8 Tips for Navigating Your First Holiday Season with Diabetes

November 24, 2020

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be dreading the upcoming holidays. Tables filled with delicious platters can feel like a frightening maze when navigating a new relationship with food.

Between tasty goodies and the well-meaning, yet unwarranted, pieces of advice, there are ways to make it through and still enjoy the traditional festivities, and even your favorite treats.

Brianna Hanekom, BSN, RN, CDE, Clinical Program Manager of the Nutrition & Diabetes Education Center at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for 34 years, and recently shared some tips she’s picked up along the way.

1. Be prepared:

First and foremost, always carry your medication and glucose testing supplies with you. You may expect to be away from home for an hour or two, but you could end up stuck somewhere for much longer, says Brianna.

Before you go to a dinner party (or party any other time of day), don’t hesitate to reach out in advance to see what kind of foods will be available. You may want to offer to bring a dish that is particularly beneficial for you. You should also reflect on dishes you’ve enjoyed in the past and see how you can adjust the recipe or portion size to still eat it, guilt-free.

2. Understand your medication:

“It’s incredibly important to know how to respond to situations where your blood sugar is low or high, so you can correct it in a timely fashion,” added Brianna.  

You may learn to administer adjusted medication doses in situations like these, but you should always discuss this first with your provider. Advocate for yourself during healthcare appointments by asking your team to help you develop a game plan. Understanding how to adjust your regimen puts you in control of your diabetes and provides confidence to enjoy your holidays.

3. Don’t be fooled by dishes that appear healthy:

Some popular holiday dishes, such as a green bean casserole, aren’t as diabetes-friendly as you’d expect, continues Brianna. Be sure to do your research ahead of time (or while you’re there – better late than never) to be aware of how many carbohydrates you consume. A 1-cup serving size of your typical green bean casserole can have upwards of 17 grams of carbs.

On the flip side, there are many foods that you can feel free to indulge in, adds Brianna. “Veggie trays, shrimp cocktail (or other non-breaded/fried seafoods), pickles, olives, and meat and cheese platters are what I consider diabetes ‘freebies.’”

4. Don’t skip meals to indulge later on:

Generally, the more consistent you are with your meal plan, the better control you have over your blood sugar, says Brianna. “Skipping meals to ‘save room’ or ‘save calories’ isn’t good for anyone, let alone someone with diabetes. For example, if you take insulin and skip your normal meal, you can end up with dangerously low blood sugar levels.”

5. Check your blood sugar often:

“Make sure to check your glucose levels before eating – perhaps 2-4 hours after eating – and anytime you experience symptoms of low or high blood sugar,” explained Brianna. “You may want to set up a reminder to do, so you do not forget.”

A continuous glucose monitor is a helpful tool for busy days, as it enables you to check your glucose trends before, during, and after events, without having to prick your finger.

6. Document what you eat:

This doesn’t mean you have to carry around a notebook and pen with you. Nowadays, smartphones can make recording carb intake and medication doses much easier, says Brianna. You can use a simple notes application, or you can try out a diabetes tracking app (most of which are free).

7. Don’t pull away or hide from your diagnosis: 

Coping with the diagnosis of a chronic disease can feel a lot like grieving – there’s anger and denial, eventually followed by acceptance, says Brianna. “When you go to an event with a lot of food that you may not be sure if you can eat, it can be very stressful and tempting to hide away in the corner. These are normal feelings that should be acknowledged, but diabetes does not need to be the end of life as you know it. “

8. Brush off the small stuff:

“Family members or friends may think they’re being helpful by offering advice on what you can and can’t eat without realizing how hurtful it is,” continued Brianna. “Try to explain that you have made the choice to live healthier, or you can simply look them in the eye and say you CAN enjoy a piece of pie, as you’re in control of your diabetes. You may inspire them to make healthier changes in the process.”

More than anything, remember to do two things, says Brianna. Prepare, and then relax. Even though you have diabetes, you can still enjoy and participate in everything that makes the holiday season special for you. Do what’s right for you and keep living life!

For more information on the Nutrition & Diabetes Education Center, click HERE.