How to Eat Healthy & Still Be a Gracious Holiday Dinner Guest

BACK IN THE EARLY 1980’s I went completely au naturale – that is, I became strictly organic and vegan. I was at the ripe age of 15, and I was militant about my diet.

At that same time I had a boyfriend with a really terrific mom. She made homemade bread, soups, and desserts – you name it – and was so generous in trying to use all natural ingredients for us. But she didn’t really get “vegan” (think My Big Fat Greek wedding – “He don’t eat meat?” “It’s okay, I’ll make lamb.”). So I found myself repeatedly saying, “Thank you so much, but no thank you.”

Now, 30+ years later, as an organic “flexitarian” I cringe a little at how I rejected her kind gestures in favor of my high-intensity political food views. Eating is such a social event and food is an important way for those who love us to express their desire to nourish us.

At the same time, as a functional medicine doctor, I am well aware of the incredible number of people who suffer from serious food intolerances – from gluten and dairy to fructose and grains. For many of you, a little bit of graciously saying “yes” can lead to days or weeks of symptoms including brain fog, joint pain, fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, and depression. Saying “No, thank you,” is, for some, a matter of life and health.

So how can you enjoy holiday eating with all of its visiting and shared meals, be a gracious and kind dinner guest, not give into the temptation to acquiesce so you don’t cause hurt feelings, and follow the food rules that keep you feeling on top of your game and health?

Here are 5 simple table tips:
1. Give a head's up: Let your host know as far as possible ahead of time that you are looking forward to the shared meal, and that you also happen to have health-based food restrictions that you really do have to follow or else you pay for it later. You don’t want to be a nuisance but this is important to you. A bit of disclosure ahead of time will make things less uncomfortable for you than rejecting platter after platter at the dinner table.

2. Bring a dish: Ask your host if it would be helpful and welcomed for you to bring a couple of dishes that will meet your health needs and that you can also share with others. Find out what foods coordinate with what is being served so your dish will harmonize with the meal. It’s quite likely that another dinner guest will have some food restrictions if the dinner party is large enough, so prepare foods that are as allergen-free as possible – i.e., gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free will cover a lot of people’s needs these days.

3. Don't show up hungry: Eat something at home before you go to the dinner. Getting satisfied on healthy foods before the festivities will make it less tempting to fill up later on things that will leave you feeling bad in the long run.

4. Bring your enzymes: If you have a food intolerance but not a terrible food allergy, bring along some digestive enzymes to take at the start of the meal – this can help prevent some of the symptoms that might usually result from eating foods like gluten that don’t agree with you should you inadvertently eat something “contraband” or decide to go with the flow.

5. Be kind and confident: Be true to your health and tell the truth without apology while at the A simple statement such as “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am truly gluten intolerant and can’t eat that… as much as I really want to” can make a huge difference when you decline that basket of bread or pumpkin pie. It might even get you a wink of admiration from someone, and get a conversation going about health and food. Others may find themselves eating healthier because of your honesty. Regardless, others’ food issues, their judgments, or disapproval should they express any, are not your problem. You have the right to eat well and feel well, so don’t internalize any guilt!

Carrying inner grace and reflecting outward appreciation and generosity – while keeping true to self is a powerful way to be in the world. So get out there and enjoy your holiday meals with gratitude – and power!



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Eating healthy is crucial to maintaining good health. Fortunately, it's easier than it sounds. Simple carbs, like sugar and flour, are quickly absorbed by the body's digestive system. So it's important to choose the right carbohydrates.