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The holidays can be a wonderful time, but we all know they can also be stressful. And when you’re dealing with Type 1 Diabetes on top of everything, the family feast can become a danger zone! The focus on food — especially the way my family holidays are centered around food — can be hard on people with diabetes who need to monitor their glucose carefully.

Diabetes doesn’t have to ruin the season, though! Here are the best strategies I’ve found for managing my disease while still enjoying the festivities:

Plan Ahead

The season is full of temptations from good food and social pressures. Trying to keep to your usual management plan in the face of all the parties and family dinners can create a whole extra layer of stress — which, of course, causes your blood sugar to fluctuate even more. Not a fun cycle!

Take the stress out of meal time by planning ahead and deciding (in a quiet moment, away from the buffet) exactly how much you want to indulge, and on what, and when — I give a glance over our family’s famous menus so I can plan what’s coming!

Adam Tau's Thanksgiving Menu

I try to stick to my usual meal and workout times during the day — before a holiday meal, I eat my usual breakfast and lunch. The more consistent I am, the more stable my sugar.  Plus, the dual wave bolus plan I described in my Total Fitness article comes into play more than ever before a holiday meal.

Watch the Clock

Many families throw the usual schedule to the wind and eat large meals at weird times on the holidays. If you won’t be eating at your usual meal times, make sure you take this into account when you’re planning! You may need to stock up on some snacks so that your glucose levels don’t dip while you’re waiting, and you don’t want to get so hungry that you overeat when the meal is finally served.

Pick Your Battles

This doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t be treating yourself!  For example, my mother-in-law makes these “magic squares” once a year for Thanksgiving. They are literally the opposite of everything a T1D should eat, but they are incredible. Since I know I’m going to have one (or really, three or four) of those, I cut back in other areas.

Dessert Tray

It is the holidays, after all, and If you try to cut out every temptation, it’ll probably backfire and stress you out in the process.

Instead, give yourself permission to enjoy the feast and plan for it well. Choose your absolute favorite holiday foods, and figure out which special exceptions will be most worth it. You don’t have to sample everything on the table, you just have to pick the things you most enjoy. If your Aunt only breaks out her secret chocolate cake recipe once a year, it’s probably worth going easy on the mashed potatoes to balance it out. If you love stuffing, pass on the rolls that you can get at any old time of year.

Bring Your Own

If you’re going to a holiday party or dinner where someone else is setting the menu, ask if you can bring a dish to help out. You can provide a veggie tray or a healthy appetizer for everyone, and have a hearty helping yourself. That way, you won’t have to worry about what will be served — and the hosts will love you!

Check out all sorts of great recipe ideas, or get into the holiday theme with favorites like this No-Bake Low-Sugar Pumpkin Mousse Parfait. And if you don’t want to actually cook, you can always re-plate a grocery store veggie platter on a nice tray so no one will notice!

Get the Whole Family Moving

One of the best ways to counteract both the stresses and the indulgences of the holidays is to redouble your workout routine. A lot is going on, though, and if you have a big family gathering it can be all too easy to pass the time chatting on the couch or watching a holiday special on TV.

Instead of missing out on important family time, make it part of the fun by getting everyone out for a walk or playing a pickup game on the lawn with the family kids.  Even walking in the city or mall for holiday shopping will help lower high sugar.

Don’t Forget to Sleep

Another thing that often falls by the wayside with all the excitement is a regular sleep schedule. Being sleep deprived can make it harder to control your blood sugar. Plus, people who are tired tend to overeat more and go for the high-sugar, high-fat choices. Make sure you’re keeping all these extra variables under control by getting a full night’s rest!

Safety First

It’s easy to let things slip through the cracks at this busy time. Be overly cautious and monitor your blood sugar even more closely than usual until the holidays are over. Make sure you check your levels every time before getting behind the wheel or making any adjustments to your insulin doses.

Enjoy the Holiday!

Most of all, enjoy yourself! Remember what really makes the holidays great, and focus on spending quality time with your loved ones. It’s easier to forget about seconds when you’re focusing on the fun! Make it extra special by volunteering together, playing games, and getting active outside.

And if you slip up? That’s okay. Just get right back to your plan with the next meal.