‘Tis the Season! Diabetes During the Holidays

Christmas is a mere nine days away (which means I should REALLY get going on my shopping…). Hanukkah just wrapped up on the 14th. Kwanzaa runs December 26th to January 1st. And even if you don’t celebrate ANY of these holidays, you’ll probably still be invited to a friend’s party or two, get together with family for some large meals, and experience the effects of the season.

The holidays can be tricky living with diabetes. I think they tend to a little more so for our Type 2 brothers and sisters, since we “Type 1ers” can up our insulin a bit and indulge in a few bad food choices more easily than those whose treatment depends on oral medications. Of course, diet, weight, and exercise are important for all of us living with diabetes, so those of us in the Type 1 camp aren’t off the hook when it comes to overeating during the holidays.

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And then there’s friends and family. We love our families (most of the time at least). We love our friends. But the holidays have a tendency to bring people into much closer quarters than usual, and in those cramped holiday spaces issues can and do arise. In particular for those of us with diabetes, judgments can start popping up from those around us. How many times has someone asked you across the dinner table, “Are you SURE you want to eat that?” Or maybe the host was about to give you the slice of pie you had planned for, taken insulin for, and calculated into your meal, when a friendly, well-meaning relative told them, “Oh, he can’t eat that — he’s diabetic.”

It can be a little draining after a while. After all, those of us going through this holiday season with diabetes are already navigating the temptations of the season. We know we’ve got to watch what we eat. Every party we attend, every dinner we sit down to, we’ve got a running calculator and commentator already going. That’s enough of a struggle by itself. When the stress of other people’s judgment is piled on top, it can really overwhelm us. So, here are a few tips I’ve come up with over the years to help ease that anxiety and frustration a little bit.

1. Remember the season is SHORT!

The holiday season is usually seven days at the most. This is very important to remember. Why? Well, you can deal with just about anything for a few days. Your relatives nosing into your business is annoying, but next week they’ll be back in Florida and you’ll be back to your regular life. Just knowing something is finite goes a long way in helping us let go of the irritation. And second, whatever mistakes you make are isolated. If you had a few blood sugar spikes over the holiday week, that’s really OK! We all have spikes every now and then, and one week of higher numbers really isn’t so bad. You’re not going to live on candy canes, chocolate, and five-course meals all year.

2. Remember the season is about love.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, it’s about love. I hate writing this, because it sounds so unbelievably trite and “self-helpish,” but gratitude goes a long way. Shift your focus. Instead of lamenting the extra slice of cake you had to turn down, enjoy the people around you. Or simply turn inward and be thankful for the food you DID get to enjoy. Keep your focus on what you HAVE, not the small bits you’ve had to turn down. And if you didn’t turn them down, and now your blood sugar spiked a little? Refer to #1.

3. Remember you have a say in all this!

Let the little things go as best you can — it’s really seldom worth it to get into a long conversation with a well-meaning relative who occasionally makes comments about your diabetes that miss the point. But if some really keeps needling and won’t drop it, you don’t have to ignore it, either. This is your chance to provide some education for them. And once they understand that they don’t have to be filled with visions of you being rushed to the hospital every time they see you munching on a small cookie, they’ll probably have no problem dropping the hints and commentary.

So, I hope these little tips can help out. The holidays can be tricky, but with the right strategy and mindset, we can spend MOST of our time simply enjoying the season.

Researchers are investigating a promising method to increase the growth of insulin-producing beta cells. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.