Successfully Managing Diabetes Throughout the Holiday Season

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It’s that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us, and with all of the festivities can come the seemingly inescapable holiday weight gain, or so your patients may think. Although a research study found perceived weight gain throughout the holidays to average around 3.5 pounds, in reality, actual weight gain during the holiday season averaged just under 1 pound.² However, the same study found that individuals who started the holiday season at an overweight or obese Body Mass Index (BMI) gained more weight than those with a BMI of <25.³ This is concerning for overweight patients who suffer from type 2 diabetes, as excess weight is thought to be a significant contributor to insulin resistance.⁴

Although the holidays might seem like the time of year when dietary moderation is the last thing on anyone’s mind, it can actually be a great time to educate patients with diabetes on simple nutrition strategies that can help set them up for a lifetime of well-managed blood glucose levels. By showing your patients some of the factors that may lead to holiday weight gain, and providing them with simple tips, you can help them enjoy a healthier holiday season without deprivation or possible negative health consequences.

Mindfulness Is Key

One factor in holiday weight gain may be the abundance of food offerings within arm’s reach anywhere you turn. From candy dishes at work to cookie platters at home, the temptation can be hard to resist. For those patients with diabetes, overindulging in holiday classics can be especially damaging. Mindless eating of carbohydrate-rich foods may lead to increases in blood glucose levels, which may pose health problems in the short and long-term. To help prevent dangerous spikes in blood glucose, we can encourage our patients to minimize temptation and practice mindful eating strategies. Indeed, research shows that by simply placing goodies in opaque colored containers instead of transparent glassware, consumption can be decreased significantly.⁵ Research also shows that daily food journaling can be an effective strategy to increase awareness of food consumption among patients and help support weight loss efforts.⁶

Encourage Simple Recipe Swaps

Many holiday dishes are packed full of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, which can pose great challenges when it comes to effective blood glucose control. While many patients are aware of these consequences, you may find resistance in regard to altering a traditional holiday recipe. However, by educating patients on the health benefits these ingredient substitutions can offer while also maintaining the taste and texture of the original version, they might just be swayed to tweak Grandma’s apple pie recipe. Try encouraging some of the following simple swaps to help holiday favorites have less of an impact on blood glucose levels:

  • When preparing recipes that call for all-purpose flour, a rich source of refined carbohydrates, try substituting one half of the flour for 100% whole-wheat flour. This swap helps to increase the fiber content and may help lower the glycemic load of the recipe.
  • Substitute one ounce of baking chocolate with 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder to cut 105 calories from the recipe.

Becoming more mindful of food choices and adjusting favorite holiday recipes to reduce the overall caloric value can help your patients build healthier habits any time of the year!

[1]Boden G, et al. Excessive caloric intake acutely causes oxidative stress, GLUT4 carbonylation, and insulin resistance in healthy men. Sci Transl Med. 2015 Sep 9;7(304):304re7. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac4765. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26355033

²Yanovski, JA, et al. A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain. N Engl J Med 2000; 342:861-867. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200003233421206

³Yanovski, JA, et al.

⁴NIDDK. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. NIH Publication No. 14-4893. June 2014. Retrieved from http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/insulin-resistance-prediabetes/Pages/index.aspx

Wansink B1Painter JELee YK. The office candy dish: proximity’s influence on estimated and actual consumption. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 May;30(5):871-5.


⁶Hollis, J. (2008) News release, Kaiser Permanente. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, August Vol 35. http://www.kpchr.org/research/public/News.aspx?NewsID=3

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