November 20, 2017

Don’t Let Diabetes Stop You from Having a Happy and Healthy Holiday

By Stacy Eilers
Clinical Nutritionist Educator, Mission Diabetes Center

The holidays are traditionally a time to enjoy family, friends and food. Unfortunately, we have a habit of focusing too much on the food part, and Americans gain about one to two pounds during the season.

That may not seem like much, but research shows that people tend to keep that weight when the season ends. So over 20 years it can add up to 20 to 40 pounds of extra weight, and as many have experienced, those extra pounds can make it harder to manage your diabetes over time.

Also one research study found a slight increase in A1C that may not return to preholiday level may happen. Again, over time this can add up to poorer diabetes management. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to continue to manage your diabetes, avoid weight gain and still have fun.

Here are a just a few ways to make sure your holidays stay healthy:

  • Focus on the holiDAYS. We often start at Halloween and celebrate all the way to New Years. We enjoy parties, gatherings and treats throughout the season, but this leads to plenty of extra carbohydrates and calories. Instead, focusing our food indulgences on the actual day of the holiday can make those days seem all the more special – with the added present of helping keep weight and blood sugars where we want them.
  • Celebrate the season; not just the food. Many of our long-standing, cherished holiday traditions revolve around food. We often look forward to these treats all year long and then stress once they are here. To avoid feeling like the Grinch, it can be helpful to try to create new holiday traditions that are enjoyable and don’t focus on food. For example, have a caroling party with sugar-free hot chocolate or spiced cider instead of a party with food. Volunteer to work at a homeless shelter and then have a small Thanksgiving meal after. Have a healthy holiday recipe exchange instead of a cookie exchange.
  • Have a food strategy. Start each day with breakfast, and try to have something to eat every 3 to 5 hours. Ideally, try to eat as close to your normal times as possible. If you are not able to do this, have a small healthy snack in between meals to keep your blood sugar from dropping and you from getting overly hungry. 
  • Savor smartly. Look at all of your food options before you fill your plate. Then get just the foods you really want and think are worth eating. Take your time eating them and savor the taste and texture of the food. If you don’t like something, don’t eat it. If you need a healthy option to fill up on, try to choose plenty of vegetables.
  • Be the host/hostess with the mostest… as in the “mostest” healthy options. If you’re in charge of the food, try using healthy cooking options like baking, grilling or broiling for meats. Limit added fats such as oils, butter and gravy, and try recipe substitutions such as mixing mashed cauliflower into the mashed potatoes or sneak some shredded zucchini into your potato latkes. Make dessert sugar-free if possible. On the other hand, if you’re a guest, offer to bring a healthy dish.
  • Make spirits bright by limiting the spirits. Alcoholic drinks often contain extra carbohydrates and calories. Try to choose drinks that are lower in carbohydrate, and limit your drinks to one if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. Or skip the alcohol entirely and have sugar-free punch, diet soda or flavored seltzer waters instead.
    • A drink is:
      • 12 fluid ounces (fl oz.) of beer
      • 5 fl oz. of wine
      • 1½ fl oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits
      • 1 fl oz. of 100-proof distilled spirits
  • Admire the lights and decorations. Many houses in downtown areas are decorated for the holidays, and walking through the city or neighborhoods to enjoy the lights and decorations is a great way to celebrate the holidays and get some exercise.
  • Continue to test your blood sugars and take your medications. This may sound simple, but it can often go by the wayside in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Also, people often stop testing their sugars because they don’t want to see the consequences of their choices. However, testing can be a gentle reminder that indulging every day may not help you meet your goals.
  • Give yourself a gift: be kind to yourself. If you don’t stick to your plan, don’t beat yourself up. Think of it as a learning experience. Just drink plenty of water, get moving, keep testing your sugars and try to figure out what might work better the next time. Indulge yourself in nonfood ways, such as getting a massage or making time for that sleep you really need.

Stacy Eilers, RDN, LDN, CDE, is a Clinical Nutritionist Educator with Mission Diabetes Center.

For more information about the Mission Diabetes Center, call (828) 213-4700 or visit