7 Tips for Managing Diabetes During the Holidays

Courtney McGarry, RD, LDN, Manager of Nutrition and Dietetics at Project Bread

Health & Fitness

The holidays can be a wonderful, much-anticipated time spent with loved ones. We envision cozy evenings surrounded by good food and dear family and friends. But for someone with diabetes, holidays can be a source of stress and anxiety. Family members may not fully understand the needs for someone with diabetes or how to best support them. We hope you find these quick tips helpful for either supporting your loved one with diabetes or if you yourself are learning to navigate holiday festivities with diabetes.

Woman smiling holding a bushel of apples in an orchard
Courtney McGarry, RD, LDN, Manager of Nutrition and Dietetics at Project Bread

Tip #1

Nourish Yourself for the Whole Day

Many folks think it is a good idea to avoid eating breakfast and/or lunch to “save room” for a holiday meal. However, those with diabetes should avoid skipping meals as it is likely to cause a big spike in blood sugar at the end of the day. This can put a person’s blood sugar out of a normal target range which can cause complications. Eating 3 balanced meals is an easy way to prevent blood sugar fluctuations.

Tip #2

Make a Carb Combo

Here at Project Bread, we teach folks with diabetes how to make a “Carb Combo” with every meal and snack. Carbohydrate-containing foods (sweets, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugary beverages) raise blood sugar quickly when eaten alone. However, blood sugar rises more slowly when carbohydrate foods are paired with protein, fiber, or healthy fats. It’s helpful to make a plate that is half non-starchy vegetables (salad greens, carrots, green beans), ¼ protein (meat, fish, beans) and ¼ carb. Try to eat your protein and vegetables first, in order to help you feel full, before moving on to potatoes and bread. Offer to bring a leafy green salad to get-togethers so you know you will have an option for non-starchy vegetables!

plate graphic of how to add carb, protein, and veggies to your plate

Tip #3

Remember to Take Your Medication as Needed

With many people travelling for the holidays it is easy to forget to pack or take medication. But remembering to take oral medications and/or insulin is a simple way to make sure your holidays go smoothly!

Tip #4

Check Blood Sugar Frequently

Holidays often bring changes to your eating patterns, which means it’s smart to check blood sugar more often with your glucometer or CGM app on your phone. Take the opportunity to share the process with a friend or family member to help them further understand how you are doing with managing diabetes.

People walking with dog on rainy day
Photo by Debra Grossbaum, Westwood Minute

Tip #5

Enjoy a Family Walk Together Post-Meal

Data suggests that walking after eating helps control blood sugar. This holiday season, see if others would like to join you for a post-meal walk. If the weather is not fitting, consider standing for conversation after the meal, offer to help with dishes, or play with children to allow for some movement.

Tip #6

Follow Your Internal Hunger Cues

We’ve all found ourselves in that moment – you’re stuffed from a large meal, and that’s when grandma pulls out dessert and starts handing out slices of pie, or your uncle is encouraging people to take a second-helping. Depending on your cultural upbringing or social-comfort level, it can be difficult to know how to politely say no in these situations. Still, it is important to stay in tune with your hunger and fullness cues and recognize that an excuse is not needed. A simple “no thank you” or “that looks delicious, you did a wonderful job preparing, but I am full for now” is okay. Ultimately, you know best how to manage your body and your blood sugar.

Tip #7

Fullness Is Normal and Perfectly Okay

Lastly, remember that fullness is a normal human feeling and should not cause shame. Be kind when talking about your own body and avoid commenting on someone else’s body (even if you think your comment is positive, it may not always be received as such). Remember to take in the moment and focus on gratitude for the time spent with the people around you rather than casting judgment on yourself or others for what you’re eating. Managing food choices during holidays can be difficult. Have a plan but go easy on yourself when things don’t go perfectly.

older woman and child working on a turkey together
Older woman and granddaughter cooking together in kitchen

Blog authored by Courtney McGarry with support from Nutrition Service Coordinators Alexandra Papadakis and Linh Vu.

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