8 Tips to Enjoy the Holiday Season with Type 2 Diabetes (November is American Diabetes Month)

You can have your pumpkin pie and eat it too this holiday season, even if you have type 2 diabetes. That's music to the ears of more than 25 million Americans with diabetes and the 79 million estimated of having pre-diabetes. Finding out you are at risk for developing diabetes is not the time to give up or run scared, it's time to make some simple switches in your diet and lifestyle. These changes will help you feel better too! This is a topic near to my heart--my best selling book is TELL ME WHAT TO EAT IF I HAVE DIABETES.

The National Institute for Health did a study comparing methods of preventing diabetes in a high risk group of Americans. It found that a program including lifestyle changes (nutrition, exercise and a small amount of weight loss) was twice as powerful. This group experienced nearly a 60% reduction in the start of diabetes, compared with a treatment program relying on medication, which reduced diabetes by only 30%.

With the tips below you can get closer to your goal of feeling great and getting your diabetes under good control, all the while eating the foods you love this holiday season.

  • 1. With diabetes it's not only what you eat but also how much that impacts blood sugar levels. Encourage sensible serving sizes by using small plates and bowls when possible and comparing your meat serving to a deck of cards or the palm of your hand (about 3 ounces cooked) and your side of rice or potatoes to a rounded ice-cream scoop (1/2 cup).
  • 2. When eating out, become a student of the menu. Most fast food and restaurant chains have nutrition information for their menu items available on their websites or directly listed on their menus. Take a look ahead of time and find menu items that appeal to you and contain roughly the amount of carbohydrates suggested by your dietitian or doctor for that meal. When available, also look for these options on the menu:
  • · The petite serving of meat
  • · The cup of soup instead of a bowl
  • · A side serving or "half" serving of salad compared to the full size, especially if the soup or salad has carbohydrate-containing grains or beans. If the dressing is sweet like Catalina or Raspberry Vinaigrette, order the dressing on the side and only add 1 tablespoon, which is about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates.
  • · If ordering a pasta entrée or a sandwich, choose the whole grain option if possible.
  • 3. Eat your meal slowly, savoring every bite by letting your taste buds truly taste all the flavors and textures in the dish. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is officially "comfortable" and that you should stop eating, so slow down to avoid overeating. You may find you're more likely to be satisfied with half of what was served, and then you can take the rest home for a super enjoyable lunch the next day.
  • 4. Enjoy low or zero calorie beverages throughout the holiday season. There are so many options to choose from now; in fact, recent data from the CDC show that over a 10-year period, the percentage of people selecting diet beverages has increased to about one-fifth of the U.S. population. Some of my favorites include unsweetened tea and Diet Coke. Make them festive by ordering them with a wedge of lemon or lime.
  • 5. Maximize the foods that help keep your levels steady. Whole foods such as whole grains, buckwheat and oats, beans and soybeans, and ground flaxseed can help improve blood sugar control or help keep insulin levels steady. You also can balance any carbohydrate-containing foods in your meal with options such as lean meats, poultry, fish, avocados, salad, vegetables, eggs, and cheese.
  • 6. Holiday desserts are non-negotiable! Most of us look forward to enjoying certain favorite holiday treats when November and December roll around. The good news is that you can have your pumpkin pie and eat it too by doing three things: Serve yourself petite portions of the desserts you love, enjoy them mindfully by being in the moment and truly tasting every bite, and count the carbohydrates contributed by the dessert into your meal carbohydrate budget.
  • 7. Employ your arsenal of delicious and diabetes-friendly potluck dishes when going to holiday get-togethers. Bring something you are really looking forward to, and others will likely enjoy your lighter dish as well. I have an assortment of these recipes on my website, www.recipedoctor.com, including Easy Pumpkin Pie, Potato Casserole, Citrus Salmon Salad, Zucchini Casserole, Wheat Cloverleaf Rolls, Garlic & Herb Twice-Baked Potatoes, and Best Bread Pudding.
  • 8. Now is a great time to crank your activity level up a notch! Staying active and exercising regularly reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes and helps those with diabetes improve their blood sugar and insulin levels. It also helps keep your metabolism all fired up at a time when you are likely to be eating and drinking a little extra. Regular exercise can help improve your mood and promote more positive feelings about your body. Most of us will be more likely to stay active over the holidays if we find activities that we truly enjoy and do with a friend.

ONE LAST TIP: Measuring your blood sugar levels about 1 1/2 hours after eating, if you have diabetes, will tell you whether your blood sugar is within normal limits, high, or low. This becomes especially important during the holidays when you might be eating and exercising a little differently.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the author of 25 books on nutrition and healthy cooking and has worked as a nutrition expert/writer for a variety of organizations including WebMD.com, national magazines, Universities and The Coca-Cola Company. Elaine is known as THE RECIPE DOCTOR through her syndicated column she wrote for 10 years and numerous appearances on television and radio.