If you have diabetes, then the holidays could potentially hold some serious health challenges for you.
In fact, for many diabetics, the holidays can be a rather bleak and dismal time when it comes to managing their diabetes. This is especially true for diabetics who may have a family where it seems like everyone cooks and bakes from Thanksgiving until Christmas. The temptations to cheat are greater for them than at almost any other time of the year!
I grew up in an Italian family that celebrated the holidays with food, food and more food. The dining room table in my grandmother's house looked like a display case in a high-class bakery, from the day after Thanksgiving, until January 6th, the celebration of the "Feast of the Epiphany." And it seemed like everyone who came to visit, came bearing gifts of ... you guessed it! ... more food!
It would have taken a saint to avoid all the temptations!
But for the rest of the mere mortals who may live with diabetes, this type of temptation makes it hard to keep their blood sugar levels on an even keel. Why?
Because during the holiday season, not only do eating habits change, but there is usually a dramatic increase in stress levels, more activities, and for some folks, a bout with holiday induced depression.
So we don't eat right because we are way too busy and, when we do eat, we want comfort-food to ease the pain. Yikes!!
Does it have to be so dismal for a diabetic during the holiday season?
Absolutely not. If you have diabetes, you can make it safely through the holidays with some thought and careful planning.
And it makes sense doesn't it? Once you've identified the things that are working against you during the holidays, you can prepare your strategy for successful management of your diabetes. Preparing for the extra stress, increased activity and food temptations, will allow you to not only survive the holiday season, but enable you to enjoy your holidays relatively guilt-free as well.
Here is a list of suggestions to help you formulate a strategy and help you to survive the holidays if you are living with diabetes:
- Make sure that exercise is an important part of your daily routine. Don’t let the cold weather or busy schedules keep you from getting the proper amount of exercise every day. Take walks, work-out, visit the gym ... any exercise that you prefer. Exercise will help you to keep your blood sugar levels even. And exercise will also will help ease the stress that somehow is part of all holidays for everyone.
- Monitor your alcohol consumption especially if this is something you don't already do. Check with your health care provider if you are unsure before drinking alcoholic beverages.
- If you are plan on attending holiday parties, it's important to talk to your hosts before the event. Let them know about your diabetes and request alternative foods that you can enjoy. Foods that are low in fats and can be prepared without sugar. Don't be afraid to suggest healthier foods. With a few changes to any menu, you will be able to attend holiday parties and celebrate with your friends and loved ones while maintaining your diet.
- If you have a child that attends school and has diabetes, the teachers and aides need to be aware of, and learn to be sensitive to, the special health needs of your child. You can show them (if they are not aware of the restrictions in your child's diet,) that it is possible to plan classroom parties and events for children, with healthy snacks. Not only can foods be prepared with no sugar and low in fats that kids will enjoy but, most stores offer a wide variety of sugar free snacks and sweets. If necessary, offer to make some healthy food for the entire class so your child will not feel singled out just because he has diabetes. With a little pre-planning, your child will have a holiday season that is fun.
In regard to blood sugar levels, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Your blood sugar levels will need to be tested more often during the holidays. Increased activity and stress can make blood sugar levels swing. You may not realize just how your activity is reflected in your blood sugar. Planning ahead of time, taking some extra insulin, or being prepared for a sudden drop in glucose, will save you some time and possible problems. (A child is more likely to have these blood level swings because of excitement, anticipation, and the joy of the holiday.) By checking readings often, you are prepared for the obvious changes that will occur in your blood sugar levels.
- Keep an eye out for low sugar level readings, even though you may think that eating something with sugar would normally elevate them. Excitement and over stimulation can cause a sudden drop of blood sugar levels, and it is best to be prepared for that event. Keep in mind that your body responds to excitement and stimulation in the same way it does to exercise.
The holidays can be a great source of fun and family enjoyment. Living with diabetes doesn't mean that you have to enjoy them any less. It just means that you will need to spend a little more time than others, pre-planning your days, keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels and monitoring your overall health. But the end result will be a happy and healthy holiday season.