Newswise — Ah, the holidays. We look forward to yet often dread them at the same time – from reveling in family traditions and enjoying festive parties to coping with the stress of travel and navigating all of that delicious but fattening food. And having diabetes can make the holidays even more challenging.

But planning ahead will help you keep stress to a minimum, your blood sugar stable and your holidays more enjoyable, suggests the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).  

“Troubleshooting before the holidays can help you be better prepared to take what comes. Then when the holidays arrive, just try to be in the moment,” said Veronica Brady, PhD, CDE, a diabetes educator and nurse practitioner with the Reno School of Medicine, Nevada. “Don’t stress about tomorrow, or worry about how much weight you might gain. Enjoy the conversation with your seldom-seen aunt, savor each bite of food, take in the sights and the smells of the season.”

AADE recommends following these tips to help ensure your holidays are successful.

  • Relish each bite – Food is a huge part of most holidays, but instead of eating until you’re uncomfortable, focus on enjoying it (and the company) instead.
    • Practice mindful eating – Eat slowly, paying attention to the experience by savoring the taste and texture of each bite. Relish the green of the asparagus, the orange of the sweet potatoes. You’ll eat less and enjoy more. Putting your fork down between bites will also help slow you down.
    • Put away your phone – Make a pact with your friends and family to ditch the cell phones during the meal so you’re not tempted to peek every time the phone dings or buzzes. Put your phones on silent and leave them in another room. That will ensure you are present and enjoying the moment, instead of texting with one hand and eating with the other.
    • Monitor your blood sugar levels – If you wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and have been eyeing the pumpkin pie or biscuits, try a few bites, wait five minutes and look at your CGM to see how your body reacts. If your blood sugar is stable, try a few more bites. Also, recruit a friend to share those high-carb treats so that you eat less, and enjoy the deliciousness together.   
  • Know your alcohol limits – If you’re going to consume alcohol remember your limit: two drinks for men, one for women. When you hit your limit, switch to water. Try carbonated water with a lime to make it more festive. If you do have alcohol, be sure to drink it with a meal or snack to prevent low blood sugars. 
  • Get a move on – Let the dishes soak in the sink, lace up your sneakers and go for a stroll before or after a big holiday meal – either with your dinner guests or alone to help you de-stress. Most people with type 2 diabetes find that their blood sugar levels will decrease after doing some exercise. So, make sure you take the time to walk, do some yoga, or go for a bike ride. Keep a reminder to be active on your calendar each day to help manage your blood sugar and decrease stress.
  • Plan ahead when you travel – Follow these tips if you plan to fly or drive over the holidays.
    • Simplify security – Before you go through airport security, tell the TSA agent that you have diabetes and your carry-on bag (including your diabetes-related medications and devices) should be checked manually, vs. being X-rayed. The X-ray can interrupt device settings (such as insulin pump and censor). This process will go smoother if you have an explanatory letter from your doctor.
    • Call your doctor well in advance – Doctors take vacations, too! So if you need a medical note when traveling (such as to ease going through security), or are running low on insulin or medication, call your doctor’s office well before you travel to be sure get what you need. Also, be sure to pack extra supplies, especially extra medication, in case your trip gets extended.
    • Don’t panic about your pump – If you use an insulin pump and are fearful of flying, don’t worry if you push your pump and nothing happens during takeoffs or landings. Just as your ears can get plugged, these devices won’t work when under pressure. Just wait until the pilot announces the plane has reached cruising altitude and try it again.
    • Wear a medical ID If you have any problems during your trip, a medical alert ID will let people know you have diabetes (vs. tipsy/drunk). You can wear it as a bracelet or necklace. Some even have the information tattooed on their wrist or neck.
    • Check before you drive – If you’re planning on driving, check your blood sugars before you get behind the wheel. If your blood sugars aren’t at least 90, let someone else take the helm. The stresses of driving (traffic jam, anyone?) can cause your blood sugar to drop and lead to confusion and even loss of consciousness. Better to be the navigator.
  • Think of others – There are a number of opportunities to volunteer during the holidays, from collecting food and clothing for homeless shelters to manning a soup kitchen. Giving back can put you in a Zen-like space, which is good for the soul.
  • Share your success! – Share your diabetes triumphs, challenges and tips through your favorite online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It’s a great way to be supported and give others ideas to help manage their diabetes during the holidays.

Before the holidays are upon us, consider making an appointment to see a diabetes educator, who can help you figure out how to best manage your diabetes during the holidays so you can fully enjoy the season.