The holiday season is a special time to gather with friends and family and to eat traditionally rich foods and splurge and indulge. Quite often our patients with diabetes ask us, “what’s the big deal if my blood sugar levels go up a little or a gain a few pounds over the holidays?” So we thought we’d share with you some of our thoughts around that. Sometimes people with Type 2 diabetes think it’s just too hard to diet during the holidays, and figure they will just return to eating right in the new year. First of all, if you splurged on Thanksgiving Day, and plan to splurge a bit on Christmas Day itself, that shouldn’t cause too big of a problem. The main problem is if you allow yourself to splurge through the entire month long season. This causes a spike in your blood sugar levels consistently over a long period of time. When it comes to managing your diabetes, it’s about more than just your day to day glucose levels, it’s about your A1C, which measures our blood sugar level over a course of three months. The reason we go by the A1C levels, is because higher percentages can worsen your insulin resistance and blood sugar control overall, contributing to diabetic complications you could be avoiding. In fact, even gaining as little as five pounds can trigger higher insulin resistance.
That’s why we’ve brainstormed some of these tips to help you enjoy the holidays, without jeapardizing your overall health or the gains you’ve established in lowering your insulin resistance and A1C levels throughout the year.
- We know the holidays are hectic, so your best bet is to put together a plan for the week every week. Try to eat at regular times and eat healthy foods, like lean proteins and lots of veggies, to keep your blood sugar steady. Don’t skip meals in anticipation of eating more at a party, or trying to make up for a prior splurge. Instead plan to eat a light snack right before attending parties to keep from overindulging at them. Plan your food and do meal prep for the busier days leading up to the holidays. This will keep you from eating fast food on the run or snacking on unhealthy snacks.
- Be careful about your drink choices. Juices and sodas spike your insulin, so choose beverages without sugar such as flavored sparkling water. Alcohol can lower blood sugar and interact with diabetes medications, so limit your alcohol intake as well, and be sure to have it with food.
- Attending a party with a buffet or sitting down to one of the big holiday meals? We know the buffet is a danger zone because portion control is so important for a diabetic, so start by walking the entire buffet and planning your meal before you even have a plate in hand. As you build your plate of food in your head think of it like this: a ¼ of the plate should have lean proteins like turkey, and lean meats; a ½ of the plate should be for green vegetables; and the final ¼ of the plate can be carbohydrates. Skip items like rolls and potatoes that you could have any time. Budget for sweets by reducing the carbs you eat during the meal. Choose wisely, certain foods spike insulin less than others, for example pumpkin pie is much lower in sugar than pecan pie. But, don’t put any of the foods on the naughty list. If you really love your mother’s traditional pecan pie that she only makes for Christmas, then simply take a small portion, and savor it slowly.
- Eat slowly, no matter where you are. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you are full. Eating slowly, and really enjoying the special foods of the holidays allows you to celebrate to the fullest without spiking your blood sugar.
- Bring a healthy dish yourself. When attending holiday parties and celebrations, bring a dish that is diabetic friendly so you have at least one thing you can eat guilt-free. Fill up on that dish and eat just small bites of some of the richer foods that are put out.
- Track what you eat. Around the holidays we are surrounded by foods that are not part of our normal eating routine, and it’s easy to lose track of how many carbs we are eating. There are many free mobile apps these days to help you track what you’re eating. Download one and track your daily intake to stay on track.
- Track your blood sugar levels. As always, testing blood sugars and weighing yourself regularly is critical to making sure you stay mindful about your choices and behaviors, especially during the holiday season. Your ideal goals are fasting values of 80-120 md/dl before eating and around 140mg/dl after eating. If your levels are above this, then you need to regulate your holiday eating and drinking better. Also, if you take insulin, be sure to discuss with us or your endocrinologist about planning for times when your carb intake will increase. We can let you know if we think an increase in short-acting insulin is necessary in those situations.
- If you receive high-sugar foods as gifts, accept them graciously, eat a small portion of them or just a taste and then either give them away, freeze them to eat slowly over the next few months, or throw them out if they are too tempting to keep in the house.
- Stick to an exercise routine in some way. Yes, the holidays are so so busy for all of us, but exercise is helpful for stress management, keeping your blood sugar stable and compensating for those extra calories that creep in. During this busy season, you can try breaking exercise up into smaller time chunks to make it easier to schedule, so rather than planning for a 30 minute time period for the gym, try scheduling three 10-minute jogs or walks during the day. Go for a 20-minute walk after the big holiday meal.
- Schedule “me” time every day. Whether it’s to take a hot bath at the end of the day, take the dog for a walk, or take a 20-minute nap, taking the time to destress and take care of yourself is not an indulgence, it’s essential for your health!
We hope you’ll try a few of these tips for your holidays this year and keep your diabetes under control, keeping your happy and healthy throughout the season!