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Managing Your Diabetes During the Holidays

Multi-generation family celebrating ThanksgivingPrepare to manage your diabetes during the holidays. Stay on track by taking medications on schedule and choosing healthy versions of favorite dishes. Remember to plan daily physical activities like walking after meals and dancing at festivities.

Having diabetes shouldn't stop you from enjoying holiday celebrations and travel. With some planning and a little preparation, you can stay healthy on the road and at holiday gatherings with friends and family.

Preparation is the most important step in managing diabetes during holiday travel and festivities. Know what you'll be eating, how to enjoy a few traditional favorites while sticking with a healthy meal plan, how to pack necessary supplies for a trip, and you're ready to celebrate!

Feasts and Parties

Before you go, take these steps to ensure you stick to your healthy meal plan.

  • Eat a healthy snack early 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.
Family on ski slope

Focus on friends, family, and activities instead of food.

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 with a honey glaze, turkey swimming in gravy and side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese, or mayonnaise. Instead, choose skinless turkey without gravy, 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 dishes are made with prepared foods high in sodium. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables with no sauce to keep your sodium intake down.
  • 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. Take care of your diabetes while traveling. Check your blood glucose (sugar) more often than usual, because changing your schedule can affect levels.

Remember Your Medication

  • Pack twice the amount of diabetes supplies you expect to need in your carry-on bag, in case of travel delays.
  • Keep snacks, glucose gel, or tablets with you in case your blood glucose drops.
  • Make sure you keep your health insurance card and emergency phone numbers handy, including your doctor's name and phone number.
  • Carry medical identification that says you have diabetes and wear medical identification jewelry.
  • 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.
  • Get an influenza vaccination before traveling, unless your medical provider instructs otherwise.
Family sitting at table for Thanksgiving dinner

Know how to enjoy a few traditional favorites while sticking with a healthy meal plan.

Healthy Routines

  • Wash your 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 and sliced raw vegetables. 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 driving, bring a few bottles of water instead of sweetened soda or juice. If you're flying, choose unsweetened beverages on-board.
  • If you're flying and don't want to walk through the metal detector with your insulin pump, tell a security officer that you're 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, 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. If the airline doesn't offer a meal, bring a nutritious meal yourself. Wait until your food is about to be served before you take your insulin.
  • 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. Get at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week. Ten minutes at a time is fine.
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