Managing Diabetes for Happy, Healthy Holidays
The holiday season is upon us! Hanukkah begins on November 28 this year, followed by Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day and other winter celebrations. How will your family be observing these events this year? Some have decided to continue social distancing with a virtual celebration as they did in 2020. Others are taking their vaccine status and other factors into account, and holding in-person gatherings. No matter what your plans, if you or a loved one are living with diabetes, it’s important to take a few precautions to successfully manage the condition as you’re enjoying the sights and sounds of the season.
Making a list and checking it twice
Planning ahead of time makes it more likely that you’ll be able to have an enjoyable holiday gathering while managing your blood sugar. Planning also helps avoid another factor that can throw off your blood sugar: stress, which sometimes seems to be an inevitable part of the season!
Planning to avoid COVID-19 is another important preparation. People with diabetes may be more likely to contract the virus, and they are at much higher risk of developing serious complications from the disease. So get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Ask your doctor if you should get a booster, as well. And while you’re at it, get a flu shot. The holidays fall right in the middle of flu season. Seasonal influenza is more dangerous for people with diabetes. Talk to your doctor about the type of vaccines that are right for you.
And make an early New Year’s resolution that while you’re traveling, and during the time you’re spending at your destination, you’ll be sure to test your blood sugar level as recommended. You may be eating foods you don’t usually eat, and the change in routine and schedule can make a difference as well.
On the road
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some practical tips for travel:
Before you depart …
- Pack twice the amount of diabetes supplies you expect to need, in case of travel delays.
- Keep snacks and glucose gel or tablets with you in case your blood glucose drops.
- Make sure to keep your medical insurance card and emergency phone numbers handy, including your doctor’s name and phone number.
- Carry medical identification that says you have diabetes.
- Keep time zone changes in mind so you’ll know when to take medication.
- If you use insulin, make sure you also pack a glucagon emergency kit.
- Keep your insulin cool by packing it in an insulated bag.
- Bring water (or a water bottle to fill past security screening if you’re flying).
- Bring some dried fruit, nuts and seeds as snacks.
If you will be flying to your destination …
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says, “Passengers who have insulin pumps can be screened using imaging technology, a metal detector, or a thorough pat-down. A passenger can request to be screened by pat-down in lieu of imaging technology. Screening can be conducted without disconnecting from the pump. However, it is important to let the officer know about the pump before the screening process begins.”
- Place all your diabetes supplies in your carry-on luggage. Keep medications and snacks at your seat for easy access. Don’t store them in overhead bins.
- Have all syringes and insulin-delivery systems (including vials of insulin) clearly marked with the pharmaceutical preprinted label that identifies the medications. Keep them in the original pharmacy-labeled packaging.
- If a meal will be served during your flight, wait until your food is about to be served before you take your insulin.
- If the airline doesn’t offer a meal, bring a nutritious meal yourself. Make sure to pack snacks in case of flight delays.
- When drawing up your dose of insulin, don’t inject air into the bottle (the air on your plane will probably be pressurized).
Most people with diabetes will tell you that holiday dining can really mess up your meal plan. Whether your family loves a Christmas ham, roast goose or turkey, Hanukkah latkes, cookies, pies or a big New Year’s spread, the feasts and parties are sure to feature plenty of rich, salty foods and high-calorie desserts. Here are a few tips to help you eat well … and eat healthily:
Talk to the host before you arrive. It helps to know the menu ahead of time, especially if you’ll be having multiple meals with your hosts. That way you can plan ahead, adjusting your meal plan to allow for splurging a bit on favorite dishes.
Eat as closely to your usual times as you can to keep your blood sugar steady. If you’ll be dining later than usual, have a snack and then eat a bit less during the meal.
Bring a dish for yourself. This way you’ll know for sure that there’s something you can eat. You might also offer to bring extra to share; it’s thoughtful to alert your hosts beforehand.
Be portion savvy. Help yourself to just a sample size of more indulgent dishes. Then load up the plate with veggies and other healthy items. (Speaking of veggies, the famous green bean casserole and other veggie dishes that are full of fat and sodium don’t count as healthy choices.)
Avoid or limit alcohol. Alcohol can affect your blood sugar and interact with your diabetes medications. (And, by lowering your inhibitions, it can tempt you to overeat.)
Take heart from the CDC, which assures us, “No food is on the naughty list. Choose the dishes you really love and can’t get any other time of year, like Aunt Edna’s pumpkin pie. Slow down and savor a small serving, and be sure to count it in your meal plan.” And if you slipped up and ate more than you planned at a holiday gathering, don’t beat yourself up. Just get right back to following your plan.
The gift of a healthy lifestyle
It’s tempting to settle onto the couch after those big holiday meals, but this is a bad time to neglect your physical activity routine! How about catching up on the year’s news with a friend or relative while enjoying a walk through the autumn leaves? Walking is also a great stress-buster—something we can surely be thankful for during the holidays! Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s advice as regards the type and timing of exercise.
It’s also so important to get enough sleep. Poor quality sleep makes it harder to control your blood sugar. Say “Happy New Year” to everyone once the clock strikes midnight, and make plans to get together for a nice walk the next day. Getting more exercise should be on everyone’s list of resolutions, so you’ll be setting a good example.
A note for hosts
Hosting the holidays when a guest has diabetes doesn’t need to feel like a minefield. Talk to your guest ahead of time. You might be able to make healthy tweaks to your traditional dishes, such as using healthier fats, less sugar and salt, more whole grains and fewer processed foods. That’s a great holiday tradition for all the family! And remember—“food policing” is not your job. Once the party starts, refrain from commenting on what or how much your guest with diabetes eats. The guest’s food regimen is between them and their doctor, and perhaps family members who are supporting their loved one’s care needs.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have questions about managing your diabetes, consult your doctor.