Before your Lyme disease diagnosis, the typical holiday drill went something like this: a flurry of appetizers followed by a raucous feast. Then, a couple of trips to the dessert table until the tryptophan from the turkey kicked into high gear. Then, you are dozing off the food high until it was time for turkey sandwiches. Our feasting and festivities look different for those of us whose health has been inextricably altered by a chronic illness. Here, I created a simple guide to help you navigate the holidays while combating persistent Lyme disease or chronic illness.
COVID-19 altered many of our holiday traditions anyway, so now is a great time to implement a sustainable holiday Lyme eating plan and lifestyle practices.
How to have a healthy holiday while combating Lyme disease
1. Create a healthy holiday Lyme meal plan that nourishes your body.
Lyme disease or chronic illness causes inflammation. One of the most effective lifestyle habits that reduce inflammation is food. I know, this is the time of year we tend to splurge, sometimes binge, on desserts and nosh on delectable holiday party treats. When you are combating chronic illness, there really is no time off from your eating protocol. Every bite counts toward your recovery.
Fortunately, a meal plan comprised of nutrient-dense foods, mostly from plants, provides anti-inflammatory antioxidants and phytochemicals plus other vital nutrients.
So what should you eat when the rest of the family and friends fill their plate with the standard holiday fare? Inform your hostess about your dietary restrictions. Then, coordinate with her (or him) to bring sides that comply with your protocol.
Are you planning to host or attend a small gathering this Thanksgiving, but you aren’t sure what to bring that you can eat? Maybe I can help. Remember, when you are fighting Lyme disease or a chronic illness, every bite counts. Trust me, I know. I’ve been right where you are.
I prepared a free healthy holiday meal plan for you. The 7-day healthy meal plan includes recipes for Thanksgiving Day, plus desserts and snacks. My meal plans also provide high-quality images (for us, visual learners), cooking instructions, and allergy-sensitive substitutions.
The recipes support a Lyme disease or chronic illness eating plan.
2. Prepare meals from scratch when possible.
Pre-packaged food often contains ingredients that incite inflammation. The more processed your food, the less you really know about the product. I get it; we all need to shave off some time in food prep. You can do that by buying pre-sliced, pre-cubed veggies or fruit.
If you are crunched for time, the processed foods to avoid are sauces, canned soups, frozen main dishes, and lunchmeat. I say this all of the time, but it is such important food wisdom READ. YOUR. LABELS.
When in doubt, use Michael Pollan’s sage wisdom about which foods to buy: “avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients or food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.”
Another way to distill which foods to eat and which foods to avoid, ask yourself, “if I eat this food, will it serve as a detriment or a benefit to my health?”
I have a favorite local Italian market where I buy my olive oil and balsamic vinegar. While I wait in line to pay, right there within my grasp is a basket of chocolate peanut butter bars, each the size of my phone. I learned early on in my battle with Lyme disease that one indulgence could impede my healing.
So you know what I do. I pay for my olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then drive to the health food store and buy my favorite apricot-date squares. You see, I didn’t deny myself a treat, but I opted for the one that benefits my body.
Too often, we equate choosing healthy foods as some self-induced punishment. But if you are fighting for your health, you have to learn to view the chocolate peanut butter bar scenario like a weight that prevents you from moving forward through the corridors and escaping from chronic disease.
3. Get plenty of rest and sleep.
If you have Lyme disease, then insomnia is no stranger to you. And therein lies the monumental paradox. Because to heal, the body needs rest. And lots of it.
The holiday season brings an influx of activity. While you are struggling with chronic illness, it’s essential to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep. That means grabbing a guilt-free nap whenever possible. It also may require you to decline an invitation if you are feeling particularly fatigued.
Remember this, maintaining sleep hygiene throughout the holidays helps fight off potential viral invaders or relapses of symptoms.
Like nutrition and physical activity, sleep health is a critical determinant of health, well-being, and stress management.
Tips for improved sleep:
- Structure your bedtime routine by going to bed at a consistent time and getting up at the same time each morning.
- Create an environment that welcomes sleep. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and temperature regulated.
- Avoid consuming large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before your established bedtime.
- Establish a daily exercise routine. Physical activity during the day promotes sleep at night.
I used to feel guilty about snatching a 15-minute power nap until Lyme Disease entered my life. Early on in my battle with the disease, my Lyme disease specialist asked if I was getting enough rest. Sheepishly, I admitted how good it felt to take a quick rest in the afternoon. She reminded me of the healing power of rest.
From that point on, I never felt guilty for grabbing a cat nap whenever possible.
4. Reduce stress
Chronic stress elevates the cortisol and adrenaline hormones, which then ignites inflammation, the stuff we are trying to eradicate. Thanksgiving weekend kicks-off the seasonal splendor festooned with greenery and sparkle. We tend to get pulled into the whirlwind of the holidays rather than relishing in the elements of calm.
There are simple ways to minimize the stress that will support your Lyme rehabilitation.
Ways to reduce holiday stress:
Writer Scotty Smith often publishes prayers that address specific times of stress— trust-stress, times of devastating loss, periods of social and community crisis.
During stressful times, it helps to meditate on a specific verse of the Bible. Whether you say the verse aloud or silently repeat it in your head, the crucial step is to focus on the promise of the passage.
Taking a few minutes to breathe and refocus can shift your body’s response to stress. Try the S.T.O.P. breathing method.
The 4-7-8 is another breathing exercise you can anywhere.
The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:
- Close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
- Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
My daughter experiences mild stress and anxiety, so I taught her to use this technique when she feels her body begins to tense.
See, easy peasy.
Aromatherapy uses high-quality essential oils to mitigate stress and promote healing and wellness. It employs the olfactory system to help navigate essential oils’ healing properties to the central nervous system.
Diffuse- add essential oil to water to a diffuser
Massage – mix the essential oil with almond, apricot kernel, or grapeseed oil.
Baths – in a container, combine the essential oil with fragrance-free Epsom salts.
Topically – use essential oils or a blend of several essential oils. Follow the instructions before applying.
Nothing beats a warm cup of tea to take the edge off of a stressful day. Teas that offer help with stress often contain chamomile, lavender, or adaptogens.
The practice of using adaptogens, a group of herbs that assist in helping your body “adapt, “respond, and reset during times of stress, is a part of Ayurveda medicine. Ayurveda is one of the oldest approaches to wellness.
An exercise routine does not mean joining a gym or spin class. You can if you want, but that may add to your stress. It’s one more activity to cram in the already tight schedule. Instead, take a walk outside. There are plenty of outdoor venues that offer scenic paths and walkways.
Walking is an uncomplicated way to clear your head and keep stress under control. Make your walk soulful by spending time praying, reflecting, or practicing gratitude.
As we move forward, remember this.
You don’t have to endure any health issues alone. In fact, now more than ever, you need a community of people who understand your health struggles. Whether it’s your Lyme disease or your Type 2 diabetes, it’s important to know that others are here for you.
And more importantly, God is here for you. He knows pain, isolation, frustration, and anything else you experience.
P.S. Don’t forget to grab your free healthy holiday meal plan
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