How to Manage Your Diabetes and Still Enjoy a Decadent Holiday Season

As Thanksgiving approaches, many eagerly anticipate festive celebrations with family and friends. Those celebrations often center on food and culinary indulgences, which can be very stressful for the estimated 30.3 million people in the United States living with diabetes. Though for many people the holidays are a time to relax and overlook their typical diets, those managing diabetes do not have that choice. Living with diabetes shouldn’t preclude you from enjoying the season, though; with some advanced planning and preparation, you can still enjoy holiday favorites without compromising your health. Below are some tips to help you prepare for a happy, healthy holiday season.

Make a plan in advance

It can be hard to resist a buffet table of tasty sweets and carbs if you aren’t prepared. But the worst thing you can do is to skip eating all day to make up for a feast that evening.

“This may cause your blood sugar to drop and then spike to unsafe levels,” explained Dr. Edward Nicklas, MD, an endocrinologist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG). “If you know you are going to a dinner party, inquire about the food being served in advance, and try to plan what you’ll eat so that you can stay within your recommended carb and sugar intake.”

When you arrive, fill a small plate with healthy, balanced choices, starting with vegetables. With this approach, it is okay to include a few of your favorite treats in small portions, too.  Remember to check your insulin levels throughout the night.

Look for diabetes-friendly alternatives

If you are cooking with family or friends, search for healthy alternatives to some of the more rich or decadent dishes. Cauliflower mash is a great dish in place of mashed potatoes, with the same creamy texture and fewer carbs. Similarly, slow-roasted sweet potatoes can substitute for sweet potato pie, which is sometimes loaded with added sugars. If you’ve been invited to a party or a dinner, offer to bring a few healthy side dishes or appetizers—you may even introduce someone to a new favorite dish!

Know what you are eating

You can’t always see what is in a dish, especially when eating out or at a party. If you are curious about what ingredients were used in a dish that you didn’t make yourself, ask the host! For example, mashed potatoes are typically made with a lot of butter, milk or cream, and maybe even sugar, which could cause insulin levels to spike. Most hosts will want to make you comfortable, so don’t be shy about asking at an appropriate moment.

Be active

With many celebrations built around a meal, people often forget to move around! You needn’t be table-bound. Try to keep up your regular physical activity, like a brisk walk before or after the meal to get some fresh air. You can even start a new active tradition with family and friends, like races, touch football or even a fun dance party. Regular exercise can help stabilize blood sugar and offset the effects of a large meal.

“It is important that everyone continue taking care of their health during the holiday season, especially if you have diabetes,” Nicklas said. “But being mindful doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and enjoy yourself—as with any chronic condition, it is all about learning how to live your life to the fullest, which includes maintaining your health.”

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Ali Vise