Managing Diabetes During the Holidays

Holiday season can bring some challenges for people with diabetes. A little planning can go a long way to help you get through festive, calorie-laden holiday meals in a healthy way, says Ann Baby, MD, an endocrinologist with Highland Medical, P.C.

“The most important thing a person with diabetes can do is to make sure they have enough medication to get them through the holidays, since the doctor may be out of the office if you need to renew your prescription,” Dr. Baby said.

It’s easy to stray from your regular schedule during the holidays, but a person with diabetes should try to stick to their regular sleep and exercise routine, she said. “Getting some exercise and maintaining your sleep schedule can help you stabilize your blood sugar levels,” she said.

Try to maintain your regular meal times during the holidays. “It’s not a good idea to skip meals, because it can throw your blood sugar levels out of whack,” Dr. Baby said. “If you’re having a big meal, have a small snack earlier in the day—but then maybe eat a little less for the main meal, so you don’t end up eating more than you usually do.”

As for holiday treats, you don’t have to totally avoid them, but indulge in moderation, Dr. Baby advised. “It’s unrealistic to ask someone to totally avoid holiday treats, especially if it’s something you only eat this time of year,” she said. “But quantity is important. If you have something special, don’t have too much, and make up for it by watching the other carbs you have that day.”

Other holiday tips:

  • Watch your alcohol consumption. “For males, two drinks should be the limit at one sitting, and for females, one drink,” Dr. Baby said.  Many cocktails contain a lot of sugar. You can use sugar substitutes instead of simple syrup, or use a sugar-free mixer.
  • Before you sit down to a big meal, snack on veggies to help fill you up a bit so you won’t overeat.
  • If you’re going to someone else’s house for a holiday meal, offer to bring something healthy to eat, such as a veggie appetizer liked baked sweet potato (without the marshmallow topping) or fruit salad for dessert.
  • If you’re having a big meal, test your blood sugar more often, and make sure you’re taking your medication. If your blood sugar stays high, ask your doctor for advice.

This holiday season has an added layer of complexity for people with diabetes, since they are at increased risk of complications for COVID-19, Dr. Baby noted. “If you have diabetes, you should be limiting your gatherings to small groups, and maintain social distancing,” she said.