Pennsylvania: At this point, you’ve made it past the Halloween candy. You’ve gotten through Thanksgiving dinner — and dessert — without a problem. But now, you’re squarely in the holiday [eating] season, complete with fruitcake, gingerbread cookies, and holiday party punch. Each year around this time, we start to see articles about the calorie count in a Thanksgiving feast, as tallied by Consumer Reports; hacks for how to avoid holiday weight gain as seen in the Los Angeles Times; and substitute ingredients for making healthier holiday treats, as suggested by SELF magazine. For many, the worry of holiday eating stops at the waistline – the fear that they might pick up an extra pound or two of “insulation” this winter is enough to keep them from going back for the second slice of pie – but for those with diabetes, eating disorders, or those battling obesity, there is far more of a risk associated with these indulgences.
More than 29 million
Americans are living with diabetes, another 86 million are classified
as pre-diabetic, and one-third of the United States population is
considered obese, which means a significant number of Americans should
be keeping an extra close eye on their holiday eating habits.
Linda Sartor, RD, CDE, LDN, diabetes nutritionist and educator for the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center, shared some guidelines to help folks navigate the season.
First, Sartor suggests grabbing the calendar and circling all of the
holiday days – include holiday parties, work functions, dinners with
friends, etc. Make these your only “splurge” days.
The next important step also falls in this “preparation” phase.
Sartor says diabetic patients who focus on getting blood sugar under
control leading up to the holiday season will have an easier time
keeping it under control when they’re in the throes of it. She also
tells her patients to practice deep breathing, meditation or yoga to
manage stress and avoid food cravings, and most importantly, to get lots
Another piece of advice addresses the ever-looming monster: carbohydrates.
“To get your blood sugar under control and to lose weight, aim to
consume 30 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15 or less per snack,”
she said. “Protein and healthy fats are really vital to balance blood
sugar, so try snacking on hard boiled eggs, leftover turkey, a quarter
of an avocado or some nuts (12 to 24) instead of cookies and candy.”
To put carbohydrates into perspective, your average dinner roll has
about 13 grams; there are roughly 16 grams in one sugar cookie; about 20
grams in one cup of egg nog; and approximately 35 grams of
carbohydrates in a cup of mashed potatoes. It adds up fast!
But for those who love sweets, try doing your own baking and substitute ingredients as much as you can (see aforementioned SELF magazine story).
“High carbohydrate foods such as starches or desserts can be a big
challenge for most people, including bariatric patients, and especially
at this time of year with so many high-risk situations like family and
work parties,” said Colleen Tewksbury, MPH, RD, LDN, Bariatric
Surgery program manager. “One of the most important things we tell our
patients is to have a plan and stick to it, which can include preparing
their own meals and doing their own baking. When they have control over
the ingredients being used, they have more control over what they’re
Sartor says to start making a plan, think about what you have going
on and what you did last year around this time so you will be in control
both of your eating and meal planning.
Kelly Allison, PhD, an associate professor of
Psychology in Psychiatry and director of Clinical Services at Penn’s
Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, said she recommends these
planning tips for my patients who have a hard time keeping their weight
or eating habits under control at the holidays: “Try not to skip meals
so you avoid feeling too hungry and risk losing control; try to freeze
extra food or store it away in sealed containers or in the basement or
garage so that you have to make more deliberate decisions about whether
you really want to eat it; and finally, figure out what holiday treats
you really want to enjoy and steer clear of eating foods just because
they are there.”
Sartor, Tewksbury, and Allison also suggest offering to make a
healthy dish for a holiday party, as having some control over the food
available at a party will mean you are in control of what you eat. And
if all else fails, just practice a simple phrase: “No, thank you.”
The most important thing to remember at the holidays, whether you
have diabetes, are battling obesity, or you’re just looking to stave off
the holiday weight, is that you can and should enjoy your favorite foods, but, the key is to do so in moderation, as part of a balanced, healthy meal.