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Diabetes and the Holidays: 9 Essential Tips

When you have diabetes, Christmas could seem a little less merry. Will you be able to eat the traditional foods you love? Shop for presents like you normally do? Enjoy a cocktail during parties? Does your diagnosis mean the holiday season has to dramatically change?

While it might seem like Christmas and diabetes don’t mix, your condition doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself inside until January. With a few tips, you can enjoy all the seasonal festivities without sacrificing your blood sugar. Here are some guidelines to having a happy, healthy holiday.

#1 Use Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) to Stay Informed

The holidays are definitely not business as usual for your body. You’re sampling holiday sweets and eating rich, carb-laden meals. You may be getting less exercise because of the cold weather, or you may be getting more — as you spend hours at the mall Christmas shopping and shuffling the kids between recitals and relatives’ houses.

And all of that can affect your blood sugar levels. But the good news is that you have a tool to help you navigate those changes. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you real-time information about how these holiday foods and elevated activity levels are affecting your blood glucose levels so you can make important changes to what you eat and how you move.

If you’re using your CGM’s smartphone app, you can also enter the food you’re eating so it can track how it affects your blood sugar levels. You might find that rice and pasta don’t affect your levels much, but potatoes make them go through the roof. Or maybe an entire piece of pumpkin pie sends your blood sugar soaring but taking a couple bites of it does nothing. Having real-time information lets you make the best choices to enjoy holiday parties safely.

#2 Involve Your Care Team

Diabetes can be different for everyone. Certain foods or behaviors may impact your blood sugar levels differently than another diabetes patient, even if all other factors are the same. So, make sure you check in with your care team before your slate of holiday events. They can advise you on what’s best for your unique situation. And the data from your CGM can help them tailor that advice to you.

#3 Adjust CGM Alarms for Events

CGMs are great tools, but you want them to help make the holidays easier to manage, not disrupt them. An alarm can interrupt parties or children’s holiday concerts, pulling you out of the moment to refocus you on what’s happening inside your body.

That’s why it’s so important to manage your notifications. The latest CGMs let you mute all but severe low blood sugar alerts so you can keep on top of your blood sugar without missing precious holiday moments.

#4 Practice Moderation, Not Restriction

It’s common to think that because you have diabetes, you can’t have certain foods. But that’s not true. If you restrict yourself from every holiday treat, you’re just setting yourself up for a binge later.

It’s better to use a few strategies to ensure you’re sampling holiday foods in moderation. Here are a few ideas to run by your care team.

  • Budget your carbs. You might give yourself a limit of carbs per day. If you have a donut for breakfast, for example, you might want to skip the potatoes or pasta at lunch. Sticking to a number gives you a goal to hit and helps you “spend” carbs on the foods you really love.
  • Have a little, not a lot. You can eat everything you want at holiday gatherings. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat all of everything you want. Ask for half a piece of pie instead of a whole piece or opt for a mini bite-sized dessert instead of its larger counterpart. You’ll get to taste the dishes you love without sacrificing your blood sugar levels.
  • Look for alternatives. These days, it’s easier than ever to find keto or other low-carb recipes for traditionally higher-sugar desserts. Just check with your care team before indulging in any sugar substitute to ensure it doesn’t have adverse health effects or impact your blood sugar in ways you may not have considered.

#5 Understand the Role of Emotions

We think of the holidays as a magical time full of great memories. But while we’re in the midst of them, they can be extremely stressful. Our in-laws are staying over and micromanaging everything we do. It’s two weeks before Christmas, and we haven’t even started shopping. We have to work late, then rush out and head to concerts and recitals. It can all pile up and seem overwhelming.

And stress can wreak havoc on your diabetes. It can increase or decrease your blood sugar levels and increase your chances of insulin resistance, the inability for insulin to work in your body as it is intended. It can also make you crave sugar sweets and carb-laden foods.

So, during the holidays, devote time to managing your stress in healthy ways. Start your day with meditation or mindfulness practices. Take some time to practice a hobby you love, like painting or crochet. And decrease your screen time to focus on activities that give you joy. Would you rather endlessly scroll bad news on your phone for an hour or make ornaments with your children? Which of those memories would you rather look back on? And what will make you feel better for the rest of the day?

#6 Manage Stress With Exercise

Exercise is fundamental for so many reasons. It can help your cardiovascular health and weight maintenance and reduce stress. But for those with diabetes, it has even more benefits. According to the American Diabetes Association, it can lower blood glucose levels for up to 24 hours by increasing your body’s sensitivity to glucose.

So, fitting exercise into your schedule is more important than ever during the holidays. You can use it to counteract high-carb foods. If you’re planning on having a huge holiday meal with your family, for instance, take a long walk before it. And working out doesn’t have to always mean hitting the gym or lifting weights. Try chair exercises or at-home walking videos on YouTube when the weather doesn’t allow you to walk outside. Don’t have the energy? Try lifting soup cans as if they were 5-pound weights during commercial breaks of your evening TV shows.

#7 Use the "Half-Plate" Rule

You don’t have to skip out on holiday parties to effectively manage your diabetes. Just use the “half-plate” rule to control your portions of high-carb and high-fat foods. Divide your plate into two halves. Then, take one of those halves and divide that into two. Fill up one half with non-starchy veggies (the leafy green salads and crudité platters are your best friends here). Then, add meat to one quarter and carbohydrates to the other quarter. That way, you can indulge without going overboard.

Another good trick? It’s easy to ensure a healthy option will be available if you put yourself in charge of bringing it. So, volunteer to bring the salad or veggie tray to the next holiday gathering. You’ll have the healthy option you need and give others a chance to add some greenery to their plates as well.

#8 Be Mindful of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is part of the holidays for a lot of us. Even if you’re not a regular drinker, you might have a couple glasses of wine or a cocktail during the holiday season. And while that’s fine (as long as your care team signs off), there are some things to consider if you have diabetes.

  • Blood sugar levels. When it comes to diabetes, not all alcohol is created equal. Drinks like beer and sugar-packed fruity cocktails can spike blood sugar. But low-sugar alcohol alternatives can actually drop blood sugar, especially when combined with the insulin and other medications common to diabetes. So, if you do want to drink, try having just one drink and looking at your CGM data to see how it affects you. And drinking on an empty stomach could make you even more prone to blood sugar drops, so if you choose to drink, be sure to do it with a meal or snack.
  • Lack of inhibitions. You might easily pass up dessert at parties. But after you’ve had a few drinks, that second slice of pie might be harder to resist. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, which could make it harder to make the best choices for your diabetes management.
  • Comorbidities. Diabetes is linked with a number of comorbidities, including heart disease, hypertension, and thyroid disorders. And alcohol can make it harder to effectively manage some of those conditions. It’s important to talk to your doctor about all your conditions and how alcohol might affect them before drinking.

#9 Have Emergency Supplies

During the holidays, plans can change instantly. But if something pops up and you head to it without bringing your diabetes supplies, you can be in trouble if your blood sugar levels change. So, put together a diabetes “go bag” with all your supplies that you can grab and add refrigerated insulin to before heading out of the door. Some people choose a fanny pack or belt bag so they can easily keep it on them at all times. Just remember to keep it at the proper temperature. Cold and hot temperatures can interfere with the effectiveness of insulin and other diabetes supplies.

By being smart about your food and habits, you can enjoy yourself while staying healthy.

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This information, including, but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained in this document, is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services of any kind. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and you should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this document. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Neither Total Medical Supply nor its employees make any representations, express or implied, with respect to the information provided herein or to its use.

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