Managing Diabetes During the Holidays
The most important step in managing diabetes during holiday travel and festivities is preparing. Know what you'll be eating, how to enjoy a few traditional favorites while sticking with a healthy meal plan, and how to pack necessary supplies for a trip, and you're all set to celebrate!
Feasts and Parties
Before you go, take these steps to make sure you stick to your healthy meal plan.
- Eat a healthy snack to avoid overeating at the party.
- Ask what food will be served, so you can see how it fits into your meal plan.
- Bring a nutritious snack or dish for yourself and others.
You don't have to give up all of your holiday favorites if you make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. At a party or holiday gathering, follow these tips to avoid overeating and to choose healthy foods.
- If you're at a buffet, fix your plate and move to another room away from the food, if possible.
- Choose smaller portions.
- Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount and have it with food. Talk with your health care team about whether alcohol is safe for you. Limit it to one drink a day for women, two for men, and drink only with a meal.
- Watch out for heavy holiday favorites such as hams coated with a honey glaze, turkey swimming in gravy and side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese or mayonnaise. Instead, choose turkey without gravy and trim off the skin, or other lean meats.
- Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter, dressing and other extra fats and sugars, such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
- Watch the salt. Some holiday favorites are made with prepared foods high in sodium. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables that are low in sodium.
- Select fruit instead of pies, cakes and other desserts high in fat, cholesterol and sugar.
- Focus on friends, family and activities instead of food. Take a walk after a meal, or join in the dancing at a party.
Traveling for the Holidays
Leaving home to visit friends and family means changing routines. Make sure you remember to take care of your diabetes while traveling. Check blood glucose (sugar) more often than usual, because a changing schedule can affect levels.
Remember Your Medication
- Pack twice the amount of diabetes supplies you expect to need, in case of travel delays.
- Keep snacks, glucose gel, or tablets with you in case your blood glucose drops.
- Make sure you keep your medical insurance card and emergency phone numbers handy, including your doctor's name and phone number.
- Carry medical identification that says you have diabetes.
- Keep time zone changes in mind so you'll know when to take medication.
- If you use insulin, make sure you also pack a glucagon emergency kit.
- Keep your insulin cool by packing it in an insulated bag with refrigerated gel packs.
On the Road and in the Air
- Get an influenza vaccination before traveling, unless your medical provider instructs otherwise. Get the flu shot, not the nasal spray.
- Wash hands often with soap and water. Try to avoid contact with sick people.
- Reduce your risk for blood clots by moving around every hour or two.
- Pack a small cooler of foods that may be difficult to find while traveling, such as fresh fruit, sliced raw vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
- Bring a few bottles of water instead of sweetened soda or juice.
- Pack dried fruit, nuts, and seeds as snacks. Since these foods can be high in calories, measure out small portions (¼ cup) in advance.
- If you're flying and do not want to walk through the metal detector with your insulin pump, tell a security officer that you are wearing an insulin pump and ask them to visually inspect the pump and do a full-body pat-down.
- Place all diabetes supplies in carry-on luggage. Keep medications and snacks at your seat for easy access. Don't store them in overhead bins.
- Have all syringes and insulin delivery systems (including vials of insulin) clearly marked with the pharmaceutical preprinted label that identifies the medications. Keep it in the original pharmacy labeled packaging.
- If a meal will be served during your flight, call ahead for a diabetic, low fat, or low cholesterol meal. Wait until your food is about to be served before you take your insulin.
- If the airline doesn't offer a meal, bring a nutritious meal yourself. Make sure to pack snacks in case of flight delays.
- When drawing up your dose of insulin, don't inject air into the bottle (the air on your plane will probably be pressurized).
- Stick with your routine for staying active. Make sure to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week. Ten minutes at a time is fine.
- CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation
- National Diabetes Education Program
- Transportation Security Agency guidelines for airline passengers with diabetes
- Have Diabetes. Will Travel. [PDF - 74 KB]
- Healthy Eating During Winter Gatherings for People With Diabetes [PDF - 43 KB]
- Have a Holiday Heart-to-Heart About Diabetes History
- American Diabetes Association – Holiday Meal Planning
- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – Traveling With Type 1 Diabetes
- Send a Health-e-Card
CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
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