Staying on track during the holidays can be particularly challenging on any diet, and many people simply decide to postpone their health and weight loss efforts until the New Year. Here at dairyfreeketo.com we view keto as a lifestyle, not a quick fix or fad diet. We therefore encourage our readers to embrace these types of challenges, and learn to navigate these occasions successfully rather than stress over them or avoid them altogether.
Although weight loss is the number one reason people consider keto, there are several instances in which keto is being used to address a variety of health or medical issues. Navigating keto during the holidays will be considerably more difficult for beginners than for those that have been following the diet for several months and are already fat adapted. This guide is therefore intended to support a broad range of circumstances or motivations.
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Before we get into the standard advice or tips, we should first look at mindset. The holidays can be a particularly difficult time to navigate a healthy diet, not just due to the abundance of tasty and tempting food, but also for emotional reasons. For many, the holidays are truly a time of celebration and restricting yourself too much or focusing on your diet can distract from the moment.
The holidays can also be particularly difficult for those that are hurting due to various struggles or loss, and not everyone receives the proper support when attempting to improve their health. Sometimes close friends or family can be the most sabotaging elements in your health journey. They may not understand what your motivations are, they may be battling their own issues and hold resentment toward your success, or they may mean well and try to encourage you to indulge because they don’t like to see you struggle.
Hopefully you are in a place where support is abundant, but no matter your situation, learning to navigate your health positively in all circumstances is the difference between a diet, and a lifestyle.
Preparation is Key
This will be particularly important if you are new to keto, have food allergies or sensitivities, or are following keto for medical reasons. There are number of things you can do to be prepared for a variety of situations you are likely going to encounter during the holidays.
Whether you are hosting dinners or parties, or simply wanting to incorporate some seasonal festive flavors into your meals, having some convenient foods and snacks available on hand will be extremely beneficial. If you are somewhat new to keto then preparing complete keto-friendly holiday meals for a large number of guests may seem a bit overwhelming.
You can look online for keto-friendly versions of some of your favorite traditional recipies, or consider creating some new traditions. All of our top recommended keto cookbooks offer a large number of appetizers, salads, sides, and dessert recipes that would fit perfectly with any meal, and one of our favorite authors, Leanne Vogel, also offers a full holiday focused keto cookbook.
I like to prepare batches of dairy-free keto cookies and candies beforehand and simply store them in the freezer. I keep pili nuts, beef sticks, vegetable dips, keto bars and breads, pork rinds, guacamole, chopped vegetables, and kielbasa on hand to offer as snacks, and I keep my fridge and liquor cabinet stocked with low-carb beverages or mix options (details below).
Use unsweetened almond milk, full fat coconut milk, organic cacao, and stevia to whip up some creamy keto hot chocolate, and stock your pantry with festive flavorings like pumpkin spice, vanilla, mint, peppermint, and maple.
At a Restaurant
Before going to a restaurant, check out their menu online. Review the soups, salads and side dish options available, and don’t forget to look at the sides that are listed with other entrees. For instance, the steak you have your eye on may come with potatoes, but the salmon is being offered with cauliflower mash. These sides may not be listed independently on the menu but making these types of substitutions is usually easily accommodated.
Eating a little something beforehand can also help curb hunger, making it easier to select healthier options, and don’t forget to peruse the appetizer menu thoroughly. Sometimes two appetizers, or an appetizer and a soup or salad can offer a great alternative when there aren’t any meal options that fit the bill.
Finding dairy-free options can sometimes be more difficult since all of the ingredients for a dish are not listed. Communicate to your server that you have a dairy allergy and are not just avoiding it due to personal preference. This should result in a note added to your order and improve the chances that your request will be taken seriously.
Lactose intolerance has become the universal term to communicate dairy allergies, or sensitivity to dairy, but it doesn’t communicate the whole picture. Lactose simply refers to the specific type of sugar that is present in dairy, however many people have greater reactions or sensitivities towards milk proteins including casein or whey.
My wife is sensitive to dairy, not just lactose. If she consumes even a small amount it can be extremely unpleasant and can derail her whole day. She uses Digestive Advantage enzyme tablets daily in case she consumes dairy unknowingly at a restaurant, or from a food item that is poorly labeled or has come into contact with dairy during processing.
In case of accidental dairy or gluten consumption, another product called E3 Advanced Plus offered by gluten expert Dr. Tom O’Bryan includes powerful enzymes, prebiotics, and probiotics to break down gluten proteins by targeting both internal and external peptide bonds. This product is shown to produce 99% digestion of all 8 major antigens (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, nuts, fish, hemp, pea) within 90 minutes.
Attending a Dinner Party
As mentioned earlier, friends, family and colleagues are usually pretty accommodating, but it is not always the case. You may also be concerned about making a good impression if you are new to a group, and not wanting to come across as difficult or high maintenance.
Similar to dining out at a restaurant, a little snack beforehand can help curb hunger and allow you to make better decisions once at the party. Consider bringing a keto friendly dish or dessert to share, or at least enough for yourself so you can participate in the meal.
Offer to help with the meal, and set aside a serving of a dish or two before certain ingredients are added. Getting involved during food preparation or having someone in the kitchen looking out for you without it needing to be announced can be a great way to navigate this situation.
As mentioned earlier, my wife is sensitive to dairy but she can be a little soft-spoken about it at times, not wanting anyone to be put out or make a fuss. At large family gatherings, my mom is often her more vocal advocate, setting aside small amounts of certain foods before butter, milk or cheese is added, or offering alternative options. The same approach can often be used for keto.
We all know that alcohol isn’t healthy and not particularly keto-friendly, there are however a few ways to consume it responsibly over the holidays without derailing your entire diet.
Low-carb beer and spiked seltzers are a great option to bring with you to a holiday party, and due to their increasing popularity, they have become much more readily available at most restaurants and lounges. Michelob Ultra® for instance contains just 2.6 carbs per 12 fluid ounces and is one of the most popular low-carb beers.
If beer isn’t your fancy, or it doesn’t pair well with your meal, then wine is another good option. In most cases, a 5-ounce glass of dry or semi-sweet wine will come in at less than 5 grams of carbs. Similar to bottled beer or ciders, you know exactly what you are getting with regard to calories or sugar when ordering wine at a restaurant. You run a much greater risk of getting a high-carb alcohol or mixer when ordering mixed drinks.
Mixed drinks aren’t entirely off limits, and you can certainly mix a wide variety of tasty options yourself, but it can be a little more difficult to navigate at a restaurant or bar. Most flavored liquor is high in carbs, and may also contain gluten or other antigen ingredients, but there are exceptions. The general rule when crafting a low-carb cocktail is to choose plain, unsweetened, and unflavored clear or light-colored liquors like vodka, gin, white rum, tequila or whiskey.
You most likely won’t find any low-carb signature cocktails directly on the menu, but your server may be able to recommend some alternatives. As mentioned earlier however, you do run a greater risk of some high-carb ingredients making their way into a mixed cocktail due to miscommunication or some other type of mix-up. No pun intended.
Stevia sweetened sodas or mixes like Zevia® are great options to mimic some of your favorite highballs, or experiment with new flavors. The high amount of sugar in most alcoholic drinks is a greater contributor to the head throbbing hangover than the alcohol itself. Even if you are not strictly following keto, eliminating the sugar in your alcoholic beverages is the best way to evade a hangover.
If you are looking for some creative beverage options Kyndra D. Holley offers a few tasty mixed drink recipes in her Dairy-Free keto Cooking book, and also outlines which types of alcohol contains the least carbs. She has even taken it one step further by creating an entire book called Keto Happy Hour, which provides a more thorough guide to alcohol while on keto.
If you haven’t considered intermittent fasting before, it may be a great little tweak to help you stay on track during the holidays. Basically, by skipping breakfast you are able to indulge more later in the day, which means you don’t have to worry as much about that second helping at the dinner party. Fasting is also a great way to get back into ketosis if you consumed too many carbs the day before.
Exercise Before Dinner
Timing your workout, or doing some form of exercise, on the same day or immediately before going out to dinner can help leverage your ability to consume more calories and/or carbs. By burning some extra calories and further depleting your glucose levels, particularly if you exercise while fasted, you leave yourself some extra room to consume more calories or carbs during dinner without kicking yourself out of ketosis.
Adding exercise, particularly high intensity interval training (HIIT), is a great compliment to the keto diet when it comes to burning fat, and timing your workouts strategically can help you manage the effects of a little overindulgence during the holidays.
Staying well hydrated is particularly important when following keto, and especially through the holidays as we are likely to consume more dehydrating beverages that contain either caffeine or alcohol, or both.
In an earlier post we examined the benefits of consuming adequate water to help flush out toxins, and ensure ketones are lost through our urine rather than through our breath or skin. We also recommend purifying your water at home by using a reverse osmosis or Berky countertop water filtration system.
The general rule of thumb for meeting you daily water needs:
- Take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2
- Drink that amount of water in ounces
- Consume an additional 12 to 16 ounces of pure water for every 8 ounces of diuretic beverage consumed
Drinking water throughout the day is a great way to diminish hunger, however do not consume large amounts just prior to eating as this will dilute your stomach acid and interfere with digestion. This is contradictory advice to what you may have heard. I have read various sources recommending drinking water immediately prior to eating in attempt to occupy the stomach and reduce the amount you consume during meals. However, the result is commonly bloating and gas due to digestive difficulties.
Similar to other aspects of our health, proper hydration takes some planning and focus. I personally start and end each day with 12 ounces of filtered water, along with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, approximately 2 table spoons of fresh lemon juice, and a few drops of liquid stevia. I do generally have a caffeinated beverage in the morning, such as coffee or tea, so I must consume an additional 12 to 16 ounces or water at some point during the day.
Take a Break From Keto Over the Holidays
I’m not suggesting abandoning it altogether for multiple days or weeks, but if you have been consistent with keto for several weeks or months, and have become fat adapted, then you have created some built in flexibility. Having the occasional carb-heavy meal or day is actually a strategy that is used by some athletes, and it can actually help restart your weight loss if you have hit a plateau.
Again, this should be approached with some level of strategy. Athletes that apply this type of keto, also known as targeted or cyclical keto, usually consume carbs just prior to a workout, or after an extended period (a week or more) of consistent intense exercise.
On the occasions where I have knocked myself out of ketosis, either strategically or by accident, I find that I have been able to reach an even deeper level of ketosis almost immediately after I recommit to strict keto, and I am able to reignite my weight loss progress.
At the end of the day, you are accountable to you. Accept the challenge, create a plan and make the preparations, but try not to obsess. Also, don’t abandon everything due to one slip-up. When approached positively, these types of challenges allow you to test your limits, expand your boundaries, and develop a progressive and adaptable lifestyle.
How do you navigate the holidays on keto? Do you have any tricks or tips that have worked well for you? Please comment below and share your success to help others that may be struggling. You do not need to provide your email address to leave a comment.
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