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Keeping your Gut Health in Check during the Holidays

We are taking a deep dive into the realness of struggling with gut health issues during the best time of the year (aka the holiday season). I'm examining if it was better to remain disciplined, or break your routine; how to say no to your foodie favorites to promote long-term healing, and how to find a healthy relationship with food during the biggest foodie holidays.

Remaining Disciplined during Holiday Cravings

When I started my new diet for my SIBO protocol, I thought that I would begin reintroducing foods before the Christmas season. In the beginning of November, I took out all starchy foods, sugars (including fruit), eggs, and chicken, on top of everything else I eliminated three months prior (gluten, dairy, soy, and corn). My naturopath and I realized that even after the elimination diet and three months of antimicrobials, I was still struggling with flare-ups, including bloating, fatigue, constipation, and more.

When all else failed, we had to take another look at my diet. And that is when I had to say bye to starches and sugars.

So I am basically keto (minus all the fat from dairy) and it has made me feel tremendously better.* My energy is back and I am way less bloated, and it is the first time in months I think food isn't making me nauseous.

*I always recommend consulting with a doctor before you begin any new diet changes. This was unique to me and my gut health issues and I understand a restrictive diet cannot be sustainable long-term.

When I started this new "keto" diet in November, I knew Thanksgiving would be the first major holiday I had to cope with.

Do I risk eating food that will flare up my gut health issues, or do I persevere and continue with this new diet?

Will it really kill me if I eat something I am not supposed to, if I've only been on this diet for 2 weeks?

Should I begin all of this after the holidays?

Finding Balance in your Dietary Choices

Luckily, I was going home to a small Thanksgiving, where it was just my immediate family. With this in mind, I knew I was able to incorporate foods that helped me stick to my diet easier. I wanted to remain strict with my meal, so I didn't eat ingredients that would flare up my gut, and have to spend the rest of the holiday doubled over in bed.

And it was a success! It was probably the only Thanksgiving meal I can remember in a while where I wasn't severely bloated or cramping. With this in mind, I made a conscious decision to have a piece of gluten-free apple pie, with the understanding that if my symptoms flared up after the pie, I would accept it. Plus, I baked it myself so I haaaaad to try it!

I honestly felt much better after that pie than I could have imagined! And that was the first lesson: Understanding where to draw the line. I could have gone all in on the Thanksgiving meal AND the dessert, but instead I picked one thing that provided me the most amount of joy (the pie, duh).

I remained disciplined the whole two weeks prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. I remained disciplined during the Thanksgiving meal, and even the following day. But the pie, I decided to break my routine. It was all about balance to me in this moment.

What also helped me feel better after breaking my diet was preparing my gut for the inflammatory food coming in. I made sure to stay hydrated with salted water, take a digestive enzyme before my meal, and take charcoal capsules at night and apply Digestzen oil to help with any bloating/cramping.

This way, even with the break in my diet, I was able to feel a bit less worse than I could have.

Saying "No" to Promote Long-Term Healing

It is easier to say no to a dish when you know you are in control. For Thanksgiving, I was able to cook additional sides that I knew wouldn't hurt my stomach. I also baked a gluten-free dessert that wouldn't hurt my stomach as much. When you can, try to be the one to cook/bake, so you have control over the choices of food.

I find that saying "no" can be more difficult when going to a restaurant that you don't have control over their menu. In these instances, I recommend being the person to find the restaurant, and doing your research over the menu. Most of the time you are able to find one dish that fits your dietary needs.

And when you are dining out, still prepare for it. Take your supplements, digestive enzymes, and drink plenty of water. You don't know what restaurants use to cook certain ingredients in, so be prepared for a flare-up just in case.

And lastly, think of the long-term goals. I cannot tell you how many times I was like "do I just do it?" (aka eat the bread basket, get a brunch omelette, or anything that would break my diet) when I was at a restaurant. In the moment, it would feel so easy to reach over and just take a bite of the one food that "maybe won't hurt me that bad" or "idc if it will hurt".

But, you should care. You know why? Because you have gotten this far.

You made the decision to start your healing journey. You made the decision to put down your old habits and ways of eating, so you can enjoy these foods even more in the future. By making the sacrifice today, and not giving in to that instant gratification of the taste, you are setting yourself up for a healthier version of you tomorrow.

Remember, eventually we will get to the point where we can lift all restrictions, and live to our fullest potential. Gut-issues-free!

So, if we don't learn how to say no when it matters, how do we expect our bodies to heal quickly? Think of your long-term goal, and the practice of saying "no" will be much easier to do.

Lastly, when the bread basket does come for the rest of the table, don't be a negative Nancy! Just because you can't eat it, doesn't mean the table cannot enjoy it. Having an optimistic attitude can help pull you away from dwelling on what you can't have, and remind you of why you are on this healing journey. Plus, you won't annoy your friends and family by dwelling on all of the restrictions :)

Creating a Healthy Relationship with Food during the Holidays

By the time Christmas came around, I was so proud of myself for sticking to my new diet. Even after family and friends were visiting me in NYC, I could happily say I continued to avoid foods that would flare up my gut.

By remaining disciplined and learning how to say no, I persevered and began to see light at the end of my healing journey. I also still hoped that my doctor would allow me to begin reintroducing foods on our next 1:1, which happened to be the week before Christmas.

When the news came that she still wanted me to push through with this diet for another month, I was so disappointed. The only thing I wanted was to be able to go back to normal for Christmas!

I struggled with the mindset of remaining disciplined during Christmas. I understood that I did not want to undo everything I was working towards. But, similar to Thanksgiving, I had to find balance in what I was doing, or else my mental health would be at risk.

The Mindset of Acceptance

This mindset of acceptance is fundamental when you make the decision to break your diet. When I ate that pie for Thanksgiving, the reason I think it didn't do as much damage as it probably should have is because I fully accepted any consequences with it. I was able to allow myself to enjoy it in the moment, without any regrets.

Much of our gut health issues are tied back to our brain health. Because of the brain-gut connection, there is an axis of neurons that connects our gut with our brain. The more we emotionally feel wounded, anxious, or fearful, it's going to disrupt our digestive system.

Understanding this, I had to put myself in a good headspace to enjoy all of the food I was about to eat Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Oh yea, I 100000% broke my diet during this time. And I have zero regrets.

For this holiday, since it was my first one in the city, I gave myself full reign to eat it all. With reservations at Palma in the West Village on Christmas Eve - which did have gluten free options! - we ate the fried calamari, and the focaccia, and the gluten-free ravioli and the infamous tiramisu.

On Christmas morning, I woke up with the intention of having a big Christmas brunch. Oh yea, we brunched. With the sourdough and the croissants and the cappuccino, it was spectacular.

Even through these moments of accepting that I was breaking my diet, I still found ways to incorporate habits that would make me feel less of the damage. For example, I made sure I was well hydrated, took my supplements as recommended, and incorporated lots of leafy greens where I could.

Making the decision to eat these foods without feeling guilty was the best decision. Although it did severely affect my gut for up to a week after I ate those foods, it was worth it for my well being in the moment. I knew if I restricted myself any longer, I would risk binging on the foods that I was withholding.

Even the days after I broke my diet, I didn't allow myself to feel guilty or shameful for eating those foods. Instead, I reminded myself how I balanced it with other healthy habits, and the blissfulness the moments surrounding these meals gave to me.

Also, by eating foods that I originally took out due to their inflammatory properties, I was reminded of why I was on this healing journey. I took full responsibility of the tummy aches, constipation, and bloating that came after Christmas day. But, it was an incredible reminder that removing these food groups does actually help me. Because, sometimes I hesitate "is this actually working?".

Bottom line, it is helping. And now I am accepting that I want to do another month (or two!) of this diet until I am fully healed.

Getting Back on Track

I think for most people, diets don't work because they are so short-lived. Keto, low-carb, or calorie restrictive diets are great in the moment, but try doing it for longer than three months, and it won't be sustainable.

But, stick to a unique diet that can help you in the long-run on your gut healing journey. Whether that is the keto diet, gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, etc., if you have gut-health issues, it will be worth it in the end.

And after the holidays pass, the new year is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of new healthy habits!

If you are hesitant about starting your gut health journey, now is the best time to do it! I am going to continue sharing my experience working with a naturopath, and the exact protocol I am on. I hope it can inspire you to start your own healing journey, today!

And if you do "fall off track", don't beat yourself up. Sometimes, you just need to eat the damn pie to find a healthy balance on the journey you are on.


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Welcome! If you made it here, you are probably looking for answers on where to begin your wellness journey. I'm Jessica, and I started my gut health journey over 3 years ago. As an avid foodie and wellness enthusiast, I hope to inspire you on your realistic wellness journey.

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