Stressed about dealing with diabetes over the holidays? Here’s how to eat healthy and still have a fun, festive holiday season.
People with diabetes have to eat carefully all year, but let’s face it, the holidays can be especially difficult. It’s hard for everyone on a special diet to deal with buffets, parties, and family gatherings.
In fact, about half of people living with type 2 diabetes say it’s tougher to manage during the fall and winter holidays than any other time of year. And while most people say they do fine with their diet during a normal week, only about half said the same about holiday weeks.
All of the season’s celebrations and special events can disrupt your usual schedule and careful food planning. It’s hard to plan what you’ll eat at a party since you usually won’t know what they’ll be serving. And just try sticking to your plan once you get there and see all that yummy food!
Temptation is strong, but you’re stronger
The prospect of gaining five pounds (or more!) is reason enough to be careful over the holidays. But there are more reasons to stay on track: You might have real health issues if your diet slips from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
When you’re tempted by your favorite holiday treats, think about how those few moments of pleasure balance against the complications of diabetes you could face for years to come. Or just consider how much work it will be to take off the pounds later. Is it worth having more cake, or was one nibble enough?
As you head into the season, team up with your doctor. Be honest about the events and temptations coming up and how careful you really can be. Your doctor can only help you stay on top of your sugar levels if you are frank about what you can do. Then you can decide together if you should check your blood sugar more often than usual or might need a short-term change in your medication schedule.
With that plan in place, try these tips for common holiday food challenges and how you can crush them. Just because the season is challenging doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy holiday celebrations — food included – and stay healthy at the same time.
The challenge: Schedule switch
“The dinner party is a few hours later than I usually eat. I’ll be so hungry that I’ll eat too much.”
Crush it: Trying to tough it out until dinner isn’t likely to work well. Instead, eat a small snack at your usual mealtime to keep your blood sugar steady. Then eat a little bit less at dinner to balance out the extra snack calories or carbs.
The challenge: Sweet treats
“I’m afraid there won’t be anything healthy for me to eat at the party.”
Crush it: If you don’t ask, you won’t know! Check with your host before the party to see what they’ll be serving. Or just offer to bring some dishes yourself, like fresh veggies and salsa, a festive fruit salad, or any of your go-to, favorite diabetes-friendly dishes.
The challenge: Bountiful buffets
“The buffet looks amazing — and I want it all!”
Crush it: Buffets are so hard, with endless choices that seem to go on forever. Good news: You can have your buffet and keep it (mostly) healthy, too. First, remember what a “diabetic plate” looks like: Half your plate gets filled with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter of it is carbs, and the last quarter is for protein. Try to stick to that balance at the buffet. Choose the veggies first, then pick your carbs and proteins, fitting in the foods you like. Next — and this is the most important part — move away from the buffet. Really. No seconds!
The challenge: Plate envy
“Look at them eating all the yummy-looking stuff that I want, too. But I know I shouldn’t have it.”
Crush it: You’re allowed to celebrate the holidays, too. There’s a saying that “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.”
“I try to remind my clients that any food can fit, it’s a matter of how much and how often,” Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and Detroit-based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told U.S. News & World Report. Choose a few of your holiday favorites — things you don’t usually get to eat the rest of the year, like your sister’s amazing pie, or your best friend’s gingerbread cake. Take a small serving, and savor the flavor. Focus on enjoying it. Maybe even take small bites to make it last longer.
The challenge: Avoiding alcohol
“I might as well be the designated driver. Everyone else is having fun drinking but me.”
Crush it: First, check with your doctor before indulging in any holiday drinking. The usual recommendation for people with diabetes is one drink a day for women, and up to two for men. But those drinks are smaller than you might think — 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or just 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
If you like to have a drink in your hand, stretch it! Try adding club soda or seltzer to turn one glass of wine into two wine spritzers. After each one, grab a flavored seltzer. That way you can be holding a drink all night!
The challenge: Table time
“We love to sit around the table after dinner. But the longer I sit, the more I nibble.”
Crush it: Why not walk and talk instead? Tell everyone that there’s proof in the power of after-meal walks to help you stay healthier and slimmer. It’s good for your digestion, heart health, blood sugar levels, and weight. So instead of talking over the table, suggest a stroll. Remind them it’s important to sneak in some activity over the holidays, especially for you. Exercise can help your body deal with extra eating and help reduce stress (which can also affect blood sugar). So recruit your family to help you keep moving – and move away from the table!
Remember that enjoying the holidays isn’t only about food. It’s also about spending time together with family and friends. Try to focus on the fun, not the food. Do your best to eat well, stay active, get enough sleep, and try to keep your stress under control. These are all important steps for controlling your blood sugar.
While days and weeks of indulgence will take a toll, don’t get discouraged if you slip. One meal — or even one day — of eating off your usual plan isn’t going to undo all the progress you’ve made the rest of the year. But do try to give yourself the gift of better health by doing your best through the season.
Hope your holidays are happy and delicious!
How Medicare can help you manage your diabetes
Wondering whether pumpkin pie or pecan is better for you? (It’s pumpkin.) Or whether you should choose turkey over ham? (Dark meat turkey and ham are about the same, but light meat turkey is the better choice.) Medicare Part B pays for nutrition therapy for people with diabetes, but you have to be referred by your doctor. To compare plans in your area, check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- American Diabetes Association: Survey: Holidays Place Extra Stress on People Managing Type 2 Diabetes
- American Association of Diabetes Educators: Seasonal Eating (with recipes!)
- Centers for Disease Control: Holiday Eating Tips
- University of Maryland Medical System: Diabetes-Friendly Holiday Meal Plan
- U.S. News & World Report: Healthy Holiday Tips for People with Diabetes