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.”

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