Surviving the Holiday Food Gremlins

Do you feel left out of holiday “fun” because you can’t eat the goodies everyone else can? Do you dread going to parties for fear of insulting the host or hostess when you find there is no food you can eat? Thousands of people struggling with food allergies or weight loss find it impossible to participate joyously in holiday festivities while steering clear of the food gremlins. But take heart — there are ways to negotiate these events with grace and leave feeling nourished and full.

Because of the many delicious offerings at holiday parties, the peskiest gremlin for most people is overeating. However, those accustomed to watching what they eat usually surmount this hurdle because they know how bad they feel after overstepping their comfort zone. In a sense, they have an inbuilt braking system. They’re aware that succumbing to euphoric memories of forbidden delights such as chocolate cake, lemon squares, or baklava soon gives way to groans of discomfort. After indulging a few times, they usually realize it isn’t worth it. So at holiday parties, apply your brakes. If after eating your fill of acceptable food you feel left out of the fun, nosh on salads or raw vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks. These foods are safe for most allergy sufferers and devoid of the extra calories that will make you feel bloated in the morning.

Potlucks are usually the easiest events to fully participate in since, if necessary, you can eat only the food you bring, without anybody noticing. Because most desserts are off limits, bring one you’ve made from a favorite recipe. Also consider bringing an entrée, as many main courses contain mixed ingredients, making it difficult to detect the culprits. Before a potluck, think about the foods that help you feel loved and nourished, and prepare accordingly. This will ward off the potluck gremlins, allowing you to enjoy a healthy meal, participate fully in the event, and share easily tolerated foods with others so they too can discover how sumptuous these dishes can be.

Sit-down meals are more challenging. On such occasions it is important not to be shy. People with life-threatening food allergies have no problem speaking up about their needs, and so should you. When accepting an invitation, gently tell the host or hostess about your situation and your desire to be part of the festivities. Clear communication about your food preferences will not only keep you on course but also be less offensive than quietly passing over the untouchables and going home hungry. Once informed, most people are more than happy to accommodate special needs. More than likely you will be informed of the menu. Upon hearing of dishes you cannot eat, suggest that you bring a small portion of one you can eat. If the offender is a dessert, offer to bake a delicious dessert for everyone. Sharing your own creation is sure to be gratifying. If your offer is declined, instead bring a single portion of a dessert similar to the one being served, allowing you to vanquish the end-of-meal gremlins and enjoy this course with the other guests.

In addition to lots of food and forbidden ingredients, alcohol is a staple at holiday events. This is problematic for people with allergies because most liquor is made from wheat, corn, or potato products — three common offenders. For people working hard to lose weight, liquor adds needless calories. Fortunately, with increased community awareness of alcohol-related problems, it is becoming politically correct to offer nonalcoholic options at most gatherings.Mineral water, seltzer, and sparkling juice foil the hardiest booze gremlins, and they taste good. If you have allergies but enjoy spirits over the holidays, then be sure to choose a drink that is made from ingredients you can tolerate. Wine from grapes and mead from honey are acceptable for many individuals who can tolerate sulfites. Moreover, a fine tequila made from cactus is generally harmless. In the event that these choices may not be available at a party, bring your own liquor and share it with others. One drink is plenty for most allergy sufferers, whereas the sugar content of two drinks tends to exacerbate difficulties.

To stave off the most tenacious food gremlins, keep in mind the purpose of the holidays — celebration of family, friendships, and community. Although food and drinks are fulfilling pleasures, true fulfillment comes from within. Remember who you are and guard against confusing your food issues with your essence. Take time before holiday events to go inside yourself and find out your real reason for attending. Ask yourself what will make the evening satisfying. Then manifest that reality. If it’s having an intimate talk with an old friend, begin the conversation. If it’s smelling applie pie you can’t eat or hearing a room ring with laughter, make it happen. As long as you remember who you are, you will feel nourished on every level. Then even if you have to bring all your own food or cook two dishes for a potluck dinner, you will feel full.