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4 Simple Steps for a Healthier Holiday Dinner When Managing Diabetes
With type 2 diabetes, managing your weight and blood sugar can prove especially challenging on holidays like Thanksgiving. These pointers can help you stay on track while still enjoying the foods you love.
By Gianetta Palmer
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Medically Reviewed by Lynn Grieger
My 79-year-old mother is a house- and pet-sitter in her hometown and is usually busy whenever the holidays roll around, so the family usually spends these special occasions anywhere but her house. Over the last few years, we’ve held gatherings in various places — from the local steak house and our favorite barbecue joint to other family members’ abodes, such as my cousin’s house in Atlanta, where we enjoyed Turkey Day in 2015.
That year was the first time we had enjoyed Thanksgiving at her house in several years, but the memory stands out for another reason: I ate way too much.
I remember the day distinctly: I made three trips through the food line, had a quick nap in the recliner while reminiscing about family gatherings spent down on the farm at Granny’s, and, two hours later, was ready for a turkey sandwich and more deviled eggs. I was so full that I could barely move, and I hadn’t had dessert yet!
How Holiday Meals Tend to Derail My Diabetes Management Plan
Although I remember the discomfort of last year’s feast vividly, this episode of joyful binge-eating actually wasn’t a stand-alone event. Whenever a big day rolls around, no matter how hard I try or how many preparations I make, I usually tend to go off my meal plan, eat too many carbs, and overeat, not finding my way back into my healthier lifestyle until about a week later.
As someone who has lived with type 2 diabetes for 20 years, I have learned a lot, but I continue to struggle with the management of my disease. It’s a daily struggle, but as I have matured, not only in real life but as someone with a chronic illness, I have learned to regroup after missteps and get right back on track.
Whether you’re hosting your own holiday event or going to a loved one’s house for the big day, here are four steps I’m following and we can all try to help us work toward our health goals while still enjoying the gathering.
1. Consider Where You’re Spending Thanksgiving and What You’re Preparing
One of the biggest challenges I’m facing this Turkey Day is choosing where I will spend the day. Will I host family and friends in my new home? Will I travel to my cousin’s house again? Will I be on the road somewhere or dining out? Once I make that decision, I’ll have to pick what to bring. If I end up being on the road, I’ll take my world-famous deviled eggs, which are packed with hunger-crushing protein and are easy to grab as a quick alternative to sipping a second or third cocktail while waiting on the rolls to brown.
Another option might be to check out one of the cooking shows or do a bit of research on something I’ve always wanted to bake and take it along. For example, one year, I made a broccoli and Swiss cheese casserole that surprised my mom, who remarked that she “didn’t even think you knew what broccoli was,” which was fair, seeing as I’m not a big veggie eater.
Ultimately, instead of relying on the ready-made desserts from the local grocer, consider spending some time planning and take something you’ll know works within your meal plan.
2. Decide Ahead of Time How Much Food You Plan to Feast On
For many of us with diabetes, the holidays are a time when our willpower declines and our blood sugar levels rise. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
For instance, my grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese on earth, and because she is no longer with us, my sister has carried on the tradition. I know I don’t have the strength to resist it, so I’m not going to, but I can decide beforehand how much of the comfort food I will be indulging in. Personally, I would rather have an extra spoonful of mac ’n' cheese over a slice of pecan pie, but to fully experience all the dishes, I limit myself to one spoonful and one trip through the food line.
If you also struggle with self-control during the holidays, you could try this everything-in-moderation approach on for size.
3. When Possible, Choose Healthier Ingredients When Preparing Your Own Food
Traditional mac and cheese isn’t the best choice if your blood sugar is uncontrolled, but there are ways to make it healthier: For example, you could use whole-wheat noodles instead of the regular kind to add fiber to your dish, and use skim milk or plain nonfat yogurt to add calcium and help reduce fat content.
Furthermore, before I paid attention to my diet, I would use regular mayonnaise when I made my deviled-eggs, but now I use Miracle Whip salad dressing, which has half the fat and calories of traditional mayo.
Although I’m still learning to appreciate the veggie tray as a dish, this is another holiday-meal option to consider, as low-carb veggies can help keep your blood sugar stabilized. My mother has always served crudité with celery, pickles, carrot sticks, olives, and cauliflower as an appetizer, and by filling up on crunchy carrot sticks and tangy black olives, odds are in my favor that I won’t have room for a second slice of pumpkin pie.
Additionally, despite it not being a traditional Thanksgiving dish, a large tossed salad makes a great side and helps to fill you up.
4. Be Mindful About What Food You Decide to Leave or Take To-Go
If you’re traveling, whether or not to take a to-go bag with leftovers from your Thanksgiving dinner is a good question. On the one hand, an early-morning turkey sandwich might provide a good source of energy for Black Friday shopping, but on the other hand, a carb-loaded plate of mashed potatoes and mac 'n' cheese might have the opposite effect, leaving you napping in the car instead of snapping up the last big-screen TV on sale for . To be on the safe side, bring a sandwich- or quart-size ziplock bag or a small container for any foods you want to take home.
And if you’ve hosted the big celebration and are left with an overflowing fridge of leftovers and a dessert table of untouched pies and sweets, consider sending the leftovers away with your guests so you’re not testing your willpower. But if you plan to take this approach, don’t forget to buy doggie bags. In this case, consider buying gallon-size ziplock bags or large containers for your guests.
Why Diabetes Doesn’t Have to Mean Self-Deprivation on Thanksgiving
If you’re managing diabetes this holiday season, a little planning and preparation can go a long way. Just remember: Getting together with family and friends during the holidays isn’t about how much you can eat and drink — even though it sometimes feels that way.
To keep your blood sugar stabilized and your mind in good spirits, be sure to slow down, enjoy the atmosphere, and keep these tips in your back pocket. Oh, and make only one trip through the food line.
Video: 5 Healthy Holiday Tips | How to Stay Healthy and Fit During the Holiday
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