Holidays & Special Diets: 5 Ways to Keep the Season Jolly - Enlighten Functional Medicine

Holidays & Special Diets: 5 Ways to Keep the Season Jolly

Joy is in the air, along with the scent of holiday baking. For those on special diets, thoughts of traditional holiday fare can pile on worry and frustration. Concerned that your gluten-free, keto or other special diet means a bah humbug holiday? Learn these 5 ways to keep the jolly in your celebration, regardless of what’s on the menu. 

Prioritizing Health through the Holidays

First, give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve already noticed the connection between your food and how your body feels. Not only that, you’ve decided on a special diet to eliminate unwanted symptoms and get take your health to the next level.  

Whether you’ve embarked on a gluten-free, dairy-free, keto, low histamine, modified mediterranean or other strategic eating template, first take the time to congratulate yourself for making your health a priority. By working with your functional medicine practitioner, you’ve started to see how changing your diet is affecting your blood sugar, hormones, autoimmunity or other health markers.

Curious how food is affecting your health? Setup a consult with Dr. Emily.

Regardless of whether your special diet is a new thing or something that you’ve been rocking and rolling with for a while, the holiday season can create special challenges. 

Here are the 5 ways to navigate potential pitfalls. 

Enjoy the Holidays on a Special Diet Keto Paleo AIP Elimination

1. Fill Up Before You Go

Some find eating on-plan foods at home before the social gatherings to be helpful. Then, they scope out party foods that best fit their eating template. Plates can be filled with veggies and fruits, glasses with sparkling mineral water. 

Ditch feelings of deprivations. Instead of having a “woe-is-me,” glass-half-empty approach, fill up on gratitude for the time spent with those you care about.

2. Communicate with Family & Friends

Talk it out. Tell the host/hostess your dietary needs and ask if you could bring a dish to share or just for yourself. Inquire about menus ahead of time to see what may be on plan.

At family gatherings, sometimes a change in your own eating patterns can make others feel like you’re judging them for their habits. Rehearse any conversations that might bring you tension when others ask about what you are or are not eating.

3. Substitute Ingredients 

Creative in the kitchen? You may find that ingredient swapping is key to surviving the holidays with a restricted diet. While the exact substitutions you’ll want to make depend on the specific diet you’re following, here are some common ingredient-swaps for keto, gluten-free, dairy-free and paleo approaches:

Sugar Substitutes:

Skip the artificial stuff in favor of plant-based sweeteners. Stevia comes in both powdered and liquid forms. For baking, erythritol-based sweeteners like the brand Swerve come in both a powdered sugar and a granulated sugar form and may work well. Monk fruit sugar-substitute like Lakanto can have a lesser effect on blood sugar. Coconut sugar has about half the glycemic index score as regular sugar. If baking with coconut sugar, consider putting it through a grinder or food processor to make it finer. This will give it more of the texture of regular sugar. Because it does burn at a lower temperature than regular sugar, it may not be ideal for candy-making. If you use xylitol for your sweetener of choice, keep it away from your dogs! It is toxic to dogs (and ferrets!).

Flour Substitutes:

 Almond, coconut or sunflower flour may work well for keto, paleo and low carb approaches. Those who can handle a higher carbohydrate count may opt for cassava. While almond, sunflower seed and cassava flours may be able to be substituted 1:1 in recipes, other on-plan flour substitutes (such as coconut flour which absorbs liquids) will need adjusting to fit your traditional recipes. Adding lemon juice or vinegar to recipes using sunflower seed flour can prevent the chlorophyll from turning your food green! Also, be sure to let baked goods cool completely. Almond flour pie crusts often crisp up with a bit of cooling time.

Milk Substitutes:

Coconut milk, almond milk or flax milk can work. If using canned coconut milk, consider blending the contents in a mixer first.

Whipped Cream Substitutes:

Chill a can of coconut cream or coconut milk overnight. Scoop the solid chunks into a stand mixer–leaving behind any liquid. Beat in a mixer on high until resembling whipped cream. Add stevia drops to taste.

Evaporated Milk Substitute:

Bring canned coconut milk to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat and stir in stevia drops for additional flavor. Simmer until contents are reduced in half.

Butter or Margarine Substitutes:

Ghee is clarified butter and may be tolerated by those that are sensitive to butter. Coconut oil or palm shortening are options. Avocado oil can be used for recipes looking for melted butter.

Shortening Substitutes:

Sustainably sourced palm shortening can be found at health food stores. In some cases, coconut oil may be used.

Egg Substitutes:

While eggs contain a host of nutrients and fit may special diets, eggs may be off the table for sensitive individuals. Baking substitutions can include ¼ cup almond butter or sunflower seed butter for those watching carb intake, or ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce or ripened bananas for those with a higher carbohydrate tolerance. Other egg substitutions include gelatin, flaxseed or chia seeds. 

Research Specific Substitutes for Your Dietary and Recipe Needs:

Consider using internet searches to source out specialty recipes instead of having to tweak your traditional favorite or to just gather ideas for how to adjust your family’s favorites. Also, think about giving yourself a trial-run with tweaked recipes to ease the frustration that comes from any baking mishaps.

Ingredient Swaps Keto Paleo AIP

4. Stay Merry with Positivity

Positivity is key. At times, it may help to have a “next best choice” mentality. Maybe that hummus isn’t keto, but if it’s a choice between spending the evening with a plate full of fruits and veggies that aren’t on your eating list versus a plateful of sugar cookies, the hummus might be the next best choice for you.

How we think affects our body. If you take a detour from your special diet (planned or unplanned), keep moving forward–both mentally and physically. If you find yourself in a negativity loop, rewrite the script. Instead of “I’m a complete failure, I can’t believe I ate that” try “Having that was such a special way to celebrate, now I’m ready to get back on track so my body can feel its best.” 

If you find yourself in a negative thought pattern, use science to get unstuck. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD has found that 3 positive thoughts are needed to counteract just one negative for flourishing mental health and improved subjective wellbeing. [efn_note] “Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human … – NCBI.” Accessed 16 Dec. 2019. [/efn_note]

5. Get Specific to Make a Plan

Sometimes it helps to clarify exactly what the barriers are. Whirling thoughts of fuzzy “the holidays are going to be so hard” is more overwhelming than getting clear on exactly what barriers you might be looking at.

What are you most concerned about regarding holiday gatherings, food and your special diet? What are the specific events: cookie exchanges, dinner parties, family gatherings? What are the exact foods? 

Whether it’s fudge at Grandma’s or cocktails at the office party, take note. Locate your biggest potential obstacles and write them down.This may mean making a list, a mental note or starring events on the calendar. Getting specific and clear is the first step.

Next, explore your expectations. What do you want for each situation? How do you plan to prepare yourself or your environment to best navigate the challenges. Just knowing what you’re dealing with may help ease the stress load. 

Find Balance During the Holidays with Special Diets 

Tis’ the season for smiles and laughter. Making a plan and checking your expectations for gatherings can take the stress out of food-filled gatherings. What are your holiday tips for staying jolly on a special diet?


  1. “Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human … – NCBI.” Accessed 16 Dec. 2019.

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