The holiday season is a time of year when your typical meal plan goes out the window.
Try as you might; it can be incredibly challenging to stick to your health goals as the holidays roll in full speed. While it may be unreasonable to assume that you can keep the status quo throughout the holiday season, there are measures you can take to stay on track without completely falling off the wagon.
Ultimately, this time of year should be about connecting, celebration, and enjoyment. So how do you approach the holidays to maximize the fun without jeopardizing your health?
Read on to learn how to stay on top of your diabetes care while enjoying the festive season.
6 Healthy Holiday Tips For Managing Diabetes
#1 Mind Your Mental Health
Caring for your emotional health may be the most important thing you can do to maintain physical health.
Although the holiday season can be full of celebration and joy, there's also a fair share of stress that comes with the festivities; financial strain, a busier-than-usual social calendar, triggering family members, and so on.
Add to all of this the stress of trying to avoid sugar-laden desserts and holiday treats, and you're basically walking into a mental breakdown.
When you're stressed, it activates centers in the brain that make it much more challenging to stick to healthy habits. This is why "stress eating" occurs when we're feeling overwhelmed in life. And, of course, stress eating doesn't just involve overeating, but specifically overeating foods high in fat, sugar, and calories.
To mitigate the effects of stress, pay extra attention to your emotional state as the holidays approach. This is an excellent time to start a journaling practice or begin another stress-reduction technique like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing.
When all else fails, research shows that having a community you can rely on can significantly impact your stress levels. If you feel yourself slipping into the realm of overwhelm, call a friend or loved one to get the support you need – they could probably use a little support as well.
#2 Stay Active
With all the chaos that the holidays usher in, one of the first good habits to take a back burner is usually physical activity. The fact that the days get shorter during this time doesn't help either.
However, physical activity is crucial for helping to control diabetes and also does wonders for your mental health.
This may not be the time of year to start a whole new workout regimen (save that for your new year's resolution), but it is definitely a time to stick to your already scheduled programming. If you've been hitting the gym after work, make a commitment to keep up with your weekly goals. If you wake up a half hour early to go for a morning walk, don't start skipping out on it now.
You can even use the social aspect of the holidays in your favor, and instead of meeting a friend for a holiday drink, ask if they want to get together for a walk or a yoga class.
If you're traveling, things can get a bit more tricky, but you can do plenty of exercises that don't require equipment (lunges, crunches, squats, push-ups, etc.).
After a big holiday meal, taking a nice long walk will not only help your body use up some of that fuel, but it may also give you a chance to take a breather from the crowd.
Regardless of how you stay active, it's really the effort that counts.
#3 Double Down On Watching Your Carbohydrate Intake
When you have diabetes, watching your carbohydrate intake is always important. However, it becomes twice as important during the holiday season because there are twice as many opportunities to slip up.
A glucose monitor is one of the best ways to track how your body responds to your meals. You may have your regular meal plan pretty dialed in at this point, but things tend to get a little unpredictable when the holidays roll around.
Having a glucose monitor on hand is an excellent way to stay on top of your food choices. Just as calories still count on your birthday, carbs do (unfortunately) still count over the holidays.
Some people find that even just having their monitor on hand helps them make wiser choices, as this little device helps them stay accountable.
#4 Plan Ahead
Planning ahead can look different depending on the situation, but either way, having a game plan for your holiday meals and parties will make mealtime much more enjoyable and significantly less stressful.
For example, if you're going to a family dinner and you know that your grandma's famous sweet potato casserole will be on the table, next to a big bowl of mashed potatoes, some biscuits, and a host of other starchy carbs, it's an excellent idea to bring a side dish or two of your own.
There are plenty of non-starchy veggie dishes to choose from that are delicious enough for the whole family to enjoy. Here are just a few options:
- Creamed brussels sprouts
- Cauliflower casserole
- Balsamic mushrooms
- Cheesy scalloped zucchini
- Buffalo cauliflower
Another way you can plan ahead is by having low-carb snacks on hand. The truth is that this season you may come face to face with tempting options in even the most unexpected places, but you can mitigate the temptation by having your own favorite snacks on hand. This will not only stave off hunger-driven slips, but you also won't feel as left out when a plate of brownies is presented to you out of left field. If you work in an office, for example, it may be a good idea to have a stash of low-carb cookies in your drawer in case temptation hits.
#5 Have Reasonable Goals
While maintaining health goals through the holidays is commendable, this is not the time of year to push yourself beyond reason. You want to be able to maintain your healthy lifestyle while enjoying the holidays, not by sacrificing all pleasure.
You're your best judge of what's reasonable for yourself and what's not. But try to be as gentle with yourself during this time of year as possible – while maintaining your healthy lifestyle.
For example, instead of saying that you'll eat no dessert at all over the holidays, make a commitment to only eat low-carb desserts.
Research shows that pre-commitment to your goal can give you a leg up on staying the course; therefore, making a reasonable plan ahead of time can set you up for success in the face of temptation.
And if you're on a weight loss journey, keep in mind that the best way to approach this goal during the holiday season is to keep stress low. Don't bother too much with trying to "stick to your diet," and instead, make your goal to try to stick to a peaceful mindset. You'll be surprised how much this can reduce your triggers and cravings.
Disclaimer: if you are currently trying to lose weight or manage your health due to dire circumstances, then, by all means, set your goals appropriately.
#6 Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
The holiday season presents us with more opportunities than any other time of the year to enjoy a drink or two (or three…).
Unfortunately, alcohol and blood glucose are like water and oil – they don't mix well. When you drink alcohol in the fed state, it raises your blood sugar levels, putting you at risk for hyperglycemia. On the other hand, drinking on an empty stomach can induce low blood sugar levels, putting you at risk for hypoglycemia.
Furthermore, as you're likely all too aware, when you drink it can lower your inhibitions. This means that you not only have to be extra careful of what comes out of your mouth, but you also have to manage what you put in it.
No matter which way you look at it, it's a lose-lose.
It may be unreasonable to suggest that you not drink at all over the holidays, but bringing some mindful awareness to your alcohol consumption is a very good idea. This is another situation where that glucose monitor may come in handy, as everyone's body will respond differently to alcohol, and the amount of food you already have in your stomach will make a difference.
Managing diabetes is all about creating healthy lifestyle habits, and it seems that the holidays are all about dismantling them.
Luckily, with a little bit of mindfulness, there is a middle road where you can enjoy the holiday cheer without throwing your health goals out the window.
It starts by putting your emotional health first and ensuring that you keep up with your regular exercise routine. Then comes a little mindfulness around holiday parties, healthy eating choices, and thoughtful alcohol consumption.
All the while, remember that this is not a time to restrict or deny yourself of all pleasure. You can make the holidays work for you by baking yourself a low-carb pumpkin pie or whipping up a delicious low-carb appetizer to share.
You can also leverage the power of community and tools like glucose monitors to help you stay accountable and on track with your goals. Learn more about glucose monitors and join a growing community of health-committed individuals with the BioCoach App.
Ultimately, your job during the holidays is to maximize your sense of well-being while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels to the best of your ability.
- Yau, Yvonne HC, and Marc N. Potenza. "Stress and eating behaviors." Minerva endocrinologica 38.3 (2013): 255.
- Ozbay, Fatih, et al. "Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice." Psychiatry (Edgmont) 4.5 (2007): 35.
- Crockett, Molly J., et al. "Restricting temptations: neural mechanisms of precommitment." Neuron 79.2 (2013): 391-401.
- Emanuele, Nicholas V., Terrence F. Swade, and Mary Ann Emanuele. "Consequences of alcohol use in diabetics." Alcohol health and research world 22.3 (1998): 211