Ways to Enjoy Holiday Food When You Have Diabetes

Did you know it only takes an extra 250 calories a day to gain half a pound per week? During the holiday season, most Americans gain a pound or two. Although it doesn't seem like much, a couple pounds here and there can stay on and accumulate over the years.

If you have diabetes, weight management isn't your only challenge to enjoying this time of year. You need to stick to the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and fiber to keep your blood glucose levels in check.

Tips for successful holiday eating

  1. Focus on family, friends, and activities instead of food. Relax and enjoy the festivities. The holidays are a time to slow down and catch up with family and friends. Play games, volunteer, or spend time outdoors enjoying the winter weather.
  2. Stick to your regular eating schedule. Skipping meals (especially breakfast) earlier in the day to “save” calories for the holiday feast almost guarantees over-eating. If the planned meal is late, have a regular meal-time snack like raw vegetables, low-fat yogurt, cheese, or whole-grain crackers.
  3. Plan ahead for meals. Ask the party host about the food menu before you go and plan what you eat beforehand around that. If it’s a buffet, fill most of your plate with vegetables and salad before you start to add small portions of entrees and dessert.
  4. Enjoy the foods you eat. Eat slowly and really savor the foods that you only eat once a year. If you plan to have a portion of your favorite dessert, cut back on the carbohydrates you eat at the main meal.
  5. Use a smaller plate. Using a smaller plate will help you put less food on it. If available, select a salad or snack plate. After you finish your plate, wait at least 20 minutes before you go back for seconds to make sure you’re actually hungry. (That’s how long it takes your stomach to tell your brain it’s full.)
  6. Provide healthier food options. If you’re the host, offer a variety of healthy options for guests along with the traditional higher calorie foods.  Vegetable or fruit trays or a lighter dessert are good choices. Try to prepare the appropriate amount of food, too. Making too much food will leave you with leftovers that encourage extra eating. If you’re the guest, offer to bring a healthy food dish like this spinach-roasted red pepper dip – it’s a perfect appetizer.
  7. Reduce fat and calories in favorite dishes. Many foods taste just as good with fat-free or low-fat sour cream or cheeses, or with less sugar than the recipe calls for. Here’s the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s list of lower-fat, lower-calorie alternatives.
  8. Moderate your alcohol consumption. Limit drinks to no more than one for women and two for men. One drink equals 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for possible reactions between alcohol and your medications. And remember to monitor your blood sugar and have something to eat when you drink. When you're not drinking alcohol, choose calorie-free beverages, such as water with lemon, diet soft drinks, club soda, or mineral water.
  9. Make time for exercise. Even though you’ll be busy with your holiday schedule, don’t break your workout routine. Exercising can help you manage hunger, burn calories, reduce stress, and control your blood glucose.
  10. Aim for weight maintenance.  During the holidays try to maintain your weight, not start a diet.  Stick with your plan to make better choices when not-so-healthy foods are available. For example: Skip the rolls or mashed potatoes and have a half slice of pumpkin pie. If you eat more than you planned, take a walk after the big meal to offset the extra calories. And if you go overboard one day, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track the next day.

When a health condition forces you to have diet restrictions, it can be a challenge going to parties that involve buffet style eating. But all of the tips listed in this article really apply to everyone trying to stay healthy.

Consider talking to your loved ones about diabetes and their risk. They could be one of the estimated 79 million adults in the U.S. with prediabetes, that if not controlled could put them at high risk for diabetes.

Check out the National Diabetes Education Program guide to having a holiday family heart-to-heart about diabetes.

Meet the Author

Janet Mittelstadt, RD, CD, CDE is a Dietitian Diabetes Educator at Aurora West Allis Medical Center in West Allis, Wisconsin.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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