Pumpkin pie and green bean casserole. Sweet potatoes and sugar cookies.
As the holidays approach, it’s often a challenge to navigate those decadent foods if you’re trying to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. And if you have diabetes, it can be especially challenging.
But there’s no reason to stress about the festivities—you just need to spend a little time planning ahead of the party, Phallon LoveLady, manager of community health programs at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, said.
“Good food is a part of the holidays and should be able to be enjoyed in moderation,” she said.
LoveLady oversees a team that assists with chronic disease management for patients with diabetes.
“It’s not always just healthy eating that will help people with diabetes,” she said.
Access to fruits and vegetables, a healthy environment, adequate sleep and physical activity can all play a role.
There are many different things in the body that can cause diabetes, LoveLady said.
It’s a chronic condition that involves problems with insulin regulation and blood sugar levels. When there’s too much blood sugar in the bloodstream, it can lead to health problems, such as heart disease and kidney disease.
LoveLady came up with the acronym SAFE—Stay on schedule, Activity, Food, Enjoy—to help folks get through the holiday hustle.
Stay on schedule
If you have diabetes, it’s important to stick to regular mealtimes. It’s also critical to know how much insulin to take.
“Don’t wait to eat one big meal with the family,” LoveLady said. “And don’t try to push your meds off or overcompensate with medications.”
Bring your medicine along, LoveLady said, and stay on schedule.
Remaining physically active is especially important for people with diabetes.
“Think of this time of year as an opportunity to increase physical activity,” LoveLady said. “It’s an important component and doesn’t need to be cumbersome.”
You can always plan a quick workout prior to a party, but you don’t have to head to the gym or pull out the treadmill. Just choose an activity that’s realistic but effective.
“Try a 15-minute family walk before or after dinner and try to keep up on standard activity throughout the day,” LoveLady said.
Encouraging your friends and family to join in the activity will create opportunities to connect.
“Make a fun activity that everyone can take part in and involve the kids, too.”
She also offered a word of caution: “Don’t eat until you’re stuffed or just lounge on the couch.”
Food is typically front and center at holiday celebrations. LoveLady recommends practicing mindful eating.
“You know when your belly is full,” she said. “Don’t keep eating if you’re not hungry. And try to eat foods that are nutritionally balanced.”
Healthy eating can be a challenge around the holidays, as you’re constantly surrounded by tempting snacks and goodies.
LoveLady recommends finding out what’s on the menu ahead of time. Then, if you prefer, you can bring along some healthier choices.
“Be the person who brings a healthy green vegetable to add to the table,” she said. “Green beans, asparagus, kale salad. … Try to introduce your family to a nutritious dish they might have never tried before.”
We all know Aunt Debbie’s green bean casserole has a lot of sodium and calories, LoveLady said, but that doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid it.
“Try only eating one small scoop,” she said. “And be sure to drink a lot of water, too.”
Bring along a zero-calorie drink as a treat of your own. Try water with fresh fruit—orange slices, lemon or limes—or choose a flavored carbonated water, or a sparkling water with berries as garnish.
The holidays are all about having fun and enjoying time with family and friends. When you focus on that, it may help you manage your food choices.
And don’t forget to laugh—it’s truly good for the soul.
“If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not thinking about overeating,” LoveLady said. “You’re keeping busy and having a great time.”
Even so, there’s no denying that celebrations will feature some of your favorite desserts.
LoveLady’s advice: “Don’t be too restrictive with yourself. Allow yourself to take one bite or one small piece of your favorite dish or dessert. Eat it mindfully, one slow taste a time, and think about all the flavors and textures.”
Eat with thought and intention. Savor the flavors and enjoy the smells. Reminisce about the memories a special dish may bring.
“You know what will be on the table, as the holidays usually bring similar food every year,” LoveLady said. “If you restrict yourself too much, you may fail. And it can then lead to bad behaviors—or make it even harder to get back on track.”
Give yourself some grace and enjoy yourself, she said.
“With a little discipline and a plan in place, you can enjoy the holidays,” she said. “Just do your best and stick to what you know.”