5 Simple Strategies for Staying on Track and Sane This Holiday Season

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

The holiday season seems to begin earlier, earlier every year! Halloween kicks off the season and has become not only much anticipated, but much advertised, beginning months before the event. Football season and tailgating parties also abound.  These gatherings then roll right into Thanksgiving, immediately into Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, and New Year’s celebrations which are practically non-stop.  The common theme with all of these occasions is food! Each holiday has its own excuse for feasting, treats, and excess.  And, while party food and excess can present a challenge to all, for those who must follow a special diet for health or healing reasons, it can be extremely difficult. During the holidays, not only are tempting foods around every corner but we are also bombarded with messages in ads and commercials that associate delicious foods with warm family get-togethers and a nostalgia for the times past. The message is clear, you are not a part of things or truly celebrating unless you are indulging. As a matter of fact, I don’t know about you, but my email inbox is even barraged with pictures and recipes from a variety of sources, most of which are in no way healthy!

If you are one of those with a chronic health condition or illness who must follow and stay on a special diet, or if you are a family member supporting someone who must, strategies must be implemented to help survive these months of feasting without feeling swindled, isolated, or left out! The stress of the holiday season also really pings those adrenal glands (discussed in last week’s article) which can work against any “best-laid plans” and set off cravings, especially for the momentary “high” brought by such things as sugar and alcohol–which unfortunately is short-lived and comes crashing down!  While I certainly do not have a solution for all of this temptation, I do hope to be able to offer a few suggestions to help structure your time and plans so that these holidays are times of enjoyment and not your undoing. I also know the power of togetherness and community this time of year, so I want to equip you with some strategies to feel empowered and not fearful of being in situations and with people who may be eating differently than you are or who may not fully understand the importance of sticking with a “special diet” for healing.

5 Simple Strategies for Staying on Track and Sane This Holiday Season

1. Embrace awareness. This term is bandied about in the media for many reasons, but during the holidays, that awareness needs to mean tuning into your personal needs and feelings–almost like self-check-ins. Rather than reacting to stimuli, slow down, stop and think if you are being triggered by ads, expectations, friends, or family members.  No, I am not advocating for you to live inside of your head all the time, but I want you to recognize and acknowledge when you are being tempted by forces outside your own decisions.  Simply acknowledging when something or someone causes your anxiety meter to jump may be enough to withstand pressures and make better self-affirming choices.

2. Have a plan. If you know that you will be in a situation where foods will be served that are not in your best interest, planning ahead and taking your own substitutes helps hugely.  As much as the internet sends us all those unhealthy and sugar-laden recipes, it can also be the go-to resource for healthy alternatives.  There are vast numbers of suggestions that contain healthy and diet-compliant ingredients. Many food bloggers even have stories of similar health struggles that can help because they bring a sense of community and shared experience. I, myself, follow a keto-type dietary plan, and there are delicious treats I can have and share because others like them just as much.  If alcohol is a temptation for you, then a couple of options are Ritual and Dry Farm Wines. Ritual makes zero-proof whiskey alternatives. These can be mixed with sparkling water for a mocktail that is tasty, alcohol-free, and sugar-free as well.  Wines, such as those from Dry Farm have no added sugar and are lower in alcohol content.  I don’t advocate drinking a lot of it but if you must, a glass or two will not undo you.  The main point is to plan ahead so that you are not caught off guard and then tempted to go off course completely.

3. Incorporate exercise. If you are not already committed to an exercise program, then this is a great time to start.  Physical activity decreases the stress hormones produced by the adrenal system which can then induce cravings and mindlessness.  Get physical to the extent that you can.  If higher intensity workouts are not within your scope of ability then the quieter, bodywork types of practices such as yoga or Pilates still work wonders.  Part of exercising is valuing yourself enough to take the time to treat yourself well.  I can’t reiterate this enough.  Food as a reward and for comfort is wired into our brains at such early ages that replacing it with something else can be a challenge.

4. Embrace the spirit of giving. What is good for your soul is good for your health. Whatever your cause and wherever your heart leads you, doing some good brings not only rewards to those you help, but the sense of well-being, gratitude, and self-comfort as well.

5. Keep the 3 pillars of health intact. Just because the holiday season can get you out of your normal routine, the more you keep the 3 pillars of health intact, the better you will fare. Keeping your air, food, and water clean will go a long way in boosting your body’s ability to withstand holiday stress and any off-plan foods or exposures–like mold or other things that you safeguard your body against in your non-holiday life. I even advocate for “indulging” in lots of clean, pure water, whole, nutritious foods, and fresh, outdoor air whenever you can at this time of year. Those moments will make both your body and mind happier and healthier.

Additional Favorite Tips and Tricks

One of my favorite workout instructors has a saying, “ I make suggestions, you make decisions.” This saying applies here as well.  Never will you be judged (certainly not here) if you fall off the wagon.  The important thing is that you get back up and continue forward without negative self-talk or emotional self-beating that can come from veering off course.  As for what can help to both prevent a deep dive into emotional eating as well as help to pull you out of a downward health spiral, here are a few more tips and tricks:

  • Probiotics – Be sure to continue to take these, or start them if you are not taking them.  They are extremely important in maintaining the immunity in the small intestine as well as keeping the production of neurotransmitters working more efficiently.  Having a “gut feeling” has a great deal of meaning as our gut microbiome and gut health is intimately tied to our feelings and emotions. Microbalance Microflora Balance is an excellent probiotic to consider as it contains many proven bacterial strains and is shelf-stable which is great for travel during the holidays.


  • L-Glycine – This amino acid has many roles in the body, but its gentle ability to decrease cravings and ease anxiety is especially helpful during the holidays.  Pure Encapsulations makes a good one, and can be found on wellevate.me/susantanner



  • Natural Antifungals CitriDrops Dietary Supplement is gentle but effective and a few drops in water IF you have a dietary infraction may mitigate the issue of a big yeast rebound. It can also help to protect from a foodborne infection if you eat anything that tastes a little “off”.


  • EC3 Air Purification Candles – If you are traveling and cannot control your environment during the holidays, these candles can really help. They also make great gifts! You can toss a few in your suitcase and burn them in your bedroom or hotel room (safely, of course) to mitigate the situation until you can get back to a mold-free space.

In closing, we would like to wish all of you happy, healthy, and safe holidays, wherever and however you celebrate them.  May joy pervade your senses and the gift of love be in your heart.

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