‘Tis the Season: Healthy Holidays for All

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When it comes to the holiday season, “don’t mess with tradition” seems to be the motto. Maybe you have a favorite cookie recipe full of fat and calories handed down from several generations or a special kind of stuffing that you make. Perhaps this is the time of year when you catch up on your sleep (always a good thing) or imbibe a few too many holiday cocktails. Go to the gym? You’ll start January 2.

We tend to rationalize and figure that the holiday indulgences only fall on a day or two out of the whole year. Of course, we also tend to overlook the fact that the holiday season typically extends from Halloween to New Year’s, and sometimes beyond. Holiday parties, office treats, cookie swaps, and grabbing food on the fly when shopping make it easy to get off track with our usual routines. So it’s not surprising that calories and carbohydrate add up, pounds are packed on, exercise falls by the wayside, and come January 2, one feels like the overstuffed turkey that was on the table.

Yet, our holiday traditions are what help sustain us from year to year. Observing and honoring them are a way for us to connect to our past, so it’s understandable that we hold onto them. When you have diabetes, you might be feeling that it’s too hard to balance the holidays with blood glucose control, especially if you’re new to diabetes. How do count the carbohydrate? How do you gauge your insulin dose? What if you just can’t possibly be “good” at this time of year? Here’s some advice to help your holidays be as enjoyable and healthful as possible:

  • Tone up your treatment plan. Now is actually a good time to check your blood glucose more regularly (or for some, more often). Record your readings in a logbook and actually look at them; don’t just rely on your meter’s memory. Circle the highs in red ink and the lows in blue ink. Are you running high or low at certain times of the day? Any thoughts on why? Do you think your insulin or diabetes pills need some tweaking? Are you getting a little sloppy (and I don’t mean this in a mean way) with your food choices? Have you slacked off a little with physical activity? Try not to put off addressing some of these issues. Chances are, you don’t need an entire diabetes overhaul, but perhaps there are one or two steps you can take to tighten things up a bit. Don’t hesitate to contact your physician or diabetes educator if you could use some help.
  • Invest in your health. Check out your health-insurance benefits. You might be surprised at what is covered by your health plan. For example, my health plan will cover services such as acupuncture and therapeutic massage, and offers a discount at local fitness centers. If you’ve put off meeting with a dietitian, an exercise physiologist, or a diabetes educator, look into what your coverage is. Medicare covers an initial 10 hours of diabetes education, plus additional hours with a dietitian. Many other health plans offer something similar. Ask your physician for a referral or contact your local hospital to find out about diabetes classes. If you’re goal is to get in shape, treat yourself to or ask for a few lessons with a personal trainer.
  • Get moving. It’s too cold, I’ve got too much to do, I’m tired, I’ll do it next year…these are some of the excuses that we all use around this time of year. And they’re often legitimate. But fitting in a brisk walk at lunch, walking a few laps around the mall, or planning a holiday activity around something active, such as ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or even sledding (walking up that hill burns calories!) will do you a world of good to stave off stress, help you sleep better, and keep your blood glucose readings where you want them.
  • Give yourself some TLC. Whether you’re feeling frantic about getting shopping, cooking, gift wrapping, and party hosting done, or else feeling sad, lonely or depressed at this time of year (because many people do), it’s also important to stop the madness, take a deep breath and slow down. Make time for yourself. This means taking a nap, meditating, reading a book, going to holiday services at your church or temple, spending time with friends, or joining a support group. Say no to requests or activities that aren’t really important to you. And don’t feel like you have to observe every family tradition. Sometimes it’s just too much to do everything. Stress can affect your diabetes. High or low blood glucose can sap your strength, leave you feeling irritable, and basically take the joy out of the season. So take care of yourself. If you’re feeling alone and you don’t want to be, reach out to family, a friend, your physician, or another trusted member of your health-care team.

Look ahead. If 2010 wasn’t all you wanted it to be, remember that a new year and new beginning is right around the corner. Think of one goal you’d like to achieve over the next year and take some steps to make it happen.

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