Managing diabetes during the holidays

The holidays are a tough time of year for anyone to stick with a healthy diet. For the estimated 29 million Americans with diabetes, it can be an even greater challenge.

“Schedules and plans change due to holiday events, parties, vacations, travel and so on,” says Dana Sindelar, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes instructor with MultiCare’s Diabetes Services. “And the fallout can last from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.”

Sindelar offers some simple-to-follow tips to help those managing diabetes have an enjoyable, healthy holiday season.


Keep an eye on the basics.


“Living with erratic blood sugar control during this special time of year is not enjoyable and can lead to an unhappy holiday season,” Sindelar says.

So make an extra effort during the holiday season to:

  • Eat consistently.Shoot for balanced meals and snacks throughout the day in controlled portions.
  • Exercise daily.If you don’t have time for your usual routine, try fitting in two or three shorter workouts during the day, such as two 10-minute walks.
  • Keep stress down.Plan ahead as much as possible, and learn to say “no.” You don’t have to go to every party you’re invited to.
  • Monitor your glucose and take routine medications.Your glucose level provides you with valuable information. For example, testing after eating a “suspect” food (like holiday candies and cookies), may show that a small portion of these goodies is OK.


Stay on track at parties


“The key word here is planning,” Sindelar says. “This takes time, but if you make it a priority, the payoff can be huge.”

Try to:

  • Eat consistently throughout the day. Skipping meals can cause overeating later or low blood sugar reactions.
  • Use the plate method of meal planning:Fill a quarter of a 9-inch plate with a protein, another quarter with a starch (whole-grain bread, rice or pasta), and half the plate with raw or steamed veggies or salad.
  • Be wary of cocktails.They can cause high or low blood sugars.


Travel wisely


Planning ahead is also important when traveling for the holidays.

  • Bring sufficient medication with you, if required, and be sure you have a place to store it appropriately (for example, a refrigerator for insulin).
  • If your trip includes air travel, pack foods to take with you. If the flight includes a meal, request a diabetes-friendly version.
  • If you are driving, avoid “road food.” Pack a cooler with quick and easy items, such as deli meat, string cheese, fresh fruit and crackers or bread. Once you arrive at your destination, eat and take medications on a regular schedule.



MultiCare Health System, which contributed this article, is not-for-profit healthcare organization with services throughout Pierce County, south King County, and Thurston and Kitsap counties.