10 Holiday Survival Tips If You Have Diabetes

Holiday Treats

Some of my patients with diabetes ask me what’s the big deal if their blood sugar levels go up a little or they gain a few pounds over the holidays. They say they can always lose the weight afterward and get their sugar levels under control.

To an extent, that could be true. If you’re in good overall health, doing well with your diabetes control and manufacturing reasonable amounts of insulin, a day or two of indulging a bit more than usual in holiday food shouldn’t be a problem.

How long that overindulgence goes on, and how many times, though, are important factors. The holidays can easily extend well past New Year’s. If you slip into bad eating habits, you can do long-term damage, raise your blood sugars and gain weight.

You can keep your weight and blood sugar levels under control during the holidays using these tips.

1. Maintain your schedule

If you overeat, trying to catch up by skipping a meal afterward may cause you to overeat when you have your next meal or if a snack is available. Even on your holiday and days away from work, try to get up, eat, exercise and take your diabetes and any other medications about the same time as you usually do.

2. Check your blood sugar frequently

If you are taking insulin or medications that lower your blood sugar, check your blood sugar more frequently during the holidays, especially before driving a car or adjusting your insulin doses. Make allowances for the changes in your work and exercise schedules as well as your eating opportunities.

3. Budget your sweets and treats

To keep your blood sugars from skyrocketing, include sweets and treats as part of your carbohydrate budget — not in addition to it. Choose the meat and side vegetables and salad at dinner. Your carbohydrate for dinner could be Aunt Emily’s nut roll that she only makes during the holidays. 

4. Watch your alcohol intake

Moderate alcohol intake can have a blood sugar-lowering effect, so don’t drink on an empty stomach. The amounts of calories and sugars vary significantly among drinks so it can be useful to search nutrition information about your favorite drinks. Recommendations for alcohol for those with diabetes are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men. (One drink equals 4 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 1 ounce of distilled spirits.

5. Download mobile tools

You can download mobile apps to your phone, including apps that help you count carbohydrates of certain dishes, and let you know how much insulin you need to take (if you use it before meals).

6. Order smart in restaurants

You’d be pleasantly surprised how many restaurants offer healthy options not mentioned on the menu. Ask for options with less saturated fat, fried food and sugars. Substitute olive oil with fresh pepper for butter. You can also substitute sides. Ask for a baked or boiled potato (skin on) or fresh, steamed or stir-fried veggies instead of mashed potatoes.

7. Cook light, healthy dishes to take with you to parties.

If you’re going to a holiday dinner, ask if you can bring a dish — one lower in calories and fat — such as a vegetable tray or vegetable-based appetizer. There are many delicious, diabetes-friendly recipes, like low-sugar pumpkin mousse parfait, that you can bring to holiday parties. You can find low-sugar recipes from the American Diabetes Association.

8. Be ‘party smart’

At the party, enjoy some of the vegetable-based appetizers first, then the meat or cheese appetizers. Place your appetizers on your napkin instead of a plate and you’ll be less likely to overfill it. Another tip: don’t stand near the buffet table or food when talking at a party. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drink water or club soda with a lime or lemon twist. Keep a calorie-free drink in your hand to keep your hands busy.

9. Stay active

If you can’t stick to your usual exercise program during this busy time, do some fun activity with family or friends. If 40 minutes a day at one time isn’t possible, break your exercise up into 10- to 15-minute segments, two or three times a day.

10. Remember the reason for the season

Put the focus on family and friends and not on food. Enjoy what you do eat. Savor each bite! Most important, remember to include time for exercise, meals and relaxation. The holidays will only be great if you’re in good health to enjoy them.


Marwan Hamaty, MD

Marwan Hamaty, MD, MBA, is a staff physician in the Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute. His specialties are diabetes and pre-diabetes.
  • Haig Aghajanian

    viva aleppo :)

  • Philip Ellison

    You’re kidding, right? High fat/low carb diet has brought my FBS under control, dropped my cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure. Tossed all prescriptions, including statins, in the garbage. Plus, the diet has helped me lose 62 lbs. in a year.

  • Connie Kelly

    Which exercises would you suggest for a very out of shape 61 yr old with pre-diabetes?

    • Marcos 887

      Brisk Walking for 30 minutes a day. Drink lots of pure water. That’s a good start…

  • shanob

    HIGH FAT DIETS ARE THE HEALTHIEST. You need clean fats, though. Organic butter, grass fed beef, hemp oil, coconut oil and sesame oil. Eat avocados, nuts, and raw milk cheeses. No, this is all wrong, fats are good for your brain and do not cause weight gain. You should get at least 30% of your calories from these good fats.

  • DrNoSA

    Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common underlying cause of obesity and diabetes, so have a sleep test and treat with a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine when the test proves positive for OSA.

  • Jonathan

    Get your head out your….get with the program saturated fat is not the boogie man. Read some recent articles in Time Magazine etc…go read Eating Academy blog by Peter Attia.

    There are some great articles on Saturated Fat(a good video at the end of that one), Cholesterol, Ketosis. There are links to research and its all well thought out as opposed to this lame old outdated information that says saturated fat and cholesterol are the devil. They are not. HDL LDL etc.. are not cholesterol they contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is used to make hormones its important stuff. Most of it isn’t even absorbed from food. Most of it is created by the body in response to food especially the combination of tons of sugars and fat together.

    Processed foods that contain HFCS and soybean oil or other PUFAs. Peoples diets have way too much Omega 6 because of this junk. The diet you advocate here isn’t at all balanced between Omega 3 and 6 and causes inflammation.

    Please check out Peter Attia and Eating Academy website and you’ll have a much better idea about how cholesterol/saturated fat etc.. really work.

    Go find some stuff by Steven Gundry he has a good podcast with Jimmy Moore that talks about fats. There are very few people who have a major issue with animal foods and those that do can eat more seafood. Unless you have a coconut allergy coconut is an extremely healthy food and is saturated fat.

    Sheesh get out of the dark ages with your rhetoric. You are doing a disservice to your patients when you are so out of date.