Let’s face it: Implementing and maintaining a ketogenic diet isn’t easy. I think we all agree on this! But staying in ketosis before, during and shortly after the Christmas season can be beyond challenging for even the most experienced keto-ers. That’s why I decided to share my experience from the past 3 Christmases and give you some Keto Christmas Hacks.
When there’s temptation everywhere and hardly any alternatives, it’s easy to cave in and tell yourself that “it’s just once a year”… But if you’re like me and you follow the ketogenic diet for metabolic and medical purposes, this might backfire. Not that I want to scare anyone, but there’s anecdotal evidence that cancer patients in particular can experience difficulties (e.g. a relapse) if they increase their carbohydrate intake rapidly.
That’s why I’m keen to share some tips and tricks that can make following a ketogenic diet over the festive season easier. If you’re anything like me, I have no intention being “thrown out of ketosis” just because everybody else around me is stuffing their faces with sweet treats, indulging in mulled wine and eating tons of pate on white bread. This is my 4th “Keto Christmas” and so far I haven’t had any trouble going to Christmas lunches, enjoying the traditional Christmas dinner and survive all the other festivities. So, here are my 6 top tips:
1) Do a bit of planning
Planning is a big part of the ketogenic diet anyway but it becomes even more important around Christmas time. Check out who is cooking Christmas dinner, ask if you can bring something along or, even better, if you’re hosting dinner then you have free range anyway and it’s up to you what specialties you serve 😉
One thing I often do is offer to bring something along- a good keto trick is to make some herbed butter/ghee, for instance, or a nice sauce or dip. Anything that helps you up the fat because finding a source of protein (turkey, pork etc.) isn’t usually the problem and you should also find some greens and other non-starchy vegetables.
You can also make a dessert that you know you can enjoy and make a bigger portion to share with others. A super simple one is to get some berries (obviously the frozen ones in the winter time) and whipped cream- it takes no time to organise and prepare this. Other good ideas are for instance:
- Low Carb Christmas Pudding
- Low Carb Cookie Recipes
- Nut free Gingerbread Cookies
- Salted Caramel Magic Cookie Bars
2) Eat before you go
Don’t go to any Christmas festivities when you’re absolutely ravenous. Whenever we leave the house to go to a dinner party or any other occasion, I ask myself whether- worst case scenario- I’d easily last the whole evening without eating. Do a mini fast, basically! If this is the case, then hurray- you will certainly not run the risk of going for crap- or indeed high carb- foods because you simply don’t have to. And if there are some good low carb and keto options for you, then enjoy them.
So, what do you instead of eating then? This might be the more tricky part, I have to admit. If you scroll down, you come to an “adult section” and a “child section” (if your child is on a therapeutic ketogenic diet) that might give you some ideas!
3) Be ready for answers to “I made this just for you” or “Don’t you like my cooking?”…
Trust me, I’ve had many embarrassing (and even mortifying) moments on my keto journey. One of the most awkward was probably this year at my birthday party where we just had a very small family dinner in an Indian restaurant. My lovely sister-in-law had gone to the trouble of baking a yummy carrot cake (because she was convinced that because it was made with carrots and gluten free, it had to be okay). I’ll never forget the disappointed look on her face when I confessed that I wouldn’t be able to eat this…
Yes, disappointing other people is one feature of this way of eating. And I guess there’s no other option but to just get used to it and deny certain foods and meals in the most charming and nice way possible. It’s much easier for us chronically ill people (hey, we have to have some advantages after all we’ve been through!). In my case, I call it “pulling the cancer card” and I’ve used it in many times in various situations.
Sometimes I just simply don’t feel like explaining and justifying my way of eating to other people, especially if I don’t know them well. But there are other times (when I have the energy!), I briefly ask people whether they remember that I had treatment twice. And remind them of the outcomes (in my case, they didn’t get me to where I wanted to be). And then I explain that without a shadow of a doubt, a lot of my current health and wellbeing is due to this “weird” way of eating and living. Some people who don’t know me might think I’m a lunatic (which is fine by me), others get genuinely interested and ask me questions until I subtly and politely change subject once I’m fed up and others just totally accept it without asking any further questions.
For me, there’s a big (life) lesson in this: Before I was diagnosed, I always tried to do the right thing by everybody and please them, even if it went completely against what I felt or wanted to do.
I had to learn that this just wasn’t possible- let alone realistic- to keep doing all my life. That I had to set boundaries and sometimes this meant disappointing or putting off- rather than hurting!- other people. I’m still not super comfortable doing this- probably because I really care about other people’s feelings- but I’ve learned the hard way that caring for myself can mean disappointing somebody else. And, to be honest, being a mum makes this a bit easier because I have this big responsibility now and need to make sure I’m healthy and happy to be able to see my kids grow up.
This quote by Kate Spencer can also be a good reminder: “When you don’t have good boundaries you are telling the universe that your time and energy are not worth anything… and that’s not true.”
4) What about alcohol?
This is such a common- and important- question that I decided to address it in a separate handout that will be gifted to anyone who signs up for my free keto webinar on December 16. Please don’t consider this as an invitation to drink alcohol- if you’re perfectly happy without ever going near any drink, you totally don’t need this information.
But if you’re like me- a seasoned keto fan- and you like to have a little bit of alcohol when socializing, then this is exactly what you were looking for!
5) It’s not all about food! Distraction for adults on keto…
For me, Christmas is the perfect time to catch up with family and friends. The Irish are a very sociable and chatty bunch and often people are so busy talking and entertaining each other, that nobody really pays attention whether absolutely everybody polishes off their plates and gobbles down their spuds. Quite often, when the time (or course) comes that I know I can’t have, I go and entertain the kids for a little while and obviously nobody really minds this. It’s much better than sitting there in front of an (empty) plate answering questions why I can’t eat that particular food or meal.
Sometimes it also happens that I make myself useful and busy in other ways, like for instance washing or tidying up a bit and that’s also a valid reason to leave the table when it’s getting tricky for me.
This obviously all depends on how formal your meal is but because we’re quite a big family with lots of kids of different ages, it rarely happens that we manage to sit at the table together for too long!
6) How to make Christmas stress-free(r) for Keto Kids!
Celebrating Christmas with a child that has special dietary needs (not just keto- there are countless other ones like gluten free, for instance) can be a particularly stressful time. If you’re child is on a ketogenic diet for epilepsy, for instance, the margin of error is often tiny and the result of overindulgence would certainly be very unpleasant.
Emma Williams from “Matthew’s Friends” has written a great “Christmas Survival Guide” for keto kids and although I don’t have experience with having a little one going through keto, I’d most likely resort to some good movies, too, when things get hectic…