Written by: Sejal Dave
Fit4D Nutrition Coach
This article is the second part to our guide on managing your diabetes during the holidays. This week, we will talk about maintaining your blood sugars in target range during the busy holiday season. Click here for Part 1, which shows how you can easily create a healthy diabetes plate during the holidays.
For most of us the joys of the holiday season come from spending time with family, shopping, entertaining, hosting house guests, and perhaps traveling to see friends and relatives. Ironically these same activities can add stress to already busy lives. Although tempting, try not to put diabetes “on hold” in order to get through the demands of this season. Even minor changes to your usual diabetes management routine can affect your health, so take the few minutes daily during the holiday season to take care of one your most valuable gifts – your health.
How Does Stress Affect My Diabetes?
Stress may affect your blood glucose in two different ways:
- Additional activities and inconsistent schedules could displace your usual diabetes care activities. For example doing holiday errands may replace your walk, or you might forget to check your blood glucose because you’re rushing.
- Hormones are released by the body during times of stress that directly lead to high blood glucose levels.
While most people with type 1 diabetes may experience hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) with stress, few may have hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to experience hyperglycemia when they are stressed.
It’s easy to see how the hectic and inconsistent holiday schedule can play havoc with your blood glucose levels. The good news is with just a little planning you can keep them on target.
Making Time for Diabetes Care During the Holidays
The best way to reduce your stress and manage your blood glucose levels at this time of year is to come up with a plan that makes diabetes care your priority. Here are a few sample strategies that will help you adhere to your diabetes plan:
- Check your blood glucose levels regularly to determine if you need to adjust your meals, insulin or your schedule. The stress of the holiday season can impact your blood glucose levels differently. It’s helpful to monitor your blood sugars throughout the day to determine if your medications or diet need to be adjusted.
- Make time to be active. Even 30 minutes of physical activity each day at least 5 days a week can help manage your stress. If you’re in a time crunch studies show that being active in 10 minute segments 3 times a day is equally as effective as a 30 minute block.
- It’s important to take your medications as prescribed to help keep your blood glucose in the target range. If your schedule gets hectic, set reminders on the bathroom mirror or any other place where you are most likely to see it. You can also place your medication at the table where you eat breakfast. (Click here to see more tips on remembering your medications)
- Carry your blood glucose meter and medications with you in a travel pouch or a kit that’s compact.
- If you are using an insulin pump and notice your blood glucose is more frequently out of its target range, speak with your health care provider (HCP) about adjusting your basal rate.
- If you are using insulin to carbohydrate ratios and your post meal blood glucose is elevated more than usual, speak with your HCP about adjusting your insulin dose.
- Don’t skip meals. Stick to your meal plan as closely as possible. Be prepared for the unexpected delay by packing a lunch or snacks “to go” (more on this below).
- Be organized. If you can take care of one or two holiday details each day, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed as holiday events approach. This will also allow you to maintain your daily diabetes management care.
- Change your mindset. Instead of getting stressed by all of the running around remember that it also counts as physical activity!
- Utilize pharmacy services such as automatic refills or home delivery of diabetes strips and medications. That’s one less thing you’ll have on your mind.
- Delegate errands and chores such as house cleaning to other members of the family, or at least ask them to pitch in. Turn decorating the house into a family event. More hands make less work, and more time for you to take care of your diabetes needs.
- When going to a potluck, take a dish to share that fits your own meal plan such as a veggie platter, green salad, bean salad, or low fat chili. That way you know you’ll have one good choice when it’s time to eat.
- Plan a type of activity after the holiday meal such as dancing, walking or building a snowman after dinner to help burn off those calories.
Diabetes strategies for healthy eating on the run
A busier schedule can jeopardize your usual meal routine and lead to erratic blood glucose levels. Is it realistic to think that you can avoid eating out while you’re busy running holiday errands? Probably not! However, with a little preparation you can still eat healthfully.
- If you’re headed out early, eat a quick and healthy breakfast such as a small toasted whole grain bagel with almond butter or whole grain cereal with nuts, berries and skim milk.
- Pack a healthy lunch to go. A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and an apple or a salad topped with lean protein are better alternatives to fast food and will give you the energy you need to keep going. Meals packed from home are generally lower in fat and calories than foods that are purchased from food courts and fast food establishments.
- Keep healthy snacks with you so that you’re eating regularly. You’ll also have the energy you need to keep up with the demands of the season. Fasting for prolonged periods of time will cause certain hormones in your body to rise that will also cause your blood sugars to increase.
- Here are several examples of snacks that you can keep portioned and ready to go with you before you head out the door. Measure snacks into plastic sandwich bags for the perfect serving size!
- 3 celergy sticks plus 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
- 5 cherry tomatoes + 1 tablespoon ranch
- 1 hard-boiled egg (peel beforehand for easier eating on-the-go)
- 1 cup cucumber slices + 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
- ¼ cup fresh blueberries
- 1 cup salad greens, 1/2 cup diced cucumber, tossed with vinegar and oil
- 1 cup light popcorn
- 2 saltine crackers
- 10 gold-fish crackers
- 16 green olives
- 1 string cheese stick
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin or sesame seeds
- ¼ of a whole avocado
- If you forget to take something with you, then it’s better to buy something than to skip eating altogether. Luckily many restaurants offer healthier food options. Grilled chicken sandwiches are better alternatives to fried chicken. Other good choices include veggie wraps, soups and smaller sized meals (even a kid’s meal). If you prefer to keep moving while eating, a yogurt parfait or fruit smoothie can also be good choices for food on the go.
- Limit your caffeine intake. It may seem like a jolt of java will get you through the first few hours of the day, but if you keep drinking caffeine without eating you could end up having large shifts in your blood sugar levels. This effect is more pronounced for individuals who have type 2 diabetes. Stick with water to keep you hydrated.
- Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol during the holidays can jeopardize your judgement and your blood glucose management . (See Holiday Planning for Diabetes: Part 1 for more on alcohol management.
Simplify & Enjoy the True Spirit of the Holidays
Taking a few extra minutes to focus on keeping your blood sugars in check will help protect your most important asset – your health. Then you will enjoy the social aspect of the holidays, which is the most fulfilling part of the holiday season. Simplifying and setting realistic expectations when it comes to gifts and food will help you enjoy and celebrate what makes special this time of year.
What helps you cope with stress during the holidays? Share with us your ideas on making diabetes care your priority during the busy holiday season. Please respond in the comments section!
- Holiday Planning for Diabetes Part 1: Simple Holiday Meal Planning
- A Diabetes Survival Guide to Summer Road Trips
- Lows Behind the Wheel: The Challenge of Driving With Diabetes
- Coping with the Ins and Outs of Living with Diabetes
- "I’m a Walking Miracle:" A Diabetes Educator Speaks out About 49 Years of Living Well with Diabetes