Question: What advice would you give someone who is newly diagnosed with diabetes as they enter their first holiday season?

Answered by: William Sullivan, MD

Diabetes can be difficult to manage over the holidays – especially if someone is newly diagnosed. Because the season can be particularly stressful, it is necessary to test blood glucose on a regular basis. It is also important to think ahead about how to handle certain issues like extra snacking and alcohol use. It’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare team (physician, nurse practitioner, diabetes nurse educator, exercise physiologist or dietitian) about how best to handle any change in meal plan or physical activity routine. One might plan on being more physically active to help burn off any extra calories from a holiday meal. It is essential to continue to take your diabetes medications on a regular basis and not to skip any medications. Lastly, be realistic about your expectations for the upcoming holiday season. Plan ahead, relax, and have a happy holiday season.

Question: What advice would you give to help a person with diabetes balance the stress of the holiday season with their diabetes care?  

Answered by: Patty Bonsignore, RN, CDE, MS 

While diabetes can be stressful to manage at anytime of the year, it can become especially challenging during the holiday season. Whether it’s resisting all those treats at holiday parties or finding time to squeeze in physical activity between trips to the local mall, diabetes and the holidays just don’t seem to go together. 

Here are some useful tips to keep you on track:

  • Try not to over commit.
  • Set realistic, achievable goals for yourself and for your diabetes during the holidays. 
  • Plan for slip ups and create a strategy for getting back on track.
  • During the busiest part of your holiday season, write out a schedule and try to accomplish one holiday task each day. 
  • Set aside time each day for taking care of yourself.
  • Because for many, holidays are a time of stress, it is important to check your blood glucose a little more often than you regularly do. Write down the numbers and if you are having a lot of highs and/or lows, discuss them with your provider.
  • Don’t set your expectations too high. Your family and friends will survive if you can’t provide the extra tray of cookies or the homemade candies.
  • Plan some of your social events around activities that don’t involve food. Instead of going out to eat with family members or friends invite them for a walk, to an exercise class or to volunteer at a local charity. 
  • Schedule appointments on your calendar for regular physical activity. During the holidays more than ever it will be important to burn off those extra calories and exercise is a great way to re-energize yourself. 
  • If your blood glucose levels are running higher than usual, drink extra water, this may help to bring the numbers down.
  • Get plenty of rest. 

Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season. 

Question: What tips can you offer a person with diabetes for navigating holiday meals and parties? What should they look for and what should they avoid?

Answered by: Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE 

Holidays are a time to enjoy family, friends, traditions, and favorite foods. Having diabetes can sometimes pose challenges during this time of year, though, as you struggle to maintain a balance between savoring that homemade pumpkin pie and keeping your blood glucose on an even keel. Fortunately, there are some ways to have your cake (or pie) and eat it too, all the while keeping your diabetes under control. 

One of the keys to navigating the holidays – without gaining weight or watching your blood glucose levels go sky-high – is to plan ahead. Map out a strategy. Here’s how:

Snack smartly. Never go to a party or a dinner hungry. Eat a small snack that contains some carbohydrate and some protein before you go, such as an apple with peanut butter, or a few whole grain crackers and light string cheese. The snack will take the edge off of your appetite and also keep your blood glucose from going too low if your meal is served later than usual.

Fill up on fiber. Focus on choosing lower-calorie and/or higher-fiber foods, especially salads, vegetables and lean protein foods, like shrimp cocktail, for example. Also, start off your meal with a bowl of broth-based soup. 

Plan out your plate. Aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter of your plate with a lean protein, like turkey, ham or roast beef, and the other quarter of your plate with a carb food such as potato, rice, stuffing or pasta.

Keep your distance. Socialize away from the buffet table. Those tasty appetizers won’t be so easy to pop in your mouth if you’re not standing right next to them.

Go easy on the “holiday spirits.” Most people with diabetes can safely drink alcohol, but be aware that alcoholic beverages contain calories and, if you take glucose-lowering medication like insulin, you increase the risk of low blood glucose. If you drink, limit yourself to one or two drinks, choose wisely (wine, champagne and light beer are good options) and avoid drinking on an empty stomach.

Stay on track. Keep tabs on yourself over the holidays by checking your blood glucose more than usual, writing down your food intake, weighing yourself once a week, and periodically trying on a pair of slim-fitting pants to gauge how you’re doing. They’ll keep you honest – if you can’t zip or button your pants, it may be time to cut back a bit!

Get a move on. Don’t let physical activity fall by the wayside. Walking, snow shoeing, skating or skiing are great ways to stay in shape, burn calories, lower stress and manage your blood glucose.