Family get-togethers, work functions, and other social events during the holidays can get in the way of your diabetes management goals, but with a little preparation, you can stay on track.
The day I received a diagnosis of diabetes remains etched in my mind. It wasn’t unexpected — everyone in my immediate family has the same diagnosis — but it was still devastating. In some ways, it was easier knowing what to expect, since I’d seen my family members take pills, prick their fingers, and inject themselves with insulin for most of my life.
But I was wrong. There’s nothing easy about living with diabetes. Some folks diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can reverse the trajectory of the disease through lifestyle and diet modifications, including weight loss and eating better. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for me — with such a strong family history of diabetes, doctors said I would probably carry the diagnosis with me through the rest of my life, and I needed to learn to live with it.
It has been 20 years since my type 2 diabetes diagnosis, and I heeded my doctor’s advice. I’ve learned to live with it, but more than that, I’ve thrived. I know what works best for my body, and with the help of my doctor, have found a medical regimen that works best for me.
I also know what doesn’t work best for me. Every year around the holidays, I have to step up my game to keep my numbers where they need to be. Food is the biggest challenge for me — not just sweets, but also carb-loaded dishes like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and flaky dinner rolls.
The easiest way to combat my urges for these types of foods is by simply not eating them or only eating them on rare occasions. If the food isn’t in my home, I won’t be tempted to eat it.
But what do you do around the holidays when family get-togethers, work functions, and other social gatherings can sabotage all of your well-thought-out plans?
What works for one person with type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you. We’re all unique and have tastes and desires that differ from our partners and friends, and while helpful, listening to advice from someone about how you should treat your condition often leads to bad results.
Every year around the holidays, I have to step up my game to keep my numbers where they need to be.
Because no two of us are the same, no two treatment plans for type 2 diabetes are the same. For example, your plan may consist of taking a pill and watching your diet, while another takes pills and injects insulin multiple times a day. Others may do nothing other than watch their diet and exercise regularly. But one thing we all have in common is that holiday gatherings filled with food and drink can make it challenging to stay on track.
Your company’s holiday party may be happening in person this year since many companies have returned to the office. And over the winter holiday season, you might find yourself tempted by offers from coworkers of “Let’s go to happy hour” or “Try my famous triple fudge brownies” in addition to the company party.
The easiest way to stay in control is by having a plan that allows you to enjoy festive events. Ahead of the party, make sure you eat throughout the day instead of saving your appetite for later. You can also offer to bring in a diabetes-friendly snack like raw veggies and hummus or a cheese and fruit tray to ensure you have options.
When you arrive, limit yourself to one alcoholic drink and reduce the number of holiday foods you eat. Instead of trying everything available at the buffet table, pick a smaller plate and choose things you’ve never had before. After you’ve filled your plate, move away from the table and find people to chat with so you don’t find yourself going back for more.
If you’re not into trying new foods, that’s OK too. Knowing what kinds of food you like and what ingredients go into them — like sugar, alcohol, and excess sodium — makes a big difference.
For example, your co-worker’s triple fudge brownies may be the best thing on the planet, but you know they’re loaded with sugar and eating more than one can leave you feeling sluggish and drained for hours.
One thing I’ve learned about type 2 diabetes during the holidays is that there will always be times when things don’t go as planned.
The easiest way to stay in control is by having a plan that allows you to enjoy festive events.
Social functions can run late, and the boss wants you to stay late to finish a year-end report, so it’s easier to run through a drive-through or order takeout than prepare what you thawed out for dinner. Also, remember that most restaurants have healthier options, so go for the “lighter” option or eat half a serving and save the rest for lunch the next day.
I’ve yet to meet anyone perfect, and that’s certainly the case for me and my relationship with type 2 diabetes. Past struggles with food intake and lack of motivation used to get me down, but my focus shifted after a conversation with my doctor. She told me living with a chronic condition takes work, and that consistency is the key.
Enjoy the holidays with your family and friends. Have a plan, know your limits, and be flexible. And don’t beat yourself up if you grab a doughnut with your morning coffee. Just try not to do it two days in a row.
Medically reviewed on December 16, 2022
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