Navigating Holiday Food the Thyroid-healthy Way
As Thyroid Thrivers, many of us become bloated, inflamed, brain-fogged, and downright symptomatic from eating things like gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy, and classic holiday recipes are loaded with these ingredients! So, How do we get through the holidays the thyroid-healthy way?
That's what we're going to cover in this blog post and episode of Thyroid-healthy Bites.
- My personal story of learning to navigate thyroid-healthy holidays
- Dealing with expectations (both your own and others')
- Making healthy boundaries (both with yourself and others)
- Sidestepping temptation because let’s face it, gluten, dairy, and sugar taste good!
- Thyroid-healthy holiday recipe ideas and solutions
Full disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Purchasing a product using one of these links will support my work at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products I use, believe to be helpful to my readers, and/or wholeheartedly stand by. These recommendations do not influence the information I share.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational and inspirational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers before making changes to your diet, health care, or exercise regimen.
- The Thyroid-healthy Thanksgiving Survival Guide & Cookbook [10% OFF CODE: GOBBLE10]
- [RECIPE] Olive Oil Mashed Cauliflower & Sweet Potatoes
- Work with me as a Functional Medicine Health Coach
- Hypothyroid Chef Recipe Blog
- Listen on the podcast page
- Subscribe on iTunes
- Follow on Spotify
- Subscribe on YouTube
- Subscribe on Google Podcasts
- Subscribe on Amazon Music
- Listen on Stitcher
Need Holiday Recipe Help NOW?
If you’re wondering, how am I going to pull this off? How can I enjoy this meal that revolves around ingredients I don’t eat? How can I do this without having to make two versions of everything? The answer is simple: We do it with HELP.
- The right tools
- A solid game plan
- Tried and true holiday recipes your whole family will love
All of that and more is included inside my Thyroid-healthy Thanksgiving Survival Guide & eCookbook!
Throughout this life-changing Thanksgiving Guide, you will find my personal tips, tricks, hacks, and chef’s secrets to help you uplevel your Turkey Day Game, whether you’re hosting the event or just bringing a dish to pass. These are recipes I have adapted, developed, and served at my own Thanksgiving table for YEARS. All of them are free of problematic ingredients like gluten, dairy, refined sugar, and soy.
My Personal Story of Learning to Navigate Holiday Food the Thyroid-healthy Way
Since 2015 I’ve been eating a thyroid-healthy diet, free of gluten, dairy, soy, and refined sugar. Incorporating thyroid-healthy eating back in 2015 was foundational to getting my health back.
It’s been a long road, with lots of twists and turns, but food has consistently been the most reliable tool in my toolbox. Avoiding the foods that hurt and incorporating the foods that help is what enables me to maintain, metabolize, move, motivate, and recover, despite Hashimoto’s.
With time, I’ve gotten to a good place with it. But it was not easy at first. And it definitely didn’t happen overnight. It took a while to get the hang of thyroid-healthy eating, and one of the aspects of it that took the longest to get the hang of was HOLIDAY FOOD.
As a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and cooking instructor, I really struggled suddenly having these limitations. Even though I could see and feel how my health improved almost immediately from these thyroid-healthy dietary changes, I still kind of fumbled my way through the first few holiday seasons.
Even if we know which foods to avoid, even if we have experienced firsthand the negative impacts they have on our bodies, even if we’re normally very in tune with what foods we thrive on and which foods we don’t, it can still be tough to stay on track during the holiday season. Because food, and especially holiday food traditions, have deep emotional roots.
At first, it just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving or Christmas without Grandma Louise’s pumpkin pie, or my brother’s homemade Chex Mix, or that Michigan favorite: cheesy hashbrown casserole.
With time, I've discovered what works for me and my family:
- Some holiday food traditions are okay to let go of. For me it was making 8 kinds of Christmas cookies, and green bean casserole. Nobody at my house missed those things. I was clinging to them based on past traditions. When I let them go not only did the sky not fall, but it made room for new holiday traditions that are more aligned with the special dietary needs and values of our family.
- Some holiday food traditions are worth sticking with, and either finding a way to re-create without problematic ingredients, or making two versions of. Traditional stuffing, for example, is a non-negotiable for my son. For me, a bread-free stuffing alternative on the table helps me feel satisfied and like I'm not missing out. That is ONE thing I make two versions of at Thanksgiving, and everyone's happy that way.
- Sometimes the best solution is finding an alternative food, like delicious mocktails to replace alcohol, or an entirely new Thanksgiving dessert that isn't a disappointing gluten and dairy-free rendition of Grandma's traditional Pumpkin Pie, for example.
- Adopting non-food-related holiday traditions is a wonderful way to get in touch with the spirit of the holiday and make them richer, without piling more food onto an over-indulgent holiday food (and drink) fest we spend January trying to recover from. Examples include creating and burning a Yule Log, or crafting a "Gratitude Tree" at Thanksgiving (I show this one in the video).
Finding your way to thyroid-healthy holidays is a dance, and that dance belongs to YOU. It may be awkward at first, so don't be too hard on yourself. This process takes time, trial, and error. You will discover your own non-negotiables and alternatives along the way. It does get easier with time, so take heart.
Here's what didn't work for me:
- I tried bargaining, telling myself, “It’s just one day a year, right?” Then I would eat everything during the holiday festivities. Of course, this not only made me feel awful and flared up a bunch of symptoms, it also back-tracked my health progress and sent me down a slippery slope of wanting more of those foods.
- I tried making a few things I could eat and then making all the other traditional stuff for my family. I would tell myself, “I’ll just not eat that traditional stuff. All I really need is turkey, potatoes, and salad.” I failed that test every time.
- There were many recipes I tested, and some of them were great, some were okay, and some were just a bummer. This was a necessary part of the process, and one of my main motivations in creating The Thyroid-healthy Thanksgiving Survival Guide & Cookbook, filled with tried and true holiday recipes my whole family loves.
It has taken time, self-awareness, self-acceptance, forgiveness, and persistence, but I’ve learned a few things along the way about navigating the holiday season WITHOUT going off the thyroid-healthy rails.
My heartfelt advice to you:
- Stay in tune with your body. Love your body enough to listen to the feedback it’s giving you and honor that feedback.
- Let the perfectionism and guilt and being way too hard on yourself go.
- This journey isn't about sticking to a "diet" or eating perfectly. It's about giving our bodies the foods they need to THRIVE, so we can avoid a spike in symptoms or antibodies. That can result from even ONE DAY of bombarding yourself with inflammatory foods.
- Finding a thyroid-healthy path we can stick with takes both self-regulation and solutions to how we can enjoy our food, while still serving our bodies.
In this next section of the article, I want to share some pragmatic tips with you that you can cherry-pick from to help you through the holidays. But before we move on, part of my wish for you this holiday season is that you dance your way through it, even if you look like Elaine from Seinfeld for a while…eventually, you’re going to be doing the tango. So have patience. Have faith. You got this! And if you need help, I’m here for you.
Dealing with Holiday Food Expectations-- Both Your Own and Others'
Thyroid-healthy eating, in general, requires flexibility, and for most of us, it requires change. There are those common dietary triggers many of us find we need to avoid in order to feel well, including gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, grains, and processed foods. There are other sensitivities, like nightshades or legumes, and ultimately, what you can and can't tolerate depends on you as an individual. It's different for everyone, but the commonality is that we all have to figure out what those "avoid" foods are and then adapt our way of eating.
Depending on how you eat now or how your family eats, this can be a major departure from your norms. At holiday time, family traditions are literally ON THE TABLE. So what can we do when Great Aunt Ida insists that you have a piece of her famous Pumpkin Pie? Or Uncle Eddy declares after a 6-pack of beer that the whole gluten-free thing is a bunch of hogwash?
As Thyroid Thrivers, it sometimes requires that we do have to be THAT person. As in, the one with some special dietary needs. Some of our family members may be less than understanding, especially when they don’t understand what it means to live with a chronic, invisible thyroid disease or condition that affects every system in the body.
Bottom Line: The only opinion that matters here is YOUR OWN. It’s your body, your health, and your right to choose what goes into your mouth and what doesn’t.
Tips for handling holiday food expectations from others:
- Let yourself off the hook from their expectations. They don’t live in your body, and they probably don’t know what you know about living with your disease or condition.
- They might not understand your needs, and they may not really want to. That’s their business, NOT YOURS. Your business is taking care of YOU. Nobody else is going to do that for you, so you have to do it for yourself.
- You don’t have to explain or educate those less-than-sensitive relatives. You don’t have to convert them to your way of thinking about health. So, don’t feel obligated (or waste your energy ) on doing that.
- You do you. Fill your plate as you see fit. It’s your body and your health.
While some may be insensitive, others may be genuinely curious and supportive. If you want to converse with people about your food needs and choices, that's your call to make.
Personally, I prefer to avoid getting into big conversations about my food needs and choices with anyone other than my closest loved ones. I don't enjoy being the focus of curiosity, questions, conversation, or even judgment at the holiday table, so I typically try to navigate around those.
The good news is that it actually doesn't take much to keep things short and sweet here. It does help to have some canned responses at the ready.
If someone comments on or inquires about your choices, or tries to push certain foods on you, here are a few cordial and effective responses:
- "No, thank you." Oftentimes, this is all it takes.
- "I feel so much better if I don’t eat __________."
- "I’ve been able to get rid of a lot of my thyroid symptoms by cutting out certain foods."
- "I'm working with a health practitioner/nutritionist and am on a restricted diet right now."
- If you find yourself getting strong-armed by Aunt Ida to eat that famous pie, you can say something like, "It looks delicious, and It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that for me, it’s not worth it."
What if I'm afraid of disappointing people?
Remember, the people who truly love and care about and want what’s best for you would NEVER want you to cause yourself harm just to protect their feelings. Put yourself in their shoes. Would YOU ever want someone to eat something that was going to make them feel unwell, just to spare your feelings? I’m going to guess NO, because you’re a Thyroid Thriver, so this is something you inherently get. You’ve developed some compassion and empathy for what it’s like to have dietary needs and restrictions.
It's okay to have needs. It's okay not to want to talk about your health issues at Thanksgiving dinner. It's okay to turn down that glass of egg nog, or scoop of stuffing. You wouldn't want someone else to eat something that was going to make them sick just to spare your feelings. Why do that to yourself?
What about our own expectations and desires around holiday food traditions?
There’s that little kid inside each of us who just doesn’t feel like a holiday meal is complete without Grandma’s mac and cheese, your mom’s special cookies, or crazy Uncle Eddie’s egg nog.
First– there’s no way around it-- we have to grieve. I highly encourage you to journal, to cry, to talk to someone about it. Those tears wash away our clinging to the past so that we can let go and move forward into a bright and healthy future for ourselves.
Having special dietary needs and restrictions IS hard. It IS sad. I promise you, it will get easier with time, but on some level, it will always be a tender spot. I know it is for me. Love yourself tenderly through it. Tell someone who loves you, “I miss being able to eat this. It hurts. It’s hard.”
Can we have the courage and the grace to sit with that? To feel the grief when it comes up? When we do, what’s on the other side?
Acceptance is what’s on the other side. This is what your body needs. Things are different now. You still have choices. You can find solutions. You can feel well. You just have to accept and lean into this 'new normal' to get there.
Remember: You’re not alone. If you feel alone in this, think about the millions and millions of others out there with dietary restrictions. Maybe they have food allergies, diabetes, heart disease, or autoimmune diseases. They’re out there too. They, too, are facing holiday celebrations with grief, courage, acceptance, trepidation, and everything in between.
Think of them this holiday season when you're feeling frustrated, sad, or alone. Send them love and kinship, and feel that love and kinship karmically returned to you by this web of other brave health warriors. We know what it's like, don't we? We want others to succeed and find health in spite of their illness. Can we give ourselves that same acceptance, compassion, and encouragement?
People may be insensitive. You may not get the empathy and understanding you deserve. It’s okay to look elsewhere for the support you need. It’s okay to decide other people (even relatives) don’t get to dictate how you live your life. It's okay to be sad and to cry those tears, and it's okay to have needs. You do you, love. You take care of you. The only way out is through.
Making Healthy Boundaries Around Holiday Food-- Both with Ourselves and With Others
First, let's define what making a boundary means: It means being aware of what is and is not acceptable and then normalizing saying NO. It means doing what is best for you and knowing that it is not your responsibility to sacrifice yourself for others.
Many of us were raised with the belief that the needs and feelings of others come first. As women, eons of human survival have hardwired us with programming that has enabled us to care for and nurture our families by putting their needs first. In other words, prioritizing our own needs and making healthy boundaries is something we may have to work at. It may take a bit of deconstructing past behaviors and beliefs. It may not come naturally and it may be awkward, especially at first.
The image I often think of is throwing oneself down on the train tracks for the needs of someone else. When I catch myself doing that now, that visual is my little inner red flag. It has taken a lot of practice, but I’ve gotten a lot better since my thyroid diagnosis at making healthy boundaries and saying NO. Holy cow, what a good feeling! It's a tremendous weight lifted when you have the awareness, skills, and self-respect to say, “NO, actually, my needs matter. So, do yours, but so do mine.” Then, we can go about finding a way to honor everyone's needs at the table, including yours.
Just like I thought the sky would fall if I didn't make eight kinds of Christmas cookies or prepare green bean casserole every Thanksgiving, I thought the sky would fall if I said, "No, actually, I don't eat that."
Amazingly, the sky didn't fall when I started to do that. Instead, what I found is that the vast majority of my family and friends were incredibly kind, supportive, and accommodating. As I said in the previous section, the people who love and care about you WANT you to be healthy and okay. Giving them the information they need about your needs and requirements helps them play a part in that. People appreciate that.
How to make those healthy boundaries both effective and easy on everyone involved:
- Identify your hard line. What is your absolute NO when it comes to food? Is it gluten, dairy, nightshades? Is it all three? Is it something else entirely? Doing this clarifies what your firm boundaries need to be and where you can have wiggle room.
- Don't be wishy-washy when someone is cool enough to ask you what your dietary needs and restrictions are, tell them. You've identified your hard line, so share what that is clearly and succinctly.
- Use the words, "I don't eat _______, " rather than, "I can't eat _______." According to the research of Dr. Vanessa Patrick, you can increase the likelihood of sticking to your health goals by saying "I don't" versus "I can't." "I can't" implies that you are a victim, being denied and forbidden certain foods, whereas "I don't" implies that you are an empowered and informed person who is dedicated to your ongoing optimal health. This is important messaging both for others and for your own subconscious belief system. How much more likely are you to stick with your goals by saying, "I don't eat _____?" According to this study, you are EIGHT TIMES more likely to succeed than those who say, "I can't eat ______."
- Identify and leverage your flexibility. What are the foods you can have occasionally? Can you tolerate some dairy? Some grains? Some eggs? You know what your thresholds are, but the holidays can be a good time to take advantage of these places where you have wiggle room and flexibility. Doing so gives us food freedom, and food freedom can boost our enjoyment of those holiday feasts. This, in turn, helps us find that sustainable path of thyroid-healthy eating.
- Don't feel guilty. Be grateful. Instead of feeling guilty when someone makes special accommodations for you, replace it with gratitude. What a beautiful display of friendship, acceptance, compassion, and kindness. You are loved : )
What if I am on a very restricted healing protocol like AIP?
This is somewhat of a 'special case' scenario. Healing or therapeutic dietary protocols like Paleo or AIP can be incredibly effective when we are trying to heal our guts and recover from a more serious health situation due to factors like autoimmunity and/or intestinal permeability.
If this is where you are, I'm rooting for you and have been there many times. Elimination-phase AIP has become a tool I return to as needed when my health starts to go sideways. It's not easy, but it has always been 100% worth it. The food freedom I have now has, in large part, come from those times when I had to buckle down and do a few months on an elimination diet like AIP to heal or reset my gut. I even used it with great success to reduce inflammation and recover from frozen should and shoulder surgery-- a common complication of Hashimoto's.
This high level of dietary restriction from strict AIP, Paleo, or another 'elimination diet' may be necessary temporarily.
My advice: If you and your healthcare provider feel it's acceptable for you to choose when to start something like an elimination diet, do not start during the holiday season. If this flexibility is possible for you, increase your likelihood of success by choosing a simpler time of year than the holidays. This was good advice I received from my own naturopath. Timing matters.
If you do need to be on an elimination diet during the holidays, you may want to take a different approach to the holidays this year. Consider bringing your own food or opting for a small and intimate AIP celebration at home. You are doing something that is difficult. You are working hard to make a worthwhile investment in your health. Don't undermine your own efforts. Taking a different approach this holiday season may be the best course of action to help you stay on track.
While this can feel like a bummer, keep in mind that this is not permanent and elimination diets are not meant to be long-term. The long-term goal is to reintroduce most foods. Maybe this holiday season, the best thing for your health is not to be surrounded by a smorgasbord of foods you currently need to avoid. If so, that's okay. Remember: It's not forever. The whole point is to get you to a place of better health and more food freedom.
Sidestepping Holiday Food Temptation
Let’s talk about facing what is perhaps our greatest challenge when it comes to thyroid-healthy holiday choices: OUR OWN DESIRES!! Because, let's face it, gluten, dairy, and sugar taste good!
I use the word "Sidestepping" because avoiding temptation is impossible during the holidays. Sidestepping is another way of saying hacking or strategizing our way around those inevitable temptations. What it comes down to is time, trial, and error, so that we can build self-awareness around what works and what doesn't for us as individuals.
First, it helps to figure out when to lean on substitutes and when to come up with alternatives, recipe-wise.
A substitute is like a version of that recipe that is similar to the original but without your hard-line dietary exclusions. An alternative recipe is something else entirely.
For example, a crustless pumpkin pie can be a gluten-free substitute for regular pumpkin pie. Personally, I like crustless pumpkin pie, but on a special feast day like Thanksgiving, it feels like it's missing something. I prefer an alternative recipe that just happens to be gluten, dairy, and refined sugar-free, like my Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Pumpkin Seed Brittle, which is featured in my Thyroid-healthy Thanksgiving Survival Guide and Cookbook.
Stuffing is a similar scenario at my table. I haven’t found a gluten-free stuffing replacement recipe I like, so I diverted and came up with an alternative Wild Rice Dressing that has sausage, sage, pecans, and cranberries. I love it, and it’s nothing like bread-stuffing, which makes it easier for me. Bread isn't a staple in my diet anymore, and I've learned that eating the gluten-free kind triggers cravings, so this recipe alternative is my thyroid-healthy solution.
Now, my son is not going to be happy without regular bread stuffing, and that’s okay with me. I don't want him to miss out on his favorite Thanksgiving side, so I make the regular stuff for him. I’ve got my wild rice dressing that I adore as an alternative. My plate isn’t missing something, and neither is his. I'm not tempted to eat the traditional stuffing, because I have a delicious alternative, and everyone is happy.
That's one menu item that I choose to make 2 versions of, but it's what works for my family, and the gluten-tolerant people at the table enjoy both options.
Now, mashed potatoes, on the other hand, are ESSENTIAL in my book. And it’s essential that they taste like the real thing. The same goes for gravy. So I created, with a lot of trial and error, a recipe for The Ultimate Gluten-free, Dairy-free Mashers, and Gravy.
If I don’t mention they’re dairy-free, no one notices they’re not made the traditional way. So, why mention it?!
Now, that’s what works for my family and me. If you and your family have a lot of dietary restrictions, or if you’re on a more strict healing protocol, you may want to have a mashed potato alternative that is nightshade-free.
I just published a recipe on the blog for Olive Oil Mashed Cauliflower and White Sweet Potatoes that is so delicious. It doesn’t taste just like the real thing, but it’s a solid alternative and not only that– it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, AIP, and Vegan compliant.
In some cases, a substitute is just the ticket. I find mocktails to be an especially effective substitute when trying to minimize alcohol consuption-- which happens to be one of the best choices we can make, especially for our gut health. This can be hard during the holidays, but there's magic in a good mocktail. This Cranberry Ginger Fizz is a perfect option for holiday season.
Something about having a delicious beverage to sip on while cooking or mingling can work wonders when it comes to abstaining from alcohol. This one makes me forget entirely about those tempting alcoholic options.
When something higher-octane is wanted for the celebration, I go for the best possible choices, like a sugar-free tequila and soda water with lime, or an organic, low-sulfite, additive-free wine like those from Dry Farm Wines.
Abstinence is sometimes easier than moderation, so again, it's about finding what works for you. In some cases, you might find holiday traditions that are worth ditching altogether. For me, it was the Green Bean Casserole and the Christmas cookies. The surprising and delightful thing about letting go of some of these old traditions is that it makes space for new ones to blossom.
Consider incorporating some non-food-related holiday traditions
One effective way to sidestep holiday food temptation is by replacing some of those holiday food traditions that no longer align with your health dreams and goals with non-food-related holiday traditions. Go for a holiday walk, create a gratitude tree (demo in the video), light a non-toxic candle, make and burn a Yule Log-- there are so many ways to make the holidays even richer and more meaningful that don't require consuming food.
Here's an example: My son and I like to decorate Christmas cookies, but as I've learned, he and my husband don't really like eating them, and I need to not eat them- LOL! Still, I don’t want us to miss out on that fun and special holiday tradition with my kiddo. Now, what we do instead is get a pre-baked Gingerbread house kit and decorate that together.
They’re so cute, they make a sweet Christmas decoration for the house that we get to enjoy all season, and while they do contain gluten, dairy, sugar, and lots of other processed food ingredients, they’re not really meant to be eaten. At least, I'm not tempted to eat it. My son may eat a few of the candies, but it's far less sugar impact and temptation than piles of cookies begging to be eaten. This means we get to enjoy the tradition and the decoration while sidestepping the temptation of those homemade Christmas cookies. A Christmas miracle!
Here's what doesn't work when it comes to sidestepping temptation:
- Self-denial, as in, I just won’t eat that.
- Self-harm, as in, I’ll just eat it and pay the consequences.
- Self-loathing, as in, I ate it and now I’m going to punish myself with extreme fasting or restriction.
It's important to practice forgiveness, here. There will probably be some slip-ups during the holidays. It happens to the best of us. We over-indulge, we get accidentally glutened, we succumb to temptation, or maybe we just choose to throw caution to the wind.
If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Lean on those diet and lifestyle practices that help you recover. Lots of water, walking, maybe some digestive enzymes if that helps you, healing foods like bone broth, detoxifying foods like beets or blueberries. Love yourself all the way back to your happy, healthy place. And keep going. Don’t let one blip or slip up take you all the way off the track. Before you know it, you’ll be cruising along again.
That’s the journey. It comes with ups and downs. Nobody's perfect, and if there's a time to do some mindful indulging, the holidays are it. But if you're a Thyroid Thriver, you’ve probably learned that some of those indulgences now come at a price not worth paying.
The holidays are loaded with foods and drinks that diminish rather than support your health, which presents us with some difficult choices. When it comes right down to it, what fun is it to feel awful throughout the holidays? Making thyroid-healthy updates to your holiday traditions can be a necessary, albeit emotionally heavy process, especially at first. We all have days when we just wish we could eat and drink what everyone around us is eating and drinking.
Genius is working within limitations, and there are so many delicious ways to celebrate within our thyroid-healthy limitations. So, define your hard line, leverage your flexibility, and find ways to replace old and outdated traditions with ones that are in alignment with your health needs, goals, and values.
I’ll leave you with this final thought: Joy and celebration are what the holidays are all about, but no amount of deliciousness can make up for feeling crummy. Nothing tastes as good as being healthy and well feels.
I hope this has inspired you, and given you lots of ideas about how you can make some strides this year toward finding your own version of thyroid-healthy holidays.
If you need help and support with that, I am here for you!
- Book a coaching call with me to discuss your current health challenges and goals for this holiday season.
- Browse my free recipe blog for loads of free thyroid-healthy holiday recipes.
- Check out my Thyroid-healthy Thanksgiving Survival Guide & Cookbook. If you’re ready to slingshot your way to thyroid-healthy holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, this is a GREAT place to start.
Wishing you happy holidays and the best of health!