Food For Thought: Thinking About a Holiday Whole30? Think Twice.

The following is some sage advice from the folks at Whole9 Life.

As we approach the holiday season, we find ourselves preparing for all kinds of festivities – 97.2%  of which include buffet tables laden with unhealthy food.  We’ll be tempted all season long with breads and cheeses, chips and dips, pies, cookies and cakes – and we haven’t even mentioned the wine, brandy and eggnog.

There’s a reason January nutrition workshops are so popular – the holidays bring out the worst in us (nutritionally, that is).  The stress of the season, the endless availability of sweet treats and social pressures at holiday gatherings create a recipe for overindulgence, a few extra pounds and a sleigh-full of guilt and remorse.

One counter-strategy is to commit to a 30 day nutrition challenge, and white-knuckle your way past unhealthy holiday temptations.  But we think embarking upon a Whole30® during the holiday season may be exactly the wrong thing to do.  Surprising, coming from the tough-love champions of the Paleo-sphere? Let’s discuss the three reasons why a holiday Whole30 is a bad idea.

Lack of Awareness

First, programs like the Whole30 are primarily about awareness.  The only way to learn how certain foods are actually affecting your health is by paying close attention during the 30 day elimination , and the subsequent reintroduction period.

But during the holidays, really, nobody has time to pay attention to anything.  So why go through all the effort of giving up foods you like if you’re not going to learn anything from the experience?  From an awareness perspective, you simply can’t give this important nutritional effort the energy and attention it deserves during the holiday season.

Too Much Stress

Reason number two:  according to a 2009 survey, 90% of adults said they experience anxiety about the holiday season. People stress about everything from family conflicts to gift purchasing to finances – and that stress can have a seriously deleterious effect on your mental and physical health.  So why would you add to that stress with a 30 day nutrition challenge during the time of the year when it’s most difficult to avoid temptation?  Sounds like a recipe for failure, unhappiness, or both.

The point of any nutrition challenge is to add to your health – not undermine it.  Under normal circumstances, changing your diet can be difficult, especially in the beginning.  But during the craziness of the holiday season, when you’ll be faced with temptation on a near-daily basis, the added pressures of a Whole30 may prove more stressful than helpful.

Special Traditions

Finally, the holiday season is about more than just parties, gifts, and desserts.  It’s also about family traditions, celebrating your culture and heritage.  Often, it’s when Mom, Gram or Uncle Charlie breaks out that once-a-year cake, pie, or gnocchi for which they are famous.  And we think it would be a shame to tell your poor Gram, “Sorry, but your baklava isn’t allowed during my Whole30.”

Some foods hold a significance that far exceeds the sum of its vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. That kind of food should be honored, savored and shared in the company of those you love.  And in this special instance, in the company of those you love, it doesn’t matter that your Mom uses an entire cup of Crisco in the cake batter. Because that cake is full of memories, history and tradition, and makes you feel as warm and safe and loved as you did when you were a kid.  And there is no way we want you to miss out on that simply because you chose to do the Whole30.

Prepare Your Holiday Game Plan

Now, we aren’t giving you a free pass to go completely off the rails during your holiday season.  (Your Gram’s baklava may be special, but the donuts your co-worker picked up at the grocery store are most certainly not.)  Here are some ways to stay happy, healthy and sane while still enjoying the special offerings of the season.

  • Get your nutrition in line before the madness begins.  Consider a few weeks of the Whole30 in early November to remind yourself how good clean eating feels before the temptations roll in.
  • Try interspersing days of Whole30 in between special holiday occasions. The more you remember how good you feel when you eat healthy, the easier it will be to pass on those things that aren’t special.
  • Plan and prepare. Identify situations where you may encounter peer pressure, stress, or temptation, and come up with a (nutritional) plan to deal with them.
  • Save your nutritional off-roading for things that are especially delicious or emotionally significant.  Ask yourself, is this really worth it?  If not, skip it.
  • When you do indulge, be smart.  Don’t eat things you know will wreck you, or things you’re allergic or sensitive to. (Gram will understand if you’re allergic to nuts.)
  • Eat only as much as you need to satisfy that craving or participate in your family’s tradition. Eat slowly, savor it and share it with those you love.
  • Most important, remember that there is no guilt associated with a deliberately-made food choice.  Don’t add to your stress by making a conscious choice, then beating yourself up.

However, some people may still feel like they need the rules and structure of a Whole30 to see them through these tempting holiday months, and are prepared to deal with the challenges this entails. If you do choose to Whole30 for the holidays, make sure you have the support of friends, family, and a community who understands. The Whole30 forum is a great place to connect with others for support, advice, and motivation, and the accountability you’ll find in our Whole30 Daily newsletter may just make the difference between staying on track, and falling face-first into a fruitcake.

So this holiday season, Whole9 encourages you to eat, drink and be merry – and to create your own set of healthy holiday guidelines.