Diabetes and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. I have a handful of Thanksgiving memories from my childhood that include drama, drinking, and dysfunction. Big family meals that ended in insults. While the drama of my childhood has mostly disappeared, I still don’t like Thanksgiving. As a woman with diabetes, I am resentful of a holiday that’s centered on food. Planning, cooking, eating, and then sitting around digesting the meal. It seems like such a waste of a day.

I think my resentment began with the first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed with diabetes. I was 14 years old and my absolute favorite part of the meal was my grandmother’s mashed potatoes. “Bunky” was not a stereotypical grandmother who spent time in her kitchen baking cookies for her grandkids. My grandmother drove a lime green Porsche, didn’t let anyone touch her hair, and used a leather belt to control Barron, her large and terrifying boxer. Her kitchen was tiny and devoid of kid-friendly snacks. I remember searching through her cabinets for something to eat and finding Grape-Nuts cereal and Waverly crackers. The one time she really seemed grandmotherly was when she cooked mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. She let me believe that I was her “taster” and called me into the kitchen when it was time to taste the potatoes. “More butter? More salt?” She asked as if my opinion mattered, and I’d let the potatoes slowly melt on my tongue, trying hard to give her my most professional answer. “Perfect,” I’d say because they always were.

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I can’t remember if I gave extra insulin to cover the potatoes for my first Thanksgiving after being diagnosed, or if I abstained completely. I do remember that I thought about potatoes differently. Instead of my being favorite food, they were bad for me. The day too was bad for me, and for my blood sugars. I hated feeling restricted, feeling ruled by routine. Routine made managing diabetes easier, but it also made me feel high maintenance.

This year my mother will host close to 25 people at Thanksgiving dinner, and most likely that “dinner” will be held at 2 PM or 3 PM. I know there are efforts I could make so our Thanksgiving was more diabetes friendly. I could for example, request that we eat at 1 PM or 7 PM. I could wear a pump and/or a CGM, which would allow for more flexibility and better insight, but frankly, pumps and CGMs are very expensive. I could (and do) bring lower-carb options for the family, such as roasted Brussels sprouts and baked sweet potatoes.

I know I’m not the only person who struggles with food-focused holidays, which makes me think maybe it’s time for me to host next year’s Thanksgiving. Maybe if I was in charge, I could change the way I feel about the holiday. I could make it a diabetes-friendly, low-carb Thanksgiving and serve mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. Roasted vegetables instead of a casserole, pumpkin cheesecake instead of pecan pie. This year I’ll dread Thanksgiving, but I’ll also accept that it’s only a day. On that day I’ll test my blood sugar more frequently, I’ll chose vegetables and protein over starches, and I will be thankful for my family.

Wondering why you should walk for health and diabetes? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from nurse David Spero.