Family gatherings, shopping for gifts, festive parties and special meals—the holidays are here! When you have diabetes, the hectic rush to get it all done combined with an abundance of sugary treats and high-calorie entrees, can make blood sugar management extra challenging. Here are 10 tips to help you stay healthy during the next few weeks and the rapidly-approaching winter months.
A big part of the holiday experience is the seasonal goodies. It’s okay to indulge just don’t overdo it. Before you get into the buffet line, be sure to scope out all the food offerings and avoid the temptation to pile your plate high. Visually divide your plate in half. Fill one half with non-starch veggies such as cauliflower, kale and salad greens—they are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and low in carbs. (Colorful, nutrient-rich vegetables such as red peppers, green broccoli and purple eggplant are also good choices.) Divide the other half of the plate into two sections—one quarter for lean protein such as turkey or chicken and the final quarter for starch (i.e. quinoa or a small sweet potato). As you enjoy your favorite foods, chew slowly and savor the flavor.
According to a Cornell University study, plates matter! A 9-inch plate and small, shallow bowls can help you cut down on calories. And, believe it or not, a high-color contrast between food and plates can also help you eat less. Subjects in the study ate more pasta with Alfredo sauce when it was served on a white plate than when it was served on a red one. So, consider ditching the white plates—too close in color to starchy holiday fare—and go for something brighter this holiday season.
Want to indulge in no-no foods? You can if you practice portion control. Just can’t pass up the mashed potatoes? No problem if you have a small amount—half of a cup at most. When measuring food isn’t convenient or practical, use this hand-y guide (no pun intended) anywhere, anytime:
For peace of mind, consider asking your hosts what’s on the menu ahead of time then, offer to bring food you know won’t spike your blood sugar. Perhaps a raw veggie platter with hummus, a tray of roasted asparagus or, a fresh fruit platter for dessert. Not only will your hosts appreciate your generosity but you’ll be guaranteed a healthy choice.
It may seem like a contradiction but it’s more important than ever to be physically active during the hustle and bustle of the season. Exercise is a natural stress reducer, burns calories and can help keep your blood glucose levels within target range.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity at least 5 days a week for a total of 150 minutes per week. They also advise not going more than two consecutive days without exercise.
If you can’t get to the gym during the holidays, find a way to stay active at home (Check out fitness videos on YouTube and exercise programs on demand.) Set exercise alarms and reminders in your cellphone to keep you honest. Schedule regular times to walk with a buddy (like your friend, co-worker or the family dog) or sign up for a fun dance class.
On Thanksgiving morning, consider participating in a fun run. A pre-Thanksgiving dinner workout will rev your metabolism, burn extra calories and give you extra energy to prepare and eat the feast! Many localities host Turkey Trots for charity. You’ll cross the finish line and be home in time to get your turkey in the oven.
A recent study published in the journal Diabetologia showed that walking after a meal has a bigger, positive impact on blood sugar than walking at other times of the day. So, it makes sense to introduce some activity between dinner and dessert on holidays. Kicking a soccer ball around on the front lawn can be memory making fun for all ages. The same goes for playing a friendly basketball game at a local park or school yard. It’s important to log your physical activity on all days—including holidays—and record your blood glucose levels before, during and after workouts. Levels can drop hours after a workout so test them often on days when you exercise.
To keep it functioning properly, make getting enough sleep a priority. Shutting off all technology (that includes your cell phone, computer and TV) at least one hour before bed will make it easier to drift off to La La Land. Sticking to a consistent bedtime routine can also be helpful. Be sure to turn in at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning—including weekends.
The importance of receiving your annual flu shot cannot be overstated since having diabetes puts you at increased risk of dangerous complications associated with getting the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CCD) also recommends the pneumonia vaccine. Most immunizations are covered by private insurance companies and Medicare (if you are over 65) but always call for confirmation to avoid surprises. Check with your health care provider to discuss these vaccine suggestions.
As a rule, avoid fancy mixed drinks (generally anything with an umbrella in it should be eyed with caution) as those are usually the drinks with upwards of 500 calories.
Instead, enjoy a 5-ounce glass of wine or a mixed drink made using club soda or seltzer and a splash of fruit juice. If you do, make sure to eat your usual meal or daily snack. This will help to reduce the effects of the alcohol. Sip your drink. Don’t gulp!
To cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink (and your calories as well), consume at least one glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Be aware that drinking alcohol can reduce inhibitions and lead to overeating because it weakens your will power.
Before you get too overwhelmed, recharge your battery by scheduling in some alone time. Enjoy a massage, manicure/pedicure or funny movie. Start your morning with an inspirational quote and a cup of special tea or coffee. Still feeling overwhelmed? Reach out to a family member, co-worker or friend if you need help with holiday tasks (or anytime). A little “team work” can make a big difference and besides, sharing certain responsibilities is wonderful anytime of the year. Stay focused on a positive attitude and remember, you don’t have to accept every invitation.