I have a hard time enjoying holiday celebrations because I’m worried about my blood sugar levels. Any advice for sticking to my nutrition goals during the holiday season?
— Bezzy Type 2 Diabetes Member
The holidays are a time to catch up with loved ones over delicious holiday-themed meals and to celebrate at festive parties.
But for some people with type 2 diabetes, the holidays can bring about anxiety and fears over controlling blood sugar levels and staying “on track” with food choices.
You might not think you can actually enjoy your favorite holiday foods without throwing off your blood sugar or gaining weight, but it’s possible to celebrate the holidays while prioritizing both your physical and mental health.
Here are some tips to stay happy and healthy during the holidays while living with type 2 diabetes, along with some nutritious holiday recipes.
If you tend to gain weight and experience blood sugar fluctuations over the holiday season, you’re not alone.
In many parts of the world like the U.S. and Europe, people tend to gain weight between the months of November and January. Glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes often declines after the holiday season, too.
Researchers think this is mostly caused by increased calorie intake during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, which are often celebrated with festive get-togethers where high calorie indulgent foods and drinks are served.
Even though the average person only gains a few pounds during the holiday season, the problem is that this weight tends to stick around for the rest of the year. This means that if you gain a few pounds every winter, it could add up to significant weight gain over time. This could negatively impact diabetic control.
So, how do you manage your blood sugar and body weight during the holidays?
The key is to develop a nutritious, enjoyable year-round eating pattern and a healthy relationship with food.
A nutritious and balanced diet promotes healthy blood sugar levels, body weight, blood lipid levels, and more. Still, this doesn’t mean you must follow an overly restrictive, complicated diet or completely cut out the foods you love.
Many people attempt to follow overly restrictive diets to lose weight and improve blood sugar levels during and after the holiday season. The beginning of a new year is one of the most popular times for dieting as people attempt to drop weight accumulated over the holidays.
Even though some diets can be effective for weight loss in the short term, most are too difficult to follow long term. Following overly restrictive diets can result in “yo-yo dieting” or weight cycling, which is a pattern of repeatedly losing and regaining weight.
Not only can weight cycling harm your physical health by stressing your cardiovascular system, but it can also negatively impact your mental health by increasing depressive symptoms and taking a toll on your body image.
Also, following short-term overly restrictive diets may lead to binging on your favorite foods, especially during the holidays when tasty foods like desserts are often available.
A healthy diet should be satisfying, nutritious, and delicious, allowing you to enjoy your favorite foods occasionally without feeling like you’re “cheating.”
Even though you should limit ultra-processed foods and added sugar as much as possible, you should still leave wiggle room to enjoy your favorite foods now and then. This is what makes a diet sustainable in the long term.
Diets should always be individualized based on your overall health, glycemic control, food preferences, and more. But in general, a nutritious type 2 diabetes-friendly diet is a way of eating that’s high in nutrient-dense plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, plus healthy animal products like seafood, chicken, and Greek yogurt.
In addition to choosing nutritious foods, you’ll want to make sure your meals and snacks are filling and balanced with sources of protein, fiber, and fat. Also, make sure your portion sizes are appropriate for your body size, activity levels, and weight goals.
Once you create a sustainable and enjoyable way of eating based on your specific health goals, it will likely make it easier to stay on track during the holidays.
If you’re feeling anxious about the upcoming holiday season and managing your blood sugar while attending holiday get-togethers, these simple, evidence-based tips can help.
Lastly, remember that the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not feared.
If you find yourself obsessing over holiday foods or you’re concerned that your eating habits are negatively impacting your health, consider working with a registered dietitian. They can help you improve your relationship with food and develop an eating plan that works best for you and your health needs.
If you’re looking for nutritious, diabetes-friendly holiday dishes that everyone can enjoy, try out a few of the following recipes.
While the recipes above are nutritious choices, remember that it’s perfectly OK to enjoy your favorite holiday foods without guilt, even if they’re not considered “healthy.”
It’s all about balance and treating yourself well by prioritizing your health year-round, including during the holidays.
When you follow a nutritious diet and prioritize your health throughout the year, eating well during the holidays is no big deal.
Treat yourself well during the holiday season by fueling your body with nourishing foods, taking time to practice self-care, and getting plenty of physical activity and quality sleep.
If you need some extra guidance to help you healthily navigate the holidays, consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes management.
Medically reviewed on November 21, 2022
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