Dealing with Diabetes over the Holidays
Controlling blood sugars can be hard enough in everyday life, so it often seems impossible during the holidays with all the feasts and treats. Dealing with diabetes around Christmas comes down to knowing which foods affect blood sugars, planning ahead for success and remembering you’re only human.
Learning which foods affect your blood sugars is like using a map to get somewhere in a new town. It is normal for blood sugars to be a bit higher after eating, meaning there are different targets for testing blood sugars before and after meals. Carbohydrates (carbs) raise blood sugars, but foods with fiber help control the spike (even though they are also carbs). In a typical turkey dinner, the cranberries, stuffing, bun, gravy (because of the thickener), potatoes and other starchy vegetables are sources of carbs. Portions of these items add up and lead to higher blood sugars, so choose your carbs wisely. If you do not love some of the carbs served, do not put them on your plate. You can also test out platting less supper then letting your hunger cues tell you if you need seconds.
Another way to control carb portions is to make your meal well-rounded by splitting your plate in three. Aim to fill half the plate with vegetables, put turkey on ¼ of it, and limit your favorite carbs to the last ¼ of the plate. Or, try limiting carbs to the size of your fist (okay, two small fists if this is too different for you to try!). Balancing your meal also gives you nutrients from different food groups so you can feel your best. Plus, the protein, fluid and fiber help fill you up with less carbs and calories. Remember that snacks like chips, desserts and sweet drinks usually lead to higher blood sugar spikes. Look at everything offered and try sticking with one or two samples of your holiday favorites. After all, eating a well-balanced meal helps control blood sugar spikes, even if you sneak in a shortbread cookie with it (better with a balanced meal than a high carb one).
While you might already do some of those suggestions, do not forget to keep it up! Coming into the holiday season, remember the healthy routines you already have. Eating regular meals spread throughout the day balances blood sugars, giving you lasting energy and preventing cravings and overeating later. It is okay to have some sweets but feeling your best involves giving your body the nutrients it needs. Plan for success by consciously choosing to continue planning meals and snacks, and making grocery lists based off those ideas. You can control which foods come into your home, so if you are in the habit of not keeping dessert in the house as you find it too tempting, don’t bring it in this time of the year either. Put out vegetable trays, bowls of mixed nuts or healthier baking if you are entertaining. And remember to keep up with the physical activity you enjoy to help with blood sugars.
One last concept to remember is that no one is perfect, so why would we expect perfection from ourselves when it comes to eating the “right” foods all the time? Aim for improvement instead of perfection. We tend to get in trouble when we are overly strict, because if we slip up, we feel terrible about ourselves or give up completely. Both are bad outcomes, making us feel worse than before. It is important to control blood sugars but it’s normal for them to be a bit higher this time of year with all the temptations. Remember that all foods can fit and your overall patterns matter more than one-off choices. So, if you want it, have that treat and truly appreciate it!
If you have diabetes, sometimes you might have to consciously give yourself permission to enjoy certain foods guilt-free. Food is meant to be enjoyed; savor what you choose to eat. Strike a balance between managing your diabetes and enjoying what the holidays bring. Success does not just happen; you need to plan for it. Speak to a Registered Dietitian if you want to know more about how blood sugars are effected by different foods or if you want help problem-solving barriers you face to control them.
Michelle Stevens, Registered Dietitian