Managing your diabetes during the holidays

Diabetes Nutrition

The holidays can be difficult for anyone trying to manage their weight. However, it’s even harder for those having to monitor blood sugar and glucose levels.

The decadence of holiday dishes could be dangerous for those with diabetes, but that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on the celebrations. Ngan Ly, a registered dietitian at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Sugar Land in Texas, said as long as you have a plan in place, diabetics can have their cake and eat it too this holiday season.

“Go easy on yourself, knowing that this is something you only do a handful of times a year,” she said. “The key is moderation. Instead of a whole slice of pie, maybe you just have a half and share the rest with family.”

Ly offers the following tips to those managing their diabetes—and anyone watching their weight—this holiday season to allow them to enjoy their celebration without wreaking havoc on their health.

Eat normal meals and snacks on the day of celebration

Often, people try to “save” their calories for that big holiday meal, and often, that plan backfires.

Going into a big meal hungry, makes you more likely to overeat. This will cause blood sugar to spike, Ly said. Make sure to have a healthy breakfast and snacks prior to the big meal.

Make healthy choices

Evaluate the buffet and choose options that are healthy. For instance, Ly said, aim to load up on vegetable side dishes that are grilled or lightly cooked in fat or butter. Or, she suggests bringing a dish of your own that you know you enjoy, but is also more manageable for your blood sugar.

There are no “bad” or “good” foods

Though Ly encourages choosing healthy options, she also discourages people from restricting themselves or trying to make substitutions for their favorite dishes, which typically only leads to disappointment.

“For example, if you try to substitute a decadent dessert with a subpar version, this will likely lead to dissatisfaction,” she said. “I don’t often tell patients to do substitutions because it’s unfulfilling. Restrictions will lead to overeating. Having a smaller serving will satisfy the craving just the same. See food as neutral and neither ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Once we attach a moral stance to certain foods, it becomes harder to choose foods that are supportive of our health.”

Portion management is key. It’s OK to try everything, Ly added, but acknowledge how it may affect your blood sugar, and make your decisions from a place of honoring your health.

Eat mindfully

If you’re preparing holiday meals or hanging out in the kitchen all day, it’s easy to take a bite here and there, but those bites add up. Instead of spending the day snacking, she suggests making it more about family.

“Tune into your hunger cues,” Ly said. “It’s easy to end up mindlessly eating when there are so many distractions. Occasionally check in and ask yourself the question, ‘How full am I?’ When you feel full, refocus on family and friends. After all, what are the holidays really about?”

Have self-compassion

If you find that you ate more than you anticipated, this is completely normal. “Living with diabetes is a daily challenge and there will be good days and bad days, but another strategy in management of diabetes is self-care in the form of self-compassion,” Ly said. “Give yourself a break when you feel that you have overindulged. Make a plan, and resolve to continue to work toward your health goal.”