8 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays and Manage Your Diabetes

Stay on track by sticking to a diabetes-friendly meal plan

A mother and daughter in the kitchen preparing a healthy holiday meal.

Stay on track by sticking to a diabetes-friendly meal plan

The holiday season is a wonderful time to celebrate traditions with family and friends. But if you or any of your loved ones are among the millions of Americans who have diabetes, navigating holiday parties, meals and sweet treats can be challenging.

If you are living with diabetes, know that you can enjoy the food-filled festivities and stay healthy as possible. All it takes is some planning.

You can enjoy spending time with your loved ones while managing your condition by watching what you’re eating and monitoring your blood sugar levels.

"The key to enjoying the holidays and successfully managing your diabetes is to plan ahead and maintain an environment for eating healthy,” says Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, an endocrinologist and corporate vice president of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.

Here are eight tips to help you enjoy a diabetes-friendly holiday season:

1. Start with your attitude

If you approach the holidays with worry and anxiety about what to eat and drink, change your focus. Think of the holidays as time spent with loved ones.

There’s no rule that says your gatherings always have to involve food, especially if you have a diet-related condition, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

In San Diego, we are fortunate to be able to spend the holiday season outdoors. Go window-shopping at the malls, take a walk on the beach, or meet for coffee or tea.

2. Have a strategy for parties and dinners

Avoid skipping meals on the day of the party in order to “save” calories or carbs for the feast later in the day. This can make it difficult to keep your blood glucose under control. In fact, consider having a healthy snack before you leave for the party. This helps keeps your hunger in check and reduces the likelihood of overeating.

3. Pick foods you really enjoy

Think of foods that generally are served only during the holidays. If cornbread stuffing is something you look forward to every year, pass on everyday carbs, such as dinner rolls or crackers. Survey the entire selection before you place anything on your plate and decide what you truly want to have.

4. Practice portion control

If you plan to have dessert, compensate by cutting a carbohydrate from your main meal. Often, just a bite or two of a sweet food is all it takes to satisfy your taste buds. Share a dessert or ask for a small piece of pie.

Remember, you can enjoy tastes of high-sugar or high-carb treats as long as you don’t overdo it. The total amount you consume is more important to controlling your diabetes than individual items.

5. Make diabetes-friendly recipes

One way to ensure you have a healthy dish available is to offer to make one yourself. Substitute monounsaturated-fat ingredients for saturated-fat versions, and artificial sweeteners for sugar. Be careful about using fruit puree instead of oil as this adds carbohydrates.

Search online for diabetes-friendly versions of traditional favorites, such as roasted autumn vegetables or pumpkin cheesecake.

Keep your portion sizes reasonable, eat slowly, and focus on the smell, flavor and texture. You may find you enjoy your meal more, feel full sooner, and won’t want to go back for seconds.

6. Watch what you drink and how much

Planning ahead goes for drinks as well as food. Whether you’re toasting with champagne or drinking eggnog by the fire, remember to include those carbs and calories in your overall total, and keep a close eye on your blood glucose level.

7. Don’t forget to exercise

Another key to staying on track this time of year is getting regular exercise. The hectic pace of the season may make it more difficult to stick to an exercise routine, so schedule time for physical activity every day. Get a pedometer or fitness tracking device and count the steps you take.

Regular exercise helps control your weight, keep your heart healthy and is an excellent antidote for seasonal stress.

Create a support system of friends or relatives who have diabetes or who are simply trying to watch their weight. Plus, making a date with a friend for a walk or a game of tennis is a great way to get together when everyone is juggling holiday commitments.

8. Talk to your doctor

Need help planning for meals, travel or other holiday concerns? Talk to your physician or diabetes educator, especially if you have to adjust your medication times or amounts.

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