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Ask the Dietitian: How Can I Stay on Track with My Nutrition Goals for T2D During the Holidays?

Diet and Nutrition

November 21, 2022

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by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD


Medically Reviewed by:

Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D.


by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD


Medically Reviewed by:

Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D.


Dear Jillian,

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.

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Managing your blood sugar during the holidays

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.

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How to follow a healthy diet year-round

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.

Ditch the diet mentality

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.

Creating a healthy diet and lifestyle that works for you

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.

Helpful tips for eating well 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.

  • Eat regularly: People may often restrict their food intake before a holiday meal or party to “save” calories. Unfortunately, this can backfire and set you up to overeat, which can negatively impact blood sugar. Be sure to eat regular, healthy meals during the holidays and to have a filling meal or snack a few hours before holiday get-togethers.
  • Limit sugary foods and beverages: From cupcakes to eggnog, the holiday season is filled with sugary treats. Sugary foods and drinks have a big impact on your blood sugar, so it’s best to limit added sugar as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite dessert! Just be sure to stick to a single portion and enjoy sweets close to protein and fiber-rich meals if possible.
  • Opt for balanced meals: To promote optimal blood sugar regulation, it’s best to choose balanced meals that include a source of fiber, protein, and fat. An example of a balanced holiday plate is a serving of turkey, mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a bit of cranberry sauce, and gravy.
  • Be wary of sugary cocktails: Holiday cocktails can be very high in calories and added sugar, which can negatively impact your blood sugar. If you choose to drink, it’s best to stick to one or two drinks at holiday events and to choose lower-sugar options like dry white wine, champagne, or vodka and seltzer when possible.
  • Stay active: Most people are less active during the winter, which can negatively impact blood sugar and contribute to weight gain. Make a point to exercise regularly during the holiday season to promote healthy blood sugar regulation. This can be as simple as taking a long, brisk walk each day.
  • Take care of yourself: The holiday season can be a stressful time, and you may feel pressured to say yes to every invite in your inbox. However, it’s important to prioritize your physical and mental health by giving yourself time to practice self-care, like prepping healthy meals, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
  • Bring healthy options to holiday celebrations: Instead of relying on hosts to prepare a healthy dish, bring along your favorite diabetes-friendly recipes to holiday parties and dinners. Who knows, your healthy lifestyle may rub off on friends and family!
  • Zoom out: If you’re stressing about all the indulgent foods being served at a party or dinner, take a moment and look at the bigger picture. It’s just one meal. If you overindulge, don’t sweat it! Instead, move on and prioritize healthy meals and physical activity for the rest of the week.

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.

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Delicious and nutritious holiday recipes

If you’re looking for nutritious, diabetes-friendly holiday dishes that everyone can enjoy, try out a few of the following recipes.

Side dishes

  • Shaved brussels sprout salad: This is the perfect mix of sweet and savory flavors. It’s high in fiber and packed with vitamins and minerals, making it a smart choice for a holiday side dish.
  • Rosemary roasted sweet potatoes: Try this roasted sweet potato recipe if you’re looking for a lighter alternative to sweet potato casserole.

Main dishes

  • Herbed turkey breast: This turkey breast recipe is packed with flavor, and includes blood sugar-friendly ingredients like mustard, garlic, and fresh herbs.
  • Pecan-crusted salmon: Wow your dinner guests by whipping up this tasty and filling pecan-crusted salmon. Salmon is packed with nutrients important for blood sugar regulation like protein and magnesium.


  • Low carb flourless chocolate cake: If you’re a chocolate lover, try this chocolate cake recipe. Even though it’s low in carbs, it can satisfy your sweet tooth without significantly impacting your blood sugar.
  • Monk fruit sweetened sugar cookies: These cookies make a smart choice if you’re looking to reduce your added sugar intake during the holidays. Bring these cookies to holiday parties for a diabetes-friendly option that everyone can enjoy. You can even use powdered monk fruit to make sugar-free royal icing for your cookies.

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.

The bottom line

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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About the author

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Jillian Kubala is a registered dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. She runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

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