Tracey Haider-Sprague, a home-schooling mother of two, is also the Training Director for Small Beginnings, a Lay Ministry Training Organization in Seattle, Washington where she researches, writes, teaches and counsels. She, along with her entire family, began their low-carb lifestyle in April 2003.
Tracey posts as ‘Mamasita’ on the Talking Low Carb Forums, where she proves an inspiration for us all!
"Doing the best at this moment
puts you in the best place for the next moment."
— Oprah Winfrey
The holidays are upon us. Before we know it, we will be shopping, planning, and
cooking large meals for our families. With all the planning and preparation, we
need to remember to plan for our own needs. If we don't, we may find ourselves
unwittingly gulping down mashed potatoes with high-carb gravy, and scooping cranberry
sauce out of a can, and finding ourselves ten pounds heavier in January!
Those of us who have both religious and traditional observances to consider need to
get to work now to plan how we'll handle them. The potential pitfalls are
many — traditional carby meals mean an abundance of temptation. You'll learn quickly
that advance planning is the key to successfully navigating most holiday challenges.
In church one day, when I'd been on Atkins only a month, the Pastor began communion.
This usually entails passing around platters of little crackers and tiny cups of juice.
As I was holding them in my hands, it dawned on me that what was an intensely meaningful
ritual was also made of high carb foods. For a split second, I struggled with the
concept before deciding that my faith was certainly more important than low carbing.
I went ahead, ate the cracker, and drank the juice, fully expecting a sugar surge,
even with that small amount.
While I experienced no ill effects, it made me realize how something I never expected
to be an issue, was, and I was forced to make an on-the-spot and difficult choice. I
thought about all the other situations likely to come up, religious and otherwise,
that I would face. I want to make low carbing a way of life; not something I ditch
when it's inconvenient. Still, our family takes religious observances seriously and
I worried that I would be in constant turmoil over what to do. I concluded that with
careful planning, important religious customs can be easily incorporated into a low
A strategy I've found to be especially helpful for planning is listing the various
traditions, and identifying which are mandatory and which are optional. For example,
a person who observes Chanukah may find it mandatory to eat potato latkes fried in
oil as part of remembering the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days in the
temple menorah, yet feel that they could substitute something for Chanukah gelt (chocolate
coins) when the children play the dreidle game. Someone who observes Christmas may
decide a special family recipe must be provided and shared, but that making a sugar free
cranberry sauce would be perfectly fine.
Another example: a seventh generation Mexican stuffing recipe my mother passed down to me.
Except for the breadcrumbs, it's low carb. I could substitute low carb bread crumbs, or
I could decide that since I only make it once a year, it must remain in its original form.
When planning holiday meals, if you can't alter a specific dish, consider substituting
or adding an entirely different recipe to round out the menu. Check out this site or
low carb cookbooks in advance of the holiday. Give yourself plenty of time to purchase
or order special ingredients and try the recipe out beforehand.
Separating requirements from possible substitutes helps integrate low carb eating into
every aspect of our lives. Many things translate nicely, but some things cannot change.
I would suggest that in regard to religious observances, if the food they require cannot
be altered, that they be eaten in moderation.
For me, when Chanukah rolls around, I've found an excellent substitute for potato
latkes. Zucchini latkes are just as tasty fried in oil, and the oil is what is being
remembered. I will take a different approach in Spring, when Passover arrives. Matzah,
required to be eaten as part of the Passover Seder, is made with refined flour. Yet
when it comes time to eat it, I will not hesitate to do so. Matzah ball soup,
traditionally served as the first course at the Seder, is not found in scripture, but
for many, is essential to the experience.
Instead of chowing down on two bowls of matzah ball soup, (I love homemade matzah balls)
with up to four matzah balls each, I might eat one bowl with only one, or at the very
most, two. The next week I work hard to eat clean and avoid a binge as I am extremely
sensitive to refined carbs.
The spirit is just as important as the physical body and I believe that whatever your
faith, it is possible to stay on plan and still do what is meaningful to you. Even
though planned cheats can derail a person; if you find yourself torn between observing
your faith and low carb, follow your heart. Just make sure you realize that eating
high glycemic foods or refined carbs may cause you some difficulty.
As I integrate low carbing into my lifestyle, personal responsibility comes up often.
A benefit of ketosis is that cravings are curbed, and self control is restored. By
following plan, we have the mental and physical "space and time" to think about what
we are going to do instead of reacting compulsively to whatever stimuli come along.
This means we can help ourselves, rather than sabotage our efforts.
In the end we can take part in all aspects of our lives without giving up little pieces
of ourselves until there's very little left.
Part of personal responsibility includes talking to family members about your special
needs. This may sound simple, but it can be very hard to do within some families,
especially if you are the only low carber. Don't assume that the family will disown
you if you do something different for the holiday meal. Make it a point to talk to the
people you suspect may be resistant to change, and tell them what you are thinking of
doing. I have been very surprised at how flexible my extended family members have been.
If you never ask, you'll never know.
If, on the other hand, you know you are in a situation where people want things a
certain way or are, in fact, intentionally "plotting" against your low carb lifestyle
(which does happen, unfortunately) and you feel that you need to acquiesce, just make
sure there are low carb options for you at the dinner table as well as the usual high
If you'll have little control regarding this meal, perhaps you can eat something
beforehand and take as little of the food on the table as possible. This is certainly
not ideal, and may even feel unfair, but if you wish to stay on plan, sometimes we need
to white knuckle the arms of the dining chair to get through the event.
This may bring other issues to bear: boundary issues with friends and family members.
I can't imagine having family over to a big dinner and purposely tempting them with
something that they cannot eat. At the risk of being glib… it's about love and
Planning. Substituting. Moderation. Commitment. I believe these are the four keys
to success no matter what holiday we're dealing with.
I hope you enjoy the holidays and that you find ways to make the low carb lifestyle
work for you. It can be challenging at first, but will pay off in the end.
Happy Holidays! May you enjoy good food, good company, and loose fitting clothes
in the New Year!
Copyright © November 2003 Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury
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