Published on December 15, 2016

Fruit and Vegetables in Heart Shape

Here’s How to Navigate the Holidays with Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you may be looking forward to the holidays with a mix of excitement and dread because of the food-focused nature of the season.

But you can not only achieve your goals, you can be a role model.

Avera Registered Dietitian Kalli Kurtenbach, RD, LN said setting a high bar for the experience, building a network of allies and focusing on the fun, not the food, all can help anyone with diabetes not only thrive through the eating season, but actually help others do well when it comes to nutrition.

“When you’re the one taking smaller plates of really good food, or bringing a dish that is not only tasty, but lower in sugar and salt, you can be the example-setter for the whole gathering,” said Kurtenbach, who works at Avera Diabetes Center. “A great way to lead the way is to have a good team supporting your efforts.”

Reach out to others to discuss what would help you, and work together to choose activities that both are healthy and involve everyone, such as cooking new recipes. One help for everyone is to create islands of “not so indulgent” food among the sea of sweets, salt and celebration and can really start a trend that – who knows? – could become a new tradition.

“It’s a lot like having an exercise buddy. If you do, you’re more likely to go to the gym or hit the trail for a long walk,” said Kurtenbach. “In this case, we’re seeking a ‘holiday buddy’ – someone we can count on to help us keep on the right track in terms of food, drink and exercise during our parties and gatherings.”

With allies in the fight to avoid over-doing it, you can focus on fun instead of what you’re not eating.

“The personal journey to being ‘OK’ with changes isn’t easy, and having some help can make a huge difference,” Kurtenbach said. “Focus on activities you can do as a family, or volunteer to help with the pets, the kids or the dishes – anything that can help you put food in the background.”

If you don’t have a “holiday buddy” you can go it alone. Take a smaller-yet-sharable portion of good-for-you food to gatherings and share the recipe. When you go through the line for food, use a smaller plate.

“Don’t skip meals or try to ‘save carbs’ for a food-focused gathering. It often leads to overeating and rollercoaster blood sugars,” she said. “Take good care of yourself, with proper sleep, hydration and stress management, because those things can build up and wreck your plans, leading you to giving into temptation and possible mistakes with food.”

Here are a few other tips you can use to have a healthier holiday season:

  • Watch out for leftovers: We’re hard-wired to avoid wasting food, so try to send tempting dishes home with others.
  • Plan, plan and plan some more: Set a schedule for the rest of the holiday season, but set up a time cushion to fall back on if things do get off track. This may include keeping healthy “treats” available or stocking your pantry and freezer with healthy items so you’re less likely to order in or rely on unhealthier leftovers.
  • Clever reminders: You and your holiday buddies can compete, in a friendly fashion, using technology or other communication tech to send funny reminders to stay on your plan.
  • See with fresh eyes: Fixate not on foods, or what you “can’t” have but instead on the people you’re spending time with – engage them and celebrate with conversation, laughter and your attention.

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