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November 15, 2018

It’s Diabetes Awareness Month! — Tips for Navigating the Holidays

By Avance Care’s Registered Dietitian Chris Thompson, MS, RD, LDN


It’s the time of year full of festivity, family, food… and even more food. During the holidays, it can be difficult to attend various social gatherings or family commitments, travel, and plan for the predictable while managing the unexpected – all without disruption to daily routines. How can blood sugars be managed while sticking to routines over this celebratory, yet potentially challenging, time? Whether you’re hosting, driving to a party, or flying, here are a few tips to help you get started:

Set Yourself Up for Success

Choices and behaviors during the day will impact appetite, what’s eaten, and changes to blood sugars throughout the day. Eat at normal meal and snack times to maintain appropriate blood sugars, appetite, and a consistent intake. Don’t skip meals to “save up” for the big meal.

Invited To a Party?

Eat an hour or two before leaving. Many holiday meals are served buffet or family style. Showing up with an empty stomach can often lead to overeating and mindless snacking. Eat a balanced meal or snack with lean protein, whole grains or fruit, and healthy fats. Offer to bring a healthy dish that you can substitute for a less healthy option.

Managing the Table

Rate your favorite foods by looking over the table and ranking each item on a scale of 1 to 10. Choose to eat only your favorites (items ranked 9 or 10) to maximize your calories and limit the amount of energy and carbs from foods that aren’t enjoyed as much. Want some of Grammy’s Pecan Pie? Savor these favorites by eating slow and enjoying the taste and texture of every bite.

Keep Moving

Maintain your normal level of physical activity or add a post-meal walk with the family for an easy way to help keep blood sugars in check. Watching football or basketball? Stand up during commercials and take a walk during halftime or after the game. Traveling? Walk around the plane or take breaks at highway rest stops and shopping centers to stretch your legs.


Stick to calorie-free drinks like water, unsweet tea, seltzer, or diet sodas instead of punch or mixed drinks. Fruity drinks and holiday cocktails can have a lot of hidden sugar. Alcoholic beverages and holiday cocktails can cause an unexpected drop in blood sugars. (1)

  • Bring your glucometer to monitor sugars.
  • Enjoy your adult beverage with food.
  • Have fast-acting sugar available if low blood sugars are experienced (3-4 glucose tablets, ½ cup regular juice, 1 tablespoon honey).

Reduce the impact on blood sugar by:

  • Drinking alcohol with food to reduce risk of low blood sugar.
  • Choosing light beer, wine spritzers, or spiked seltzers rather than cocktails, wine coolers, or heavy beers.
  • Watching out for craft beers – they can have double the sugar of regular beers.

Moderation has the same definition for those with and without diabetes:

  • 1 beverage for woman or 2 beverages for men, per day. (2)
  • 12 fluid ounces (fl. oz) beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8 fl. oz of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5 fl. oz wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1 ½ fl. oz 80-proof spirits (40% alcohol content).

Traveling? (3)

Ask your physician for a travel letter. The letter should state your diabetes diagnosis and a list of required medications and materials. This may come in handy should an issue in security or complication arise during your trip. Keep insulin in an insulated cold storage container. Airlines will accommodate these containers. * Check your specific airline’s webpage or visit for specific regulations on items like insulin. Keep syringes, needles, lancets, pens, and other materials in original boxes with legible prescription labels. Create a travel kit:

  • Supplies and medications for the duration of the trip, plus a few extra days in case of delays (Insulin, pills, meter, strips, lancets, needles/syringes, alcohol pads, medical ID card).
  • Carry on all supplies – we all know airlines can lose bags from time to time.
  • Remember snacks, glucose tablets, or glucagon for hypoglycemic episodes.

Request a diabetic meal ahead of time for any in-flight meals. Meet with a Certified Diabetes Educator or Pharmacist to discuss any adjustments to your insulin regiment related to time zone changes.

  • May need more insulin if flying west (gaining time).
  • May need less insulin if flying east (losing time).
  • It is important to check blood sugars regularly as schedules and eating patterns change.

What if I “fall off the wagon?”

If you don’t stick to your exact plan, understand this was one meal and make a point to get back on track the next meal. Enjoy the holiday season with friends and family!

“The greatest opportunity in the world is found here today… we already know what yesterday has got for us. It’s already gone. Tomorrow… too far away. What about right now?” – Ray Lewis

References: (1) (2) (3)

Chris is a Registered Dietitian at Avance Care’s Apex and Holly Springs locations. He loves to experiment in the kitchen, stay active, play and watch sports, spend quality time with his two dogs, and read Ray Lewis quotes.

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