Careful control and management of diabetes mellitus during the holidays, and every day, is important for the 387 million individuals living with diabetes worldwide because the short-term and long-term health consequences of imbalanced blood sugar can significantly affect quality of life. Not only can the short-term effects of blood sugar that is too high or too low prevent full enjoyment of any activity including holiday celebrations and special events, but the long-term consequences of uncontrolled diabetes, including heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, nerve dysfunction, limb amputation, and blindness, limit the quality of life and can shorten life as well.
Medical research shows that diligent monitoring and tight control of blood sugar levels can help prevent the severe, negative outcomes of uncontrolled diabetes mellitus. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when health care providers use the word “control,” in relationship to diabetes mellitus, they are referring to how closely an individual’s blood sugar numbers match an ideal range.
The CDC identifies five individual responsibilities as vital components of diabetes control: Taking medications as prescribed; checking blood sugar regularly; following a meal plan consistent with medication dosage; getting regular exercise; and remaining free of illness and stress, since both illness and stress can influence blood sugar levels in ways that may require medication dose adjustments. Managing diabetes mellitus for optimal control means that one’s medications, diet, and exercise plan are synchronized with one another and working together for maximum health.
Understanding the reasoning behind suggested strategies for holiday diabetes control and management can help individuals with diabetes mellitus stay motivated to manage their blood sugar while maximizing their enjoyment of holiday celebrations, thus achieving better long-term health. A quick glance through any Internet search on the topic of holiday diabetes control reveals common themes, such as eating a healthy snack before the main meal, making healthy food choices, keeping regular mealtime schedules, maintaining a regular blood sugar testing regimen, packing medical supplies for easy access during travel, and maintaining consistent physical activity.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) points out that a primary social focus on food during holiday celebrations can make it extremely difficult for many individuals with diabetes to maintain tight control of their blood sugar levels. Experts recommend focusing on something other than food at holiday celebrations as a way of minimizing the temptations to make unhealthy food choices or overeat. The ADA suggests introducing new, health-supportive, holiday traditions such as walking after meals, playing active games as a family, and dancing at parties. While physical activity should be a part of any long-term diabetes mellitus control and management plan, remaining physically active during the holidays helps balance out the holiday tendency toward eating more than usual.
Making healthy food choices can help ensure that the foods prepared for holiday celebrations and the calories consumed at holiday meals are nutritious, or at least do not contribute unduly to blood sugar imbalances. Strategies for making healthy food choices include preparing and sharing healthier versions of staple recipes, taking healthy side dishes to parties, being selective at the buffet by choosing only small servings of personal favorite dishes, choosing a smaller-sized plate, and ensuring that half the plate is filled with vegetables. According to Clemson University Cooperative Extension, some ways to manage the temptations offered by holiday sweets include opting for fresh fruit at the end of the meal instead of baked desserts, and filling half a dessert plate with fresh fruit while choosing only a small serving of one favorite baked treat.
Adhering to regular mealtime schedules is an important consideration for individuals with diabetes because consuming large meals at inconsistent times can upset the body’s existing insulin production and complicate medication regimens. The unpredictability of holiday meals can be mitigated by planning ahead, and by eating nutritious snacks at regular intervals to keep blood sugar balanced. Maintaining regular blood sugar testing, especially when mealtime schedules or portion sizes may vary, is essential for knowing when medication dosage adjustments are necessary. While these strategies for diabetes mellitus control are important to implement during the holidays, they also represent important every-day management practices for long-term health.
Of all the strategies for managing diabetes mellitus during holiday celebrations, the ADA and CDC agree that planning ahead is the most important key for maintaining control while still enjoying special occasions. The ADA emphasizes that prior planning can help alleviate the stress often associated with holidays so that the time spent in celebration can still be enjoyable.
Planning ahead is not simply a matter of food choice and meal timing, it also involves, among other things, preparing for diabetes control during travel. When packing for holiday travel, the CDC advises placing pre-proportioned healthy snacks and medical supplies and in carry on-luggage for easy access during the trip. Syringes and insulin delivery systems should be clearly marked with pharmacy labels and should remain in original packaging for easy inspection. If travel involves crossing time zones, carrying a second watch or clock that remains set to the home time zone can help avoid confusion about mealtimes or blood sugar monitoring schedules.
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reminds readers on its web site that diet change and increased exercise can prevent the onset of type II diabetes mellitus. For individuals who already have a diabetes diagnosis, implementing strategies for tight control of blood sugar during the holidays, and every day, can be the best way to manage the disease and avoid its negative outcomes. Building sound strategies for control and management of diabetes mellitus is important both during the holidays and for long-term health.
By Lane Therrell
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
American Diabetes Association (ADA)
Clemson University Cooperative Extension
International Diabetes Federation (IDF)
Indian Health Services
Diabetic Care Services & Pharmacy
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