Finding Balance: Tips to Maintain Your Health During the Holidays

The holiday season for many is a special time for family gatherings, gift-shopping, and spiritual renewal. For those managing diabetes, the joy of the holidays may also have its challenges, including difficult-to-manage blood glucose levels, extra pounds, and fatigue and stress associated with trying to engineer the picture-perfect celebration.

When managing diabetes, a condition affecting over 30 million Americans, it’s important to maintain good health and keep stress at bay. The easiest way to do this is to plan ahead. Here are some tips to help you maneuver through the holiday maze while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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Eat, drink, and be wary

Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and often plays 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.

Although it may not be the best time to attempt a serious weight-loss program, it is realistic to set a goal of maintaining your weight and blood glucose control. Here are some tips to help you get started:

• Make your holiday recipes healthier by reducing their fat and sugar content.

• 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 tasting food while 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. 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.

The power of physical activity

Staying physically active during the holiday season can relieve your stress, improve your mood, lower your blood glucose levels, and help with weight control. While your busy holiday schedule may not allow you to participate in as much daily physical activity as you might like, there are ways to stay active, and these tips can help:

• Encourage active holiday events. Plan parties around caroling, house decorating, holiday card making, snowman building, or walks to see neighborhood decorations.

• Your gift shopping trips can help burn calories and lower blood glucose. Park farther away from the mall entrance. Use the store’s stairs, not the escalator. Arrive at the mall a bit early and speed walk around the mall until the stores open.

• If it’s impossible for you to find a block of 30 minutes each day for physical activity, split your activity into two or three intervals of 10–15 minutes each.

• Find something to laugh about. Laughing is a great tension reliever. It burns calories, reduces stress, and usually means that you’re enjoying yourself. Research shows that laughter actually lowers blood glucose after meals. The study suggests that the positive effects of laughter may be due to increased calorie consumption or changes in the neuroendocrine system. Other studies note that laughter helps lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and release endorphins.

Keeping spirits bright

Overscheduling, overdoing, overspending…holiday preparations often lead to stress rather than serenity and satisfaction. Stress can affect blood glucose levels in several ways. The stress of overdoing and overscheduling may lead you to neglect your usual self-care plan. The body also reacts to stress by producing hormones that cause the liver to release a surge of glucose, leading to high blood glucose levels. On the other hand, if you are too busy to eat properly, your blood glucose can drop too low.

Holiday stress survival kit

Avoiding fluctuations in blood glucose during the holidays can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help keep you on the right path.

• Schedule time for self-care. Regular exercise and time for stress management are a must. Use a pedometer to track your steps, keep an honest food diary for a few days, be sure to continue to check and record your blood glucose results. Find the tools and techniques that work best for you and put them to work.

• Taking a few deep, slow breaths goes a long way toward helping your body unwind and clearing your mind. Set a timer or post sticky notes in your kitchen or on your computer monitor as a reminder to breathe deeply at least three times a day. Transcend tension in traffic or on your way to a holiday party by taking a few deep breaths, making sure to exhale completely.

• Knowing your spending limits will also relieve holiday stress. Gifts are meant to be symbols of affection; they don’t necessarily have to be expensive or the latest “must have” gadget. If the “perfect” gift is one you’re going to be paying for the rest of the year, it may be time to rethink your plan. Find a gift that is meaningful and personal but doesn’t break your budget.

• Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t be disappointed if your celebration doesn’t reflect the fantasy found in holiday carols and television specials. Expect some irritations and imperfections, then relax and have a good time in spite of them.

What is your reason for the season?

Focus on your reason for the season. Is it the decorations, the spiritual aspects, the music, or the time spent with family and friends? Perhaps this is the year you start a new tradition, possibly serving a holiday meal to those less fortunate or escaping to a warm vacation spot. With a bit of planning and attention, diabetes won’t stand in the way of your finding the true spirit of the holidays.

Want to learn more about keeping your balance during the holidays? Read “Diabetes? Holiday Help and Hints,” “Creating New Holiday Traditions,” and “The Holiday Meal Survival Guide.”

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