Living Well with Diabetes: Celebrating, Enjoying a Treat, and Staying In Control

By: Rosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN  — 

A diagnosis with diabetes is life-changing, but it’s also a chance to prioritize your daily health choices more than you ever have. Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to see a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator since your diagnosis, and were given a plan for diet, activity and blood glucose monitoring.

Understanding that what you eat can affect your blood sugar (or blood glucose) is the first step to successful blood sugar management. It also can help you plan for, and handle, the holiday season and other special occasions.

Daily Routine

Knowing that holidays and celebrations occur on a periodic basis, a cornerstone to good blood sugar management is establishing, and sticking with, a daily routine. Since food has an immediate impact on blood sugar, eating around the same amount, at about the same times, can help you understand and better match your insulin needs and help you establish consistency in your blood sugar, eating, and exercise schedule.

It’s also important to apply these key principles to diabetes management:

  • Avoid regular intake of high sugar foods
  • Lower the glycemic effect of carbohydrate foods by balancing them with protein and fiber
  • Get regular exercise
  • Reduce stress (stress hormones can increase blood sugar levels)
  • Take your medication according to advice from your endocrinologist

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally enjoy a sweet treat. However, high sugar foods may wreak havoc on your blood glucose levels, contain lots of calories,  and are generally void of nutrients. With this in mind, you may rationalize removing all sweets from your diet is a good plan, but avoiding sugar may not make your sweet cravings disappear. Further, what happens when special occasions or holidays arise that threaten your daily routine?

Have a Plan for Sweet Cravings and Special Occasions

Thanksgiving will usher in the holiday season of special foods and family gatherings, so now is a good time to prepare for those occasions. Having a strategy in place will help you maintain good blood glucose control.

Many people with diabetes struggle with their choices during the holidays, when they attend more public or family gatherings that revolve around indulgent food. It’s okay to plan for higher sugar foods, but it’s also a good idea to offer to bring a healthy dish, or an alternative dessert.

Talk to your diabetes educator about adjustments in insulin or activity in order to manage splurges. These options allow you to enjoy a sweet treat, while contributing less carbohydrate to your diet:

  • Whenever possible, volunteer to bring a dish, snack, or dessert that you know you can enjoy without going overboard.
  • Use nonnutritive sweeteners, such as sucralose, to replace sugar in baked goods.
  • Enjoying a calorie-free diet beverage, for instance, has no impact on blood sugar. 
  • Substituting sugar-free pudding mix into a pie recipe can significantly reduce the total carbohydrate, as can substituting the sugar in your favorite confections with a low calorie sweetener (such as Stevia).
  • Serve or bring low-sugar alternatives to gatherings. Offer low glycemic snacks that everyone will enjoy such as nuts or a homemade trail mix.
  • This no-sugar cheesecake is a crowd-pleaser that won’t send your blood sugar soaring.
  • For parties, include a crudité platter of raw carrots, celery, olives, cucumber slices or other veggie to use as a vehicle for dips instead of chips.
  • Enjoy a special coffee, like a Pumpkin Latte by either requesting sugar-free syrup, or making your own
  • Be a gracious hostess and mix up a diabetes-friendly holiday punch. Even guests without diabetes will appreciate having a lower calorie, lower sugar beverage to choose from.
  • If you do include sweets made with caloric sweeteners, be sure to count them as part of your calorie budget. Also, keep in mind that even though replacing sugars with low calorie sweeteners will reduce the glycemic effect, you still need consider the calories or total carbohydrate of a food or dish.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks. Enjoy calorie-free options such as diet soda, club soda or a no-calorie seltzer in between drinks, or in place of alcohol.
  • If you know you’re going to attend or host a holiday or celebration and be tempted by indulgent food, schedule a workout earlier that day.
  • Be aware of portion sizes. Simply cutting back on portions will help you manage blood sugar. Instead of taking a larger portion of a favorite side dish, make an effort to enjoy smaller portions (and, avoid second helpings).

Be Realistic

We see a lot of extremes being promoted when it comes to diets these days. Only people who have diabetes truly understand what it’s like to have diabetes. Seek support, be realistic with your goals, and don’t be too hard on yourself. (Check in annually with your certified diabetes educator or endocrinologist as needed). If your blood sugar is higher than usual after a holiday meal, or a vacation day, don’t panic or get down on yourself.

Getting off track isn’t the end of the world, but getting back on track is important. If you overeat, continue to check your blood sugar, remind yourself of your daily routine, and focus on getting back under control. You can still enjoy the holiday season, allow a few treats, and stay on track as long as you stay active, have a plan, and be kind to yourself.

Rosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN is a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist with over 25 years experience. As a Nutrition Communications Consultant  she delivers clear messages helping you understand the science of nutrition so you can enjoy eating for better health. Rosanne is the co-author of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies® and the The Glycemic Index Cookbook For Dummies®. A wife, and mother of 3 boys, she practices what she preaches, enjoying regular exercise, good food and festive entertaining. Follow her on Twitter @RustNutrition.

faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.

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