Surviving the Holidays
Eight techniques to keep you from buckling under the stress of the season.
Expert tips for navigating all-toocommon holiday scenarios
You traveled for hours to celebrate Christmas with the in-laws. You made it through dinner, mindfully parsing your portions and focusing on vegetables. When it’s time for dessert, you carefully choose between the sticky toffee pudding, the mocha Yule log, and the pecan pie. You slice a thin piece of the Yule log and as you’re balancing it on the serving knife you hear your motherin-law’s voice behind you, rising above the other party conversations. “I didn’t think you could eat that.”
Yep, it’s the holidays. Carbs and fat-laden foods are everywhere. You’re overloaded with commitments. Your dedication to your workout routine has somehow dissolved, along with your healthy eating habits. On top of that, people are taking too close an interest in what’s on your plate, and you’re starting to get irritated with family, friends, and co-workers who are a little too eager to play diabetes cop.
Letting the self-shaming and stress set in, however, can be bad news for your blood pressure. Janice Baker, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian at Arch Health Medical Group in Poway, California, explains that stress, including holiday stress, can impact blood sugar levels. So, what can you do during one of the most stressful times of the year? Here’s our advice for eight holiday scenarios.
1 Your neighbor’s holiday buffet seems as large as a football field. You’re barely at the 20-yard line and your plate’s filling up fast.
Step back and scope out your choices. Try to walk the length of a buffet to get the lay of the land. Or ask the host what is being served so you can figure out what to take. Melissa Dobbins, M.S., RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators, suggests filling most of your plate with salad and vegetables first, then making room for meats and starches—instead of doing it in reverse.
2 In the span of a week you have your office holiday party, your best friend’s Christmas buffet, and drinks with your book club. It’s only Monday morning but your inner Wonder Woman is already slipping.
Make a plan. “Instead of just winging it, go in knowing you won’t have your usual routine or as much control over what foods are available,” says Dobbins.
“If you walk every night after dinner, is that something realistic you can maintain? If not, can you sneak in a walk after lunch? Can you bring a healthy dish to a party? Can you use your skills of knowing how to eyeball carb types and portion sizes when you go out?”
3 You’re dreading the toll that holiday parties might take on your food plan, since you’ll have little control over what you can eat.
Throw your own party! If other people’s holiday parties are full of temptations, be the one who plays host. Plan a menu of mouthwatering, healthy dishes that are on your food plan. If you include a few decadent options, choose foods that aren’t very tempting to you, says Dobbins. For example, maybe you are besotted by brownies but not crazy about pie. Serve pie. If you’re overwhelmed by party planning, enlist others to help with the food prep and cleanup.
4 Your neighbor’s chestnut stuffing. Mom’s potato latkes. Your co-worker’s famous toffee. You don’t want to insult the chef, so you find yourself eating everything.
Be choosy. Make sure you’re eating what you really like or are very curious about, instead of eating something just because it’s there. Consider passing on dishes you can eat the rest of the year, saving room for those that are holiday-specific. Try taking small portions or sharing servings with your spouse or a friend. And practice saying “No, thank you.” Will your host really be offended if you pass up a dish? Chances are it will be OK, and you’ll feel stronger for giving yourself permission to watch out for your health.
5 Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are gym days. Break the routine for even two weeks and you’re certain you’ll never get back to it.
Find ways to stay active. Even if you can’t stick to your regular exercise routine, try not to abandon exercise completely. “There are all kinds of opportunities to move,” Baker says. “Go for a walk after a meal, turn on music and invite everyone to dance, help your host around the house.” Staying active can make it easier to go back to your regular routine as soon as you can. Dobbins says, “Think outside the box and be flexible. Where are chunks of time that are available?” Don’t forget to take into account timing with blood sugars and meals. When you do return to your regular routine, try to start back up with your exercise schedule right away, rather than letting yourself ease back into it.
6 Your mom gave you that look when you took a sliver of pie. Your co-worker’s wife shared her uninformed wisdom on carbs. Your eye is now twitching.
Practice your responses. If you are getting comments about what you eat, come up with a statement that will politely let others know it’s none of their business. Dobbins suggests, “Thank you for your concern, but I have this under control.” Or, “People with diabetes can eat anything, just like anyone else, it’s just a matter of how much.” Or, as Baker advises, deflect and redirect the plate-shaming, especially with people who think they know more than you. Just change the subject. If they’re really pushy, tell them how they can help.
7 Your father-in-law wants you to watch the bowl games with him. Your guests want you to take them to that great rib joint for lunch. Your head is telling you that you need a nap. Or to go for a run.
Set boundaries. Your first priority is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Learn how to say no to activities you don’t want to do and yes to those you feel are important, even if they don’t mesh with your guests or hosts. This can be hard—especially if you’re the type of person who likes to please others—but your close family members and friends should understand. And you’d expect honesty from them if the situation were reversed, right? “Tell family, ‘This is the time I need for sleep, for caring for my pets, for exercise,’” Baker says.
8 The morning after the family Hanukkah party, you are still kicking yourself for eating a plateful of potato latkes. With sour cream!
Above all, be thoughtful and compassionate with yourself. Eating something unhealthy will not bring down the wrath of the diabetes gods. Nor will skipping a gym visit. It’s just one little moment in time, Dobbins says. You have to set realistic goals, not expect perfection. The key, she explains, is to continue to tweak your management plan and not give up. You may lapse but you don’t have to relapse. If you do lapse, ask yourself how you can learn from it and move forward with a more realistic plan. If that’s hard, think of how you would respond to a friend who told you she had lapsed. You’d probably put it into perspective and tell her to move on. Why not do that for yourself?
“The worst thing that can happen,” Dobbins says, “is to beat yourself up and get down on yourself. Successfully addressing diabetes takes confidence, optimism, and a feeling that you have a plan that works for you.”