This may sound like a hassle but it’s really not.
I honestly find it so much less stressful because I don’t have to worry about eating something that is going to affect my health.
Last Minute Thanksgiving Dinner
So if you want to choose Adventure 2 but it’s now the day before thanksgiving and you don’t have anything prepared.
Personally, I would go to Whole Foods and get that sliced turkey, make some mashed cauliflower, maybe a sweet potato with coconut oil and cinnamon and some other veggies.
And if you don’t have a whole foods that sells the sliced turkey in their deli section, I would cook a chicken breast and just season it with all the turkey seasonings.
Sometimes you have to get a little creative but it’s possible to make it work, even at the last minute.
When You Can’t Decide
And for all you indecisive people out there, who don’t want to throw everything to the wind, but you also aren’t ready to show up with your own dish, here’s a softer approach for you.
Bring a dish that you know that you can eat safely – even if it’s veggies and guac or veggies and hummus.
When you’re making your plate, focus on the turkey and the veggies.
Avoid or at the very least really minimize the bready foods.
Focus on family.
And drop any guilt.
Feeling guilty doesn’t change how the food responds in your body.
Just pay attention to the results and just keep doing your best each and every day.
We’d love to hear how you handle holiday dinners. Share below so we can learn from you too!