6 Strategies to Help Keep Blood Sugar Steady During the Holidays
With a little preparation and self-discipline, you can enjoy the foods you love while avoiding blood sugar spikes this holiday season.
By Phyllisa Deroze
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It started when I scanned the Christmas dessert spread and saw my grandmother’s banana pudding and my aunt Mae’s sweet potato pie. Spellbound, I felt as though both desserts were calling my name from across the room.
Any other year, I would have bolted over and sunk my teeth into the treats. But this year was different: It was my first holiday after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I didn’t know how to resist or stop myself from indulging.
I knew the carb count of the meals I regularly enjoyed, and accordingly how to adjust my medication and exercise regimen after eating certain foods, but because I didn’t eat these rich dishes routinely, I didn’t know what to do.
That said, there were two things I was certain about: First, that each dessert was made with me in mind. My family members knew what I loved, and both women put plenty of their love and time into making the desserts. Thus, I couldn’t reasonably leave without enjoying both the pudding and the pie. Second, I knew that having dessert on top of my main course would lead me to exceed my target carb limit, raising my blood sugar levels and making me feel guilty. I ultimately decided to eat the sweets and rationalized my choice by believing that at least I had made my grandma and aunt smile.
But over the years, I have learned that this choice is not good enough for me anymore. I can’t ignore diabetes during the holidays.
Following are a handful of tips that help me get through the season without derailing my diabetes management plan.
1. Consider Switching Up Your Workout Routine
During the fall months, I typically enjoy evening walks as a way to decompress from my workday. But, in preparation for the season of holiday parties and unexpected sweet treats at work, I change my focus from evening walks to early-morning workouts. After Halloween when daylight saving time ends, it is easier to switch to mornings because the sun rises earlier and sets sooner. Not only does this change in workout time help get my day started on a positive note, but if my evening is booked with a social event, I don’t have to think about a scheduling conflict because I have already met my daily goal of exercising for 45 minutes.
2. Discuss Your Medication Regimen With Your Healthcare Team
A few years after I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I had an honest conversation with my endocrinologist. She told me that my A1C was low enough to stop taking insulin and replace the injections with oral medication. Although I was happy about the news of the lowered A1C, I told her that I wanted to remain on insulin throughout the holidays because I was more comfortable managing diabetes with the ability to bolus. She listened, understood where I was emotionally, and maintained my prescription through the next three months. I would strongly encourage you to see your endo before the holidays and have an honest conversation about medications and any adjustments that should be made.
3. Plan Activities That Will Get the Whole Family Moving
When I was young, the holidays were a time for physical activity. I rode bikes for hours on end, played relay games, and when the Nintendo Wii video game console was released, we gathered around the TV running in place and burning calories as we made beautiful memories. This has changed over the years, though. Lately, I notice that the physical activities have been replaced with sedentary games like spades and dominoes. Being aware of this, I consciously plan activities that get me moving, considering the beneficial effects of exercise for blood sugar management and stress relief for people with diabetes. I’m now that adult who will wage a bet that I can outrun or hula-hoop better than any kid in my family just to get everyone moving. I never win the races, but my goal is always reached because it starts a cycle of fun-filled physical activity.
4. Prioritize Your Mental Health as Much as Your Physical Health
The holidays are known for being full of cheer, but they can also bring an element of sadness for many people. When I think about loved ones who aren’t present to say grace over the Thanksgiving turkey anymore, my inability to buy expensive gifts at Christmas, or not being able to attend the nightly Kwanzaa candle lighting with family, there can be some emotionally sour moments during the holidays. The last thing that I need is to add more sadness to my holidays because my blood sugar levels are elevated from celebrating like others. Sometimes, I want to enjoy eggnog and my grandmother’s famous jelly coconut cake crumbs without experiencing regret the next day. To make sure that I keep my mood pleasant and upbeat, I remind myself to read positive affirmations, listen to jolly carols, remain conscious of negative feelings and make sure I don’t allow them to snowball. I have learned that protecting my emotional health is one of the best things that I can do for myself during the holidays.
5. Identify and Trust in an Accountability Partner
My cousin Tamika is my favorite accountability partner during the holidays because she enjoys sweets and understands that I can no longer indulge like we used to before I was diagnosed with diabetes. We have an agreement that during holiday parties, she tastes all the sweets and tells me which ones are delicious. She’s honest about telling me, “This one is not worth the rise in your blood sugar.” We share great laughs over this because she feels like a taste-tester onTop Chef, and there have been times when a relative brags about how good his or her desserts are, but Tamika says otherwise. Having an accountability partner who can be honest like this helps me decide which desserts are worth me splurging on carbs-wise.
6. Don’t Forget to Test Your Blood Sugar, Even if You’re Testing It Less
I hate seeing those high blood sugar readings the morning after a festive event. When I was newly diagnosed and experiencing diabetes burnout, I didn’t check my blood sugar from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day to avoid feelings of failure and remorse. Nowadays, I incorporate so many small changes into my holiday-season planning — like exercising in the mornings, dodging food pushers, and repeating positive affirmations to myself — that my numbers are not too out of range anymore after the holidays. Nevertheless, l tend to test less during the holidays for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to test in the middle of a conversation with a relative I haven’t seen in a while or because I can’t afford to purchase extra strips and also enjoy the holidays as I desire. To avoid going into a cycle of avoidance, I tell myself that it’s okay to test less often, but to make sure that I still test my blood sugar occasionally. On average, I test my blood sugar levels three to five times daily to be safe.
The Importance of Self-Care When Managing Diabetes During the Holidays
It isn’t always easy for me to get through the holidays being surrounded by temptations to overindulge. But I have found that it is always doable for me to thrive when maintaining some level of discipline in sticking to my diabetes management plan and prioritizing self-care. Hopefully a similar approach will help you as well.
Video: How to Lower Your Blood Sugar
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