While holiday eating is something we enjoy year-round with Fourth of July picnics, and Easter dinners, the trinity of winter holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and welcoming the New Year – are the ones we lament most when hitting the scales in their wake. The average American will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving dinner alone, not factoring in other meals, or late-night leftover snacks. And while you may think those extra calories can be worked off by aggressive Black-Friday shopping, most Americans will hold on to an extra 1 to 2 pounds each year.
For the 24 million diabetics living in the US, the holiday season adds additional concerns for both nutrition, and testing regimens. With travel and daily routines interrupted, maintaining healthy habits can be difficult. Whether living with diabetes, or hosting someone with diabetes during the holiday season, there are many ways to enjoy the season healthfully.
There are 2 major types of the diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90-95% of those living with the disease in the US. Type 2 diabetes results from either the pancreas not producing enough insulin, or the body’s inability to use insulin, also known as insulin resistance.
The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach which produces the hormone insulin. If this hormone is not present, or not present in adequate amounts, the body does not properly utilize glucose. When food is processed In a normal body, the pancreas automatically produces an adequate amount of insulin to move glucose from bloodstream into the cells. For those with diabetes, however, the pancreas does not produce the proper amount of insulin, or the cells don’t respond correctly to the insulin. This causes glucose to accumulate in the blood, overflow into the urine, and exit the body in urine. In this process, then, the body effectively flushes its main source of fuel without having utilized it.
Because holiday meals are often much more decadent than our everyday repast, being aware of caloric intake can be tricky. These tips can make it a bit easier:
- Travel with pre-portioned snacks, in case you don’t have access to appropriate food while in transit.
- Even if you’re just traveling across town, bring more testing supplies than you’ll need.
- For meals away from home, ask your host what’s on the menu, and plan accordingly.
- Fill up on healthy snacks before a meal, so you’re not as tempted by appetizers, which tend to calorie- and fat-heavy.
- Exercise portion control. If you simply can’t resist sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, have smaller portions of each.
- During the meal, focus on fruits and vegetables, and choose lean cuts of meat, such as turkey breast, avoiding the skin.
- Avoid “food amnesia.” If you have a smart phone, use an app to keep track of what you’ve eaten.
- When the meal is finished, leave the table as soon as possible, to avoid grazing on leftovers.
While it can be challenging to enjoy holiday meals when living with diabetes, it becomes easier with knowledge and support. Being proactive by communicating concerns to friends and family, and asking for help when necessary will keep stress to a minimum, allowing you to focus on what’s important during the holidays – spending time with loved ones.