To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.
—Philip Andrew Adams
What does the holiday season mean to you? Is it a special time for family gatherings, gift-shopping, and spiritual renewal, or a traumatic time of out-of-control blood glucose levels, extra pounds, and fatigue and stress from trying to engineer the picture-perfect celebration? If you’re like the typical American, your holiday experience is probably a combination of both. According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, one in five Americans worries that holiday stress could affect their physical health, and 36% say they either eat excessively or drink alcohol to cope with holiday stress.
When you have diabetes, it’s important to maintain your good health while enjoying holidays and special occasions, as well as coping with the stress that often accompanies them. The easiest way to do that is to plan ahead. The more you know about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, the better you can plan for good diabetes care. (For tips on staying healthy during the holidays, see “Bah Humbug to the Flu Bug!”)
Eat, drink, and be wary
Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life, particularly when it’s shared with others, and it tends to play a major role in most holiday celebrations. However, contrary to the popular belief that a person gains 5–10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, research shows that the average person gains only about one pound each holiday season. But that pound often stays on after the holidays are over, so eventually a person may gain 5, 10, or even 20 “holiday” pounds.
The holidays are probably not the best time to attempt a serious weight-loss program, but it is realistic to set a goal of maintaining your weight and blood glucose control during the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Make your holiday recipes healthier by reducing their fat and sugar content. (See “Lightening Up Your Holiday Favorites” for tips.)
- Bring a healthy dish to holiday get-togethers. That way, you can ensure there will be something tasty and nutritious for you to enjoy. Many of your fellow guests will thank you too!
- Focus on activities that don’t involve food. Attend holiday musicals or plays, plan caroling parties, get friends or family together to wrap gifts, decorate, or shop.
- Avoid holiday grazing. Calories consumed while tasting food that you’re cooking, clearing the table, and socializing still count. A handful of nuts, a few cheese cubes and crackers, and a bite or two of candy can quickly add up to almost 500 calories. In fact, you may end up eating as much carbohydrate and calories as you would if you sat down and ate an entire meal.
- Keep carbohydrate consistent. If you’re going to have a holiday treat, substitute it for other carbohydrate in a meal; don’t just add it to your regular foods.
- Skip the second helpings. Remember that limiting portions is the key to preventing weight gain and helps prevent blood glucose from going out of control.
- Plan for parties. Having a small snack before a party will take the edge off your hunger and make you less likely to overfill your plate or return to the buffet table for seconds. Once you’ve eaten, focus your energy on socializing with other party guests; just be sure to move your socializing away from the buffet table where the sight or smell of food might tempt you to eat more.
- Limit alcoholic beverages. Alcohol contains calories and sometimes carbohydrate, depending on your choice of drink. It also lowers your inhibitions, possibly making it harder for you to say no to food you wouldn’t otherwise eat. To sidestep such problems, ask for a no-calorie sparkling water with a lime twist.