Stressed at the holidays every year? You’re not alone. The majority of respondents from a 2015 survey reported elevated stress levels during the holiday season. Why are we so stressed? There a plenty of valid reasons for feeling agitated at the holidays. For one, we’re often stretched thin. Between office parties, financial stress, long shopping lines, and family events, our holiday calendars can fill up fast. Not to mention many of us have unrealistic expectations for how the holidays should feel and be, which can lead to disappointment.
And if you’re a plant-based beginner who is already prone to holiday stress, you may have the added worries. Maybe you’re feeling anxious that your family won’t support you, that you’ll miss out on some of your holiday traditions, that you’ll have nothing to eat at holiday parties, that you’ll be unable to maintain your healthy lifestyle.
The good news is: we’ve gathered some of our best whole food plant-based holiday tips and tricks so you can mitigate your plant-based beginner anxieties and have a healthy AND happy holiday season.
Let the host know about your plant-based diet
Going to a friend or family member’s for Thanksgiving or a holiday party and worried you won’t have anything to eat? Give the host a heads up about your dietary preferences, if you’re comfortable doing so. You can assure them they don’t need to learn how to cook vegan holiday meals helping them to understand why you won’t be digging in to certain food offerings.
Bring a plant-based dish to share
Grant your host (and yourself) some peace of mind by offering to bring a whole food plant-based dish to share. This way, you know you will have something healthy to eat, with the added bonus of introducing yummy plant-based holiday dishes to friends and family. And when you really think about it, the side dishes are the real stars of Thanksgiving and can easily be adapted to fit your whole food plant-based lifestyle.
Plant-Based Recipe Ideas for Thanksgiving:
Plant-Based Recipes Ideas for a Holiday Party:
Eat before you go
If you can’t bring something to your holiday event and you’re worried you’ll have nothing to eat, snack before you go. That way you’ll arrive to the party already satiated and will be less inclined to head straight to the cheese platter and more inclined to enjoy your plant-based holiday, full and happy.
Host your holiday festivities
If you like to host, go for it! To alleviate the stress of cooking for everyone, make it a potluck and give your guests a heads up that you’ll be making (delicious) plant-based dishes only. Let them know whether or not it’s OK to show up with dishes that aren’t plant-based so you’re all on the same page.
Remember why you eat this way
If this is your first whole food plant-based holiday, you may find it hard to resist some of your old holiday favorites. Emotional eating and the holidays are often linked because we associate certain types of food with comforting times in our childhood and family traditions. So if you find yourself really struggling on this point, take a deep breath and try to remind yourself of all the benefits of a plant-based diet. Focus on your “why” -- whether you started your plant-based lifestyle to help with heart disease or diabetes, or because you just wanted to look and feel better.
Start new plant-based traditions
And while we’re on the subject of family traditions, instilling new whole food plant-based traditions during the holidays is a great way to secure family bonding time while maintaining your new lifestyle. Some plant-based traditions to try:
Try not to get defensive with unsupportive family and friends
This one is a toughie! If you have a family member or friend that’s giving you the business about your plant-based diet, try not to get your hackles up. We’ve written about unsupportive family before and it’s a hot topic for plant-based beginners. The truth is, family can drive us all a little nutty but if you’re met with snide remarks over the holidays because of your food choice, reacting in anger won’t help the other person see your point-of-view and it could spoil the holiday for you both.
And keep in mind, if they’re offended by your plant-based diet it usually has little to do with you. Your friend or family member may truly not understand why you’re eating this because they’re uneducated on plant-based eating (which most of us can relate to at one point or another in our lives) or maybe they’re feeling defensive of their own unhealthy dietary patterns and traditions.
When you’re met with a rude comment, offer to discuss after dinner and just explain that you’re doing this because you feel better when you do. You don’t really have to go into too much more detail unless they truly seem interested in plant-based nutrition.
Unless your entire family and all your friends also made the switch to a whole plant-based diet, chances are you’ll be at a holiday dinner or party with some animal products and unprocessed foods. When this happens, keep any judgments to yourself. No one likes unsolicited advice (which is why it’s so annoying when our family members tease us for our own dietary preferences). If someone asks you about a whole food plant-based diet you can mention that you’ve felt really great since eating this way but keep it light, especially while folks are eating their holiday meals. Again, if someone’s interested you can politely postpone that conversation for after dinner or say you’ll follow up with some info via email at a later date.
Ask for support ahead of time
Asking for help is vulnerable but it’s also effective in getting your family members and friends to support your decision. If you’re offered a dish you don’t want and politely declining isn’t doing the trick, ask for your family member or friend to support your decision to live a plant-based lifestyle. You don’t have to go into too much detail (again, that’s for later) but if they’re not making it easy for you to say no you can absolutely explain that making the switch can be challenging at first and you’d love their support in this lifestyle change.
Move your body!
Exercise helps alleviate stress! Stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are reduced when we exercise; meanwhile endorphins are increased with regular exercise, which produces a positive feeling in the body. Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s caused by endorphins!
So do you need to run a marathon this holiday season? Not necessarily. Just going for a brisk 20-30 minute walk can release stress. That said, walking for an hour is better!
Find yourself caving in and eating the holiday cookies your coworker brought in? Remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Forgive yourself and move on. Tomorrow is a new day!