November 10, 2014

Dear Melissa: Your Whole30 Holiday Strategy


Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new Food Freedom habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re talking about how to make sure your Whole30 holiday is as family-friendly and stress-free as possible.

Dear Melissa,

I am on Day 3 of my second (attempt) at the Whole30.  I feel more prepared and educated this time around, and I am determined to see this through. Thanksgiving falls on Day 27—I usually stuff myself like a turkey (no pun intended) on this particularly holiday and deal with the ramifications afterward, but I wanted this year to be different. My question is this: Would it be rude of me to ask my mother and mother-in-law if they could bake me a sweet potato and make compatible green beans to go with my turkey?  Should I offer them my clarified butter and coconut milk for the mashed potatoes?  Neither mother will allow me to make anything, so I am completely at their mercy.  (I’m not so concerned about dessert, because I do not like pie on a good day.) What would you suggest?  -Katie, Southington, OH 

Dear Katie,

I’m going to answer your specific questions here, but I’m also talking to everyone else who is consciously choosing to take on the Whole30 over U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa—otherwise known as the general “holiday season.”

As you probably know, we generally steer people away from doing the Whole30 over the holidays. (Didn’t know that? Read more about why a holiday Whole30 may not be the best idea.) So I’m guessing you have a really compelling reason to take on the program now, over Thanksgiving—and sharing your personal goals with your family members is the first step in making sure  your holiday is easy, stress-free, and Whole30 compatible.

Action item #1: Well before the holiday, schedule time to speak with each key family member. 

Talk to them about your commitment to the Whole30 over the holiday, and share your very personal reasons for taking on the program over the holiday. Now is not the time to quote It Starts With Food, speak in generalities, or come out of the gate defensively. Speak from your heart. Share your struggles, your fears, your hopes for the next thirty days. Tell them you would have waited until January 1st like the rest of the resolutioners—but you really felt like your health and your well-being just couldn’t wait. Finally, ask them outright for their support. “I know you care about me and want me to be healthy—can I have your support in this?”

One more thing—if you can tell they think you’re being silly or seem kind of annoyed, acknowledge it. Say, “I know you think this is crazy, I get it. Can you humor me, though? Trust me, I’ll make this super easy for you—in fact, you won’t even notice I’m eating a little differently on Thanksgiving day, and my holidays will be so much happier because I’ve made this commitment to my health.”

Note, you haven’t talked about the specifics of the program at all. That comes later, after they’ve agreed to support you through this process. (If you open with, “Hey, I can’t eat bread or milk or cheese or sugar on Thanksgiving—just letting you know,” the conversational train you were hoping to board will derail fast.)

Action item #2: Talk about what you will be eating, and how easy this will actually be.

After you have their support, it’s time to talk about the specifics of the day, but focus on the foods you will be eating, not all the stuff you can’t eat. Find the common ground for them, and all of a sudden this Whole30 Thanksgiving actually sounds pretty easy.

Do this ahead of time, so when you pass on mom’s macaroni-and-cheese on turkey day, they aren’t upset or offended.  Ask them about the menu they have planned, and internally evaluate what you’ll be able to eat, and what you’ll have to pass up. (The turkey is good to go, but the gravy or stuffing isn’t… the mashed potatoes probably have butter or cream, and the green bean casserole probably has fried onion crisps.) Then, create a plan with your family to either make their dishes compatible for you, or for you to bring your own compatible side dish.

It’s easy to say, “Can you set aside a plain boiled potato for me, before you mash them all with butter and cream?” or “Can you just save me some steamed green beans before you mix it into the casserole?” That’s no more work for your family and means you get to enjoy these side dishes too. Bring your own coconut milk, ghee, or salad dressing if it makes things easier. Find a way to make as little extra work as possible for your family members, while making sure you’ll have more than just plain, dry turkey to eat on the big day.

Action item #3: Bring your own side dish

Katie, I know you said neither mother will allow you to make anything, but after the conversation you just had, ask them again. Since you have a good idea of what’s on the menu and what you could bring to supplement their dishes,tell the moms that you’d really like to contribute to the gathering, and thanks for letting you test out your recipes on the family, (Of course, make sure you bring enough for everyone.)

Phrase it like this: “I’ve been teaching myself to cook, and came across this recipe that sounded perfect for Thanksgiving. I’d really like to make it for the family, can we serve it with your potatoes and green beans?” You can mention that it would be really nice to share a little bit of the way you’ve been eating with them and that you’d really like to participate in the gathering by doing more than just washing dishes (although you’re happy to do that too).

This also works well for dessert. Bring something fruit-based that you know you can eat, and make enough for everyone to enjoy it. You can never have too many desserts at these holiday gatherings, and chances are people will appreciate having at least one lighter, healthier offering.

Action item #4: Relax, and roll with it

Come Thanksgiving day, if your mother forgets and puts plain old butter in the potatoes or pours gravy on your turkey, just roll with it. Unless you have a serious sensitivity or allergy to a particular ingredient, Whole30 rules aren’t as important as protecting someone’s feelings. Just do the best you can—scrape off the gravy, eat around the butter, and don’t use this as an excuse to stuff your face with dinner rolls and apple pie. Follow the Whole30 as closely as you can, and consider your holiday a success because you stuck to your convictions and shared in the experience with your loved ones.

Finally, even if your meal wasn’t 100% Whole30 compatible (as you planned), be sure take a moment during dinner to compliment the chefs and thank your family from the heart for supporting you in your commitment. Your mothers will appreciate hearing how grateful you are, and will be far more likely to stay supportive through the rest of your program (and in life after your Whole30) if you show them how much it means to you.

And who knows—this experience may just prompt family members to ask you more about the program and your experience. Share everything you know about the Whole30 and the amazing results it can bring. Just don’t do it over dessert.

Happy holidays to all.

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it using this handy form.

Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.

Melissa Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom; and the upcoming Food Freedom Forever. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography

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