As Thanksgiving approaches, we look forward to a season of gratitude, warmth, and festive celebrations. This holiday is special and nostalgic for so many people, and for good reason. It’s an opportunity to relax with family and friends, enjoy some delicious homemade dishes, and take time to appreciate the positives in life.
However, for people with diabetes, Thanksgiving might come with a sense of apprehension.
There is an abundance of rich, sugary foods to enjoy, and you might be deviating significantly from your normal mealtime routines. This poses unique challenges for those who are trying to carefully manage their blood sugar levels.
If you’re feeling anxious about your upcoming meals, you’re not alone. Here are our top tips for managing diabetes and Thanksgiving dinner – even if you still want to enjoy your pumpkin pie.
1. Plan Ahead
In the hustle and bustle of the season, preparation is key, especially for those managing diabetes. When planning your Thanksgiving celebration, take your diabetes into account. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your family and friends about your needs.
Determine a game plan for monitoring your blood sugar levels throughout Thanksgiving day. Make sure your medication and equipment are easily accessible throughout the celebration. If you’re traveling, designate a bag specifically for diabetic medications.
If you have control of the day’s schedule, try to align your meal’s timing with your normal medication and insulin regimen. This will help you better anticipate potential blood sugar fluctuations so you can respond appropriately.
2. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Holiday festivities often go hand-in-hand with delicious alcoholic beverages and merry toasts. However, Thanksgiving, diabetes, and alcohol don’t always mix well.
Alcohol can interfere with the liver’s ability to produce glucose, which leads to unexpected drops in blood sugar levels. This increases the risk of hypoglycemic events, particularly for those on insulin or sulfonylureas like glipizide, glimepiride, or glyburide. Because these diabetes meds already lower blood sugar, this can create a potentially dangerous situation.
Individuals with diabetes need to be cautious and well-informed of the interactions between alcohol and diabetes. If you choose to drink, stick to a safe limit and monitor your symptoms. For extra safety and peace of mind, consider skipping alcohol entirely at your Thanksgiving feast.
There are plenty of excellent non-alcoholic substitutes for cocktails, wine, and beer on the market, so you can still enjoy a festive beverage without risking your well-being.
3. Make Mindful Eating Choices
When filling your plate at dinner, make mindful choices to keep your blood sugar levels in check. It’s easy to get carried away when delicious aromas fill the room, but your nutrition decisions matter.
Rather than imposing rigid restrictions on yourself, focus on making deliberate and informed choices. Here are some tips to help you experience mindful eating benefits:
- Prioritize lean proteins: Lean cuts of meat provide essential nutrients without the extra fat. Pass the plate and ask for the safest cuts of that turkey.
- Take sauces on the side: Heavy marinades and sauces are often laden with hidden sugars. Opt for the cranberry sauce on the side, rather than putting it directly on your food. This will help prevent you from overindulging. You can also try dipping your fork lightly into a sauce before picking up your food. You’ll savor te taste without the extra calories and carbs.
- Be wary of butter: Dishes drenched in butter are mouth-watering, but they also pack a hefty caloric punch. Look for options that are lighter and less greasy – and maybe skip Grandma’s soaked mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole.
- Enjoy veggies and grains: Lean towards dishes that contain whole grains and vegetables, rather than ones like bread and stuffing. You want a balanced mix of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which keep you full without feeling bloated.
- Portion control: Remember, it’s not just about what you eat at Thanksgiving, but also how much. Consider using a smaller plate to naturally limit your portion sizes. This will also help you eat more slowly, giving your body the time it needs to digest and feel full.
- Limit your sugary desserts. We know, pumpkin pie is a critical part of any traditional Thanksgiving meal, but it isn’t always a diabetes-friendly option. Try to keep your desserts to a minimum and only pick your favorite ones.
If possible, you may also want to incorporate some diabetic Thanksgiving recipes that cater more to your needs! Talk to your loved ones about accommodating your eating habits and food preferences during the holidays.
4. Incorporate Physical Activity
Thanksgiving is usually a holiday marked by sweatpants and lounging on the couch. While it’s important to take time to rest, try to incorporate some movement into your day. Even a gentle workout can help stabilize your blood glucose levels. Physical activity helps the muscles consume glucose, which naturally reduces blood sugar.
Try taking a post-meal family walk around your neighborhood. This is a great time to bond and make fun memories together. Exercise also can aid with digestion and prevent that uncomfortable feeling of being overly full.
If your family enjoys sports, you can also play a casual game in your backyard or a nearby park. It doesn’t really matter how you stay active on Thanksgiving – just do something to work against unbalanced blood sugar levels.
5. Learn to Recognize Your Red Flags
Diabetes looks different for every patient. Learn your personal signs of blood sugar fluctuations and watch for them.
Some potential “red flags” for hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, include frequent urination, excessive thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision. For hyperglycemia, or low blood sugar, red flags include shakiness, rapid heartbeat, irritability, dizziness, and even confusion.
Both before and after your Thanksgiving dinner, try to stay in tune with your body and its specific reactions. If you do encounter an extreme blood sugar reading, remain calm. Follow your doctor’s prescribed protocol. There are many ways to handle blood sugar fluctuations, including taking glucose tablets, consuming a quick source of sugar, or adjusting your medication.
Always consult your healthcare provider or doctor for guidance tailored to your circumstances. If possible, attend Thanksgiving with a companion who understands your blood sugar goals and the signs of hyperglycemia.
Turn to Klingensmith’s for Diabetes Support
Checkout our Diabetes Care Center page for managing your diabetes. Navigating the holiday season with diabetes can be challenging, but with some advance preparation and mindful practices, it’s possible to enjoy a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving.