Managing your Diabetes during the holiday season

By Janet Crain, RN, Wesley Nurse

November is American Diabetes Month® and the beginning of the holiday season! As hard as you've worked to stay on course with managing your diabetes throughout the year, the holiday season has the potential to throw you off. Travel, parties, big meals, snack foods at the office and drinking all create a challenging environment for eating healthy. Add to that the days of travel with little scheduled exercise, and it becomes a real effort to stay on track. "How can I eat healthy during the holidays?" It's one of the most common questions asked by people with diabetes—or anyone who's made a commitment to eating with their health in mind.

If you follow these strategies, you can maintain your blood sugar levels and enjoy the parties and gatherings along with everyone else. However, just like everything else with diabetes, you have to take a few extra steps:

  • Eat breakfast or snacks earlier in the day and avoid the idea of sav­ing carbs for the big feast later on. Eat a small, balanced meal before you leave home to avoid overindulging. If you skip meals, it may be harder to manage your blood sugar.
  • Limit the number of serv­ings of starchy foods on your plate. It might be tempting to have some mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and rolls; however, try to choose just one of these items. If you have a sweet treat, cut back on other carbohydrates (like potatoes and bread) during the meal.
  • Choose vegetables first and choose fruits and vegetables served raw, grilled or steamed. Avoid vegetables in creams, gravies and butter.
  • Stick to calorie-free drinks such as water, tea, selt­zer or diet sodas instead of punch or mixed drinks. Sip a large glass of water or mineral water to keep you hydrated and provide you with a better option than alcohol.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount and have it with food. Talk with your health care team about whether alcohol is safe for you. Women should drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day and men should drink no more than two.
  • Enjoy your favorite holi­day treats, but take small portions, eat slowly and savor the taste and texture. Offer to bring a healthy dish along to the party so that you will have more healthy food choices.
  • Try not to hang out near the food to avoid grazing. Find a comfortable spot across the room and focus on socializing instead of eating.
  • After your meal, take a walk with family and friends. Exercise will also get you moving, keep you focused on your goals, and give you a welcome break from being surrounded by treats. Exercise is also a great way to lower blood sugar levels.
  • If you overindulge, don't beat yourself up. If you eat more carbs or food than you planned for, don't think you have failed, just make a plan to get back on track.
  • If you go out more often and stay out later during the holidays, you're likely to get less sleep. Sleep loss can make it harder to control your blood sugar. Also, when you're sleep deprived you'll tend to eat more and prefer high-fat, high-sugar food. Aim for 7 to 8 hours per night to guard against mindless eating.

Most of all, remember what the season is about—celebrating and connecting with the people you care about. When you focus more on the fun, you won't focus as much on the food!

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Janet Crain, RN, is a Wesley Nurse with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Wesley Nurse program is a faith-based, holistic health and wellness program committed to serving the least served through education, health promotion and collaboration with individual and community in achieving improved wellness through self-empowerment. Learn more at