The dinners, parties and sugar-filled treats—those are the things that some people love most about the holidays, but for about one third of the United States population living with diabetes and pre-diabetes, the season presents some unique circumstances.
“The holidays are stressful for anyone, but throw in any type of chronic and that gives another dimension to it,” said Felicia Ensminger, certified diabetes educator at AtlatniCare TEAM Diabetes. “If your blood sugar runs a little higher during Christmas, just get right back on track after.”
About 100 million Americans are living with diabetes Types I and II or pre-diabetes, and there’s a good chance that one of them will be at your holiday dinner table. Because diabetes management involves healthy eating and meal preparedness, experts say extra diligence during the holidays may be warranted.
“Schedules are completely thrown up this time of year,” said Denise Arenberg, volunteer with Cape Regional Medical Center’s Diabetes Center. “You go to gatherings and you don’t know if you’re eating at noon or 2 p.m. And when you go to these functions, you may not know what you’re going to eat.”
Arenberg, of Cape May, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 6 years old in 1960. She works as a volunteer for Cape Regional Medical Center’s Diabetes Center to help families and individuals who have recently been diagnosed with or need refresher help in treating their diabetes.
Type I, sometimes called juvenile diabetes, is an inability of the body to naturally produce insulin. Type II diabetes is more common and happens when the body doesn’t use insulin correctly.
Treatment for both types often includes healthy eating, regular exercise, blood sugar monitoring and possibly insulin medication. Because diabetics often need to watch their calorie, carbohydrate and sugar intakes, holiday meals can throw a wrench into that management.
Maggie Weaver, diabetes nurse educator at Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, said a good tip for diabetics is to make something to bring to a party or dinner that they know for sure they can enjoy.
“When you sit down at dinner, fill up on vegetables, then add protein and then add starches later,” she said. “Try to be more mindful about what we’re doing. It’s all about planning ahead of time, and once you do it, you have the tools to be successful.”
Sticking to a normal routine as much as possible can be the best way to enjoy the holidays without medical complications, Weaver said, but if someone does “fall off the wagon,” he or she shouldn’t feel guilty.
“You want to enjoy the holiday. If you have information on what really affects your blood sugar, you can make the decision beforehand and go for that piece of pumpkin pie,” she said.
Some handy things Arenberg regularly keeps on hand for when her blood sugar gets too low are lifesavers, peanut butter crackers and some juice to eat and drink if needed.
Arenberg is reminded of how medical and technological advancements have made managing diabetes so much simpler than when she was a child. Today she uses a continous glucose monitoring device, an insulin pump and her phone to monitor her levels, get medication and track her carbohydrate intake.
Ensminger said the tools and information available today have taken a burden off diabetics and allowed them to have more control over their disease, including flexibility during the holidays.
“I can understand how much may you have to put aside and change in your life, but it’s not impossible and it can be done,” Arenberg said.