Type 1 Diabetes and the Holidays: Tips to Stay Safe and Have Fun

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The holidays are full of celebration with friends, family and festive food. It is a fun time of the year, but it can also be stressful between travel, big meals and type 1 diabetes (T1D). It can feel overwhelming trying to balance having fun with keeping track of your blood sugar.

For my family, parties and food are the major focus of the holiday season. Since my parents are divorced, I have double the amount of family parties to attend. My first year of having diabetes this was a little overwhelming, because I didn’t know what I could eat and how all these big meals would impact my blood sugar. In this guide, I share the tips I have developed over the years for navigating the holiday season with a focus on feeling good.

T1D holiday pledge

Below is my T1D holiday pledge. It is inspired by Drs. Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor’s book Body Respect, as well as by Dr. Stephen W. Ponder and Kevin L. McMahon’s book Sugar Surfing. Before any holiday party, take this pledge to remind yourself that your worth is not measured by the outcome of your blood sugar.

Today I will practice mindfulness while eating and be present with family and friends.
Today I will look kindly at myself no matter the outcome of my blood sugar.
Today I will choose foods that are both satisfying and nourishing.
Today I will ask myself what I will eat, when I will eat and what else is going on that may affect my blood sugar before I bolus.
Today I will show compassion toward myself and my family.

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Create a new tradition

Most of our holiday traditions are focused around food, but you can always start a new one! Start a tradition that gives you a chance to move your body with the people you love. This Thanksgiving, I started the day off with a two-hour yoga class with my boyfriend and another T1D friend. Starting the day off with yoga meant I had smooth numbers after class. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, which helped my insulin absorb better later in the day when I had a big Thanksgiving meal. Many fitness studios host special holiday classes, so check the schedule of studios in your area and do not be afraid to invite a friend. Inviting a friend allows you to spend quality time with someone who might not be otherwise included in your holiday plans. Another option for adding movement to your holiday is to go for an after-dinner walk. Invite a relative who you’d like to catch up with along.

Make or bring a low-carb dish

Two years ago on Thanksgiving, my best friend made low-carb mini pies for me. It was such a thoughtful gesture, and I had something to look forward to trying for dessert that would not have as big an impact on my blood sugar as conventional treats. If you are attending a party or hosting one, include low-carb options. This could be veggies and dip as an appetizer, cauliflower mashed potatoes, a side salad or berries and whipped cream for dessert. Having options that are easier on your blood sugar makes a big difference. Do not be afraid to bring a dish to your host’s house — they will be grateful that they have less cooking to do and that you have something you can eat.

Choose healthy foods

Choose the holiday foods that you have been looking forward to and satisfy your cravings, but also fill your plate with healthy and nourishing food. Be sure to go with lots of veggies. If your number is already high when you are sitting down to eat and you forgot to pre-bolus, try having the salad first. Eating low-glycemic-index foods first means that you give yourself time to let the insulin start working, but you can also begin eating at the same time as everyone else at the table. By the time you get to the potatoes and the higher-carb foods on your plate, you will have given your insulin some time to act.

Drink water

Throughout the day remember to drink water, especially if your blood sugar number is high or you are drinking alcohol. High blood sugar and alcohol can both cause dehydration, which can reduce the effect your insulin has on your numbers. (When your body is hydrated. it absorbs your injected insulin better and your kidneys can function properly to help you lower your blood sugar level.)

Enjoy time with family and friends

After all, the holidays are about catching up with people you have not seen in a while, celebrating family traditions and having fun. Do not let type 1 diabetes overshadow your family memories. Remember: You are in charge of your diabetes, and you have the tools to manage it properly. Before heading out on vacation, double check that you have packed your insulin and extra supplies. If your blood sugar number is high and will not come down, try changing your pump site and make sure your insulin is not expired. Offer yourself forgiveness if your blood sugar number is not where you’d like it to be.

In a few weeks, you won’t remember what your number was, but you will remember the time you spent with loved ones. Be in the present moment! Use your not-so-great numbers as a learning tool for next year without blaming yourself now. Show compassion toward yourself and the people around you — that is how you will find peace this holiday season.

Want to learn more about maintaining your health during the holidays? Read “Master Holiday Health Pitfalls,” “Have a Relaxing Holiday: 7 Tips to Relieve Seasonal Stress,” “The Holiday Meal Survival Guide” and “Creating New Holiday Traditions.”

Originally Published December 12, 2019

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