Healthy Happy Holidays With Diabetes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) call holiday time a challenge for people with diabetes. “Tis the season for family, festivity, and food — lots of food. Temptations are all around. Parties and travel can disrupt daily routines.” Can self-management survive the holidays? Can the holiday spirit survive diabetes?

The answer to both questions is yes, but it takes effort. Here are some suggestions that might help you enjoy the holidays and still eat healthy, stay active, and keep on top of your blood sugars.

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Holiday eating
• You don’t have to eat what’s served at parties. Offer to bring a healthy dish with you. You’ll need some lines such as, “That looks lovely, but I’ll just have a small bit. Blood sugar, you know.” Or “Thanks so much for baking this beautiful cake. Just looking at it and smelling it is a treat.” Or less corny things that you come up with.

• If you do eat sweet treats, cut back on other carbs at that meal. If it’s all mashed potatoes over here and pumpkin pie over there, you might have to choose between them or reduce all amounts.

• The CDC says “don’t skip meals to prepare for a feast.” You’ll be really hungry and more likely to overeat.

• Start with vegetables to take the edge off your hunger before you get to the stuffing. Slow down and savor the food.

• Consuming alcohol often causes you to eat more than you intended. You can certainly have a drink to relax you, but don’t overdo. Alcohol can have effects for days after the party.

CDC advises including your favorite things. “You can have some of your favorite foods as long as you limit how big the portion is and how often you have it. Choose foods you really love and can’t get any other time of year, like Aunt Edna’s pecan pie. Indulge in a small serving, and make sure to count it in your meal plan.”

Physical activity
What a great time to engage family and friends in activity! Go for a family walk after a holiday dinner. If there’s snow, you can have fun sledding on it or shoveling it. Make a family activity out of the stretches and other exercises you do. Physical activity burns up extra glucose and reduces stress. A walk by yourself might help you wind down from family tensions.

Remember to sleep
The nights out, the people coming in, the travel and excitement of the holidays can interfere with sleep. Less sleep equals worse glucose control and more comfort eating. You don’t have to make excuses. Just tell people, “I need a nap,” or “I’m going to sleep now.”

Holiday family stresses
Sometimes families create stress. When you don’t see relatives often, old conflicts don’t go away. They just recur like a holiday gift subscription to trouble. Family stress can throw you off your diabetes care. Make plans for how you will deal with the usual arguments and new ones that may come up. Perhaps you can identify an ally among your loved ones and back each other up.

But don’t assume trouble. People do change, and when you present as loving toward them, they may be surprisingly loving in return. If they do go back to old hurtful habits, remember they are acting out their own pain. It’s not about you; it’s just a show you are free to ignore. For example, if Aunt Jane remarks, “Oh, you’ve gained so much weight,” you can say, “Thanks. You look good, too.”

This website has valuable ideas on reducing family stress during the holidays. One strategy I find valuable is reducing the materialism of the season. Don’t emphasize gifts; focus on relationships and spirit.

Loneliness
Some people don’t have families or are estranged from them, and loneliness can drive people to do unhealthy things. The website PsychCentral says, “Empty nesters, the elderly, and individuals who are grieving the loss of a loved one or a relationship may be particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness.” Other people are chronically lonely, perhaps because of a rough childhood.

Holiday times cause pain to lonely people because it seems like everyone else is having fun family connection. Psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg, MEd, LCPC, CADC, tells lonely people to seek company — call a friend, attend a holiday event, go to a place of worship. Talk to people you trust, share your feelings honestly, and remember that most others aren’t enjoying themselves nearly as much as they may appear.

Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, has more valuable suggestions for dealing with holiday loneliness here.

Don’t skimp on joy
The holiday season is special for a reason. The term holidays comes from “Holy Days.” Year’s end has been a sacred time since at least ancient Egyptian days. Remember to celebrate life and connect with the people you love. Appreciate friends and neighbors and have some fun.

Life with diabetes is hard, but there are approaches that can make it manageable. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more from Scott Coulter.