For people with diabetes, truly enjoying the holidays involves using learning a few new skills or using the learned ones more skillfully. The experts have suggestions.
There are people who know a thing or two about diabetes and people who know a thing or two about families, but the center of a venn diagram has been known to shimmy. People with diabetes are hardly the only ones who brace for the mandatory eating—particularly of “family favorite” dishes—that characterizes the celebratory holiday meal. Basically, we’re all in the same gravy boat.
The point, of course, is to limit the groaning to the boards rather than the “guests.” So this is where we call in the experts for tips on how to get through the holidays without a diabetic event.
Be prepared. Particularly if you’re traveling fort the blessed event, make sure you bring along extras of every single thing you use to control your diabetes. The extras have less to do with protection from the pernicious pies than from the un-anticipatable vagaries of winter travel.
Whatever your usual diabetic “kit,” carry it fully stocked and then some. “Supplies” include artificial sweeteners if you use them. Brings lots, and keep them in more than one place. The same goes for supplementary foods that are approriate for you and travel-friendly.
Need we remind you that, only days ago, the world’s busiest airport (Atlanta, Georgia, USA) went literally offline due to a facility-wide power failure. People were stranded there without electricity for more than half a day, and some are still waiting for their flights out.
Prepare for the long haul. We’re not talking one holiday dinner here. For many people, the round of holiday parties—at work, social clubs, health clubs, schools, and churches—amounts to a constant assault, of both carbs and temptations.
Also be prepared for the armies of fellow celebrants who will reliably tell you, in the most public way, that there is no problem with “just this once,” that “one won’t hurt you,” that “everyone puts on weight over the holidays. You’re not special.”
You’re special, and if you can hear that with the sense that you are very much deserving of the “health” everyone’s wishing for everyone else--over the tables of foods with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Be smart, not food-o-phobic. People newly diagnosed with type-2 diabetes are particularly vulnerable to outright fear of the holiday spread during their first winter season. That said, even people skilled and practiced at coping with specific eating needs, unique to them, have been known to face the banquets and buffets with dread.
There’s no need, and adding anxieties and other negative emotions will only raise the stakes and possibly blood-pressure and blood-glucose levels as well. A more workable and healthy attitude is quiet confidence based on knowledge.
If you’re in a situation where it’s comfortably known that you are a person with diabetes, don’t be afraid to ask what’s in something you’re unfamiliar with. Syrups and alcohols can be stealth drugs.
If you’re new and wanting to fly under the radar, we’ve got your back. What gets all of us through is the “rule”: When in doubt, don’t. If you don’t want any attention called to your eating, take a reasonable, modest plate of the best foods you can manage and eat only as much of it as is right for you. Mostly, people stop “looking” as soon as you have a plate.
Attitude. What all the specialists say in one way or another is that attitude—having and maintaining the right one—is important. The proper attitude is less expansive than an unfettered, “Don’t worry; be happy,” but a responsible level of contentment is at its core. It’s understanding, not simply permissive.
- Allow yourself something special. Unless you’re a "brittle" diabetic, with no wiggle-room at all, it’s fine to allow yourself a favorite or special food—grandma’s trademark “old country” dessert, say, or something that truly is a special-occasion food. Have an appropriate serving of it and make adjustments accordingly. It’s close to a rule that unflinching self-deprivation will bring about a binge of some kind in surprisingly short order.
- If you slip, get back up. It happens. It’s not a reflection of a flaw in your character. Remorse is another ticket to the binge, open or secret. Get back to your eating plan pronto, and there won’t even be an “all” in “All is forgiven.”
- Focus on the people, not the food. At least the purported reason for these holiday gatherings is to get people who love or like each other together. To the extent you can focus on the people, the food will be less a centerpiece. Of course it’s not out of the question that some “relatives” or “friends of friends” will be sources of annoyance, perhaps particular sources of known annoyances. Knowing that, and acknowledging it to yourself, before you’re in the thick of flying opinions and emotions, will allow you to be less reactive, less likely to succumb to food temptations. Put positively, respect the power of food to stuff emotions—and then don’t get stuffed.
Smart eating. Now, the main course: food. The tips and recommendations of experts range from the highly specific to the general. We’ll take them in something like that order in case some of the specific ones are new to you.
- At a buffet. The soundest rule is take one plate, put foods that resemble your customary food balance on it, and hold it to that. Don’t go back. Instead have coffee or tea or something that signals to you body and, more, mind, that you’ve finished eating. If that’s an unreasonable expectation of yourself, or not the way the buffet itself is set up, stick to small plates and get items in a constructive order: first, vegetables (particularly raw); second, meats and non-meat proteins; last, carbs, and ideally a plain-fruit dessert.
- If you’re invited to a dinner or party not at a restaurant. Offer to bring a dish, and make it something that you can eat without worry. If it’s particularly delicious and likely to become a hit, bring enough of it that you can have some.
- Limit carb intake to one dish. Choose a reasonable amount of one heavy-carbohydrate dish. So, not bread and potatoes and dessert.
- Maintain your usual food balance. You know how you usually apportion your food in terms of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. To the extent the available foods allow, stick to those proportions.
- Stick to your eating schedule as much as possible. Holiday meals often happen at atypical times, e.g., the big meal of the day at 3pm. Have breakfast—your usual breakfast, to the degree that’s possible—when you normally have it. If “dinner” is at 3pm, a light lunch in the late morning will keep you from showing up too hungry.
- Don’t skip meals. Particularly on days when you know there’s going to be a big meal with foods you like, don’t skip an earlier meal. You can’t “save up” for a binge without throwing your eating and glucose levels off.
- Move around. Get all the exercise you can. Even if you can’t maintain your usual exercise schedule, due to weather or for others reasons, get up after eating and walk around even if it can’t be outside. Offer to help with the clean-up or anything that will get you on your feet. Don’t let your food sit on you.
- Drink water. Stay hydrated in general, but in particular before big meals.
- Carry snacks. It wouldn’t be the first time if a 3pm dinner happened at 5:30. Carry snacks that are appropriate for you, e.g., nuts, and if you have to, duck off to eat them before your blood sugar goes off.
- Count carbs and test blood-sugar often, probably more often than usual.
- Use smartphone apps. Face it, people are checking the phones all the time now. If you haven’t already, install a reliable carb-counting app on your phone and use it whenever you’re in doubt about carbs in an unfamiliar dish.
- Watch (and then limit) your alcohol intake. Holiday “sprits” can be particularly tricky. The rule of thumb is one drink per day for women and two for men, taking body size and personal tolerance levels in mind. A “drink” is generally defined as 1) 1 12-oz, beer, 2) 5 oz. wine, 3) 1-1/2 oz. 80-proof distilled spirits, 4) 1 oz. 100-proof distilled spirits.
- Enjoy your holiday. Enough said.