Handling Holiday Eating When You Have Diabetes

From office parties to traditional family celebrations, starting in November, tables become laden with holiday specialties and treats that people with diabetes may typically try to minimize or avoid. November is also American Diabetes Month, and it’s no accident that November 14th, World Diabetes Day, is the birthday of Canadian doctor Sir Frederick Banting, one of the men who discovered insulin. It’s a day to increase awareness of diabetes as a serious disease that strikes one person every 17 seconds here in the U.S., and impacts the nearly 26 million Americans with diagnosed diabetes.

When you have diabetes, managing your condition can be a challenge on a normal day. With the holiday season is almost upon us, the eating “landscape” changes. Having a strategy to help navigate the seemingly non-stop food-fest we call the “holiday season” is a helpful tool, and not just for people who have diabetes—these tips are smart for those of us without diabetes, too.

Artichoke Spread

Have a Plan

If you know you have a holiday eating situation on the calendar, it pays to plan for it so you can enjoy yourself without doing major dietary damage. If you’re going to a holiday event where food is a focus, do not skip meals to “save up” calories because that can be dangerous for people with diabetes. Instead, adjust your day so that you get some exercise in. Keep in mind that it can take quite a bit of exercise to “burn off” treat. A holiday meal doesn’t mean the entire day’s eating is out the window. When you choose nutrient dense foods throughout the day—ones that deliver lots of nutrition relative to calories, such as fruits, vegetables and lean protein—you’ll not only be well nourished, you won’t be famished by the time the party rolls around.

Adjust Your Plate

When you get to a party or holiday dinner, scout around to see what is being served. Decide on one or two special items you want to eat and then make needed adjustments in your food intake to compensate. For example, if dessert is what you want to have (hello pumpkin-pecan pie!), plan for it by eating less starchy foods during dinner—skip the stuffing or mashed potatoes and serve yourself more vegetables instead (and pass on the rolls while you’re at it) so you’ll have room in your carbohydrate “budget” for a modest portion of dessert. Keeping your plate portioned for your plan is a smart way to balance…and eating more veggies is always a good idea!

Keep Traditions, Trim Everything Else

While it’s true that most of us like to prepare certain holiday foods the traditional way, without a care about the calories or fat content, there’s no reason that all your healthy cooking techniques need to be shelved until January 1st. When you are cooking, you’re the one in control. So go ahead and give yourself permission to prepare treasured recipes according to tradition, but also see if there are ways to cut fat, sugar, sodium and calories from the other foods you eat this season. I don’t mess with my mom’s stuffing recipe, but I do sub plain and simple mashed potatoes for scalloped potatoes. I never really liked green bean casserole with fried onions on it, so I skip that and serve a variety of other green vegetables prepared without heavy sauces and fatty toppings. Choose what’s most important to you and then trim down all the rest.

For diabetes-friendly holiday meal ideas, recipes and tips, check out the American Diabetes Association website.