How to manage diabetes over the holidays

Holiday table setting
Holiday table setting

The holiday season is a time of celebrations, with plenty of food to tempt your taste buds and challenge your best intentions for healthy eating. While social gatherings can make it difficult to stay on top of your carbohydrate intake, here are some tips to help navigate your way through holiday feasts (remember to test your blood sugar more over the holidays!)

Why is it important to watch your carbohydrate intake?

Diabetes is a condition where your body can’t properly use and store food for energy. The body uses glucose, a form of sugar, as fuel. Glucose comes from foods that contain carbohydrates such as fruit, milk, some vegetables, starchy foods and sugar. Glucose enters your blood during digestion, where we sometimes refer to it as “blood sugar”. The body produces insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in your blood. Some people with diabetes can’t produce insulin at all. Others produce some insulin, but their bodies can’t use it properly. Because insulin plays such a vital role in regulating blood sugar, it’s especially important for people living with diabetes to be mindful of what they’re eating.

Be a creature of habit

Don’t skip meals during the day when you’re planning on enjoying a holiday meal in the evening. If you show up to an event hungry, you’ll be increasing your odds of overeating. Missing meals can also lead to unwanted fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Keeping consistency with your daily schedule will make it easier for you to maintain moderation when you indulge. Try having a small snack if your meal will be delayed more than usual.

Watch your portions

It’s tempting to try a little bit of everything when we visit the buffet table. But having a quick look at what is offered before you take a plate can help you to choose only your favourite items. If it’s appetizers you’re after, try using a small plate or napkin to collect finger foods to better track how much you eat. Eat slow and allow yourself to savour each bite to better enjoy the food. Engage in conversation, put your utensils down between bites, and don’t stand near the buffet table. One of the best ways to enjoy your festive meal is to limit your food portion and enjoy leftovers for the next few days.

Keep it balanced

Use the plate method to keep on track. Aim for at least half your plate to be low-carb veggies, a quarter of your plate to be carbs (potato, stuffing, rice, pasta) and a quarter lean protein. Limit added butter, gravies and sauces. Most recipes can be made healthier simply by cutting down the fat or sugar content (try having your favourite holiday treats with Splenda or stevia).

Choose your sides wisely

Swap macaroni salads, potato salads, and French fries, for half a plate of grilled vegetables and leafy green salads instead. Choose bean & lentil salads more often as your starch – they are full of fibre!

Treat yourself

Enjoy a small serving of a treat after your meal, like 1/3 to ½ cup of “no-sugar added” ice cream or frozen yogurt. Blend frozen fruit like bananas and strawberries until creamy for a quick treat, or freeze yogurt and fruit for something yummy! Take advantage of in-season fruit and try to consume three servings of fruit spread throughout the day (1 serving = ¾ cup pineapple, 1 cup melon or ½ mango).

Keeping a food diary can help you stay on track.

Learn how to count carbs in your favourite recipes to fit them into your meal plan.

Take a walk outside

Lingering at a table brimming with food probably isn’t going to help control the urge to overindulge. Taking a walk after a big meal can help maintain better blood sugar levels if you have over eaten or if you have been sitting for a long time.

Stay hydrated

Drink lots of carbohydrate-free fluids throughout the day and have a glass of water before eating. Sugar-free flavourings for your water like crystal lite is a healthier alternative than rich holiday punches, eggnog, and Irish coffee. For most people, having an alcoholic drink is okay, but speak with you healthcare provider to confirm. If you choose to consume alcohol, please do so in moderation (1-2 standard drinks).

Learn more about diabetes and alcohol.

Enjoy yourself

Feeling stuffed due to over eating and dealing with high blood sugars can be uncomfortable and stressful, so don’t feel guilty about turning offers down. The holidays are a challenge but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not managing the way you would like. Take a deep breath, focus on what you can do better for the next meal, and remember to enjoy the company as well as the food.

VIDEO: How to manage diabetes over the holidays