Written by Lisa Taylor, Writer & Founder of GestationalDiabetesRecipes.com
For many, Christmas is a time of tradition. Like ‘traditionally’ someone will get thrown into the pool at our Christmas lunch. And someone will ‘traditionally’ eat more than his or her share of Grandpa’s macaroni cheese. But family fiascos and tradition aside, it’s important to approach the festive season with a can-eat attitude.
Take the reins
Social gatherings that are centred on food and alcohol are a dietary and emotional minefield for people living with diabetes. It’s important to do what you can to ensure you’re included and catered for. It’s no fun looking at a table of delicious food and either crossing most of it off your ‘can eat’ list or indulging and feeling guilty later. Can you include yourself in the food planning team this year and suggest a Mediterranean theme for example? This typically involves lots of salads (be adventurous with dressings and serve them separately), a range of grilled or barbequed vegetables and meats (high protein), and include a fruit platter for dessert with some sweet treats such as squares of dark chocolate or nougat served alongside the traditional wedges of pudding or cake. It will be reassuring to know that when you get to that table you’ll be able to eat at least 80% of what’s on offer.
Preparing for a feast
Festive feasts can be epic events! So like any athlete, you need to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for this event to ensure you come out a winner. First and foremost, know what you’re up against. If you can’t be part of the meal planning then enquire with your host as to what will be served. Offer to bring a plate of something you know you can eat that is moderate in carbs and fat but high in protein and carb-free vegetables. Consider bringing a roasted vegetable pasta salad with olives and sliced grilled chicken, tossed in lemon juice, olive oil and garlic dressing and sprinkled with fetta.
Secondly, don’t go to the party hungry. Make sure you have a good breakfast that includes protein and carbs to see you through until the main event.
And lastly if you know that in the heat of the moment you most probably will overindulge, decide what it will be beforehand. Will you allow yourself that extra glass or two of alcohol, a larger scoop of pudding and custard, or a small piglet worth of pork crackling? Making this mental contract sets up boundaries. It helps you avoid the guilt trip post-indulgence and might stop you going on a bender. And after you indulge, be okay with it. You’d be going back on your own word if you weren’t.
It’s all in the timing
It’s not only jokes that rely on good timing but good blood glucose levels too. Festive meals are often long, extended events and that’s actually great for diabetes as it spaces out the glucose influx to your body. So pacing yourself at the table and keeping dessert until a couple of hours after the meal is really helpful. Steer everyone into the backyard for a game of cricket* before dessert. There’s nothing like a good bit of sledging and competition to work up an appetite.
Are you a plate half-full or plate half-empty person?
It’s tempting to look at a buffet table like an ant looks at a picnic. However you cannot carry away 100 times your own bodyweight in food like an ant can. Buffets aren’t going to be your friend unless you have an iron will and can stick to healthy choices at each round. So the best approach is to fill your plate up once – but wisely. Pile half your plate high with delicious salads and other carb-free vegetables. Then dedicate a quarter to lean proteins (meat/fish/seafood etc.) and some dairy but avoid too much additional fat. Then give a quarter to carbohydrates like pasta, high-carb vegetables and rich sauces. If you simply must go back for seconds, repeat this format but use a small side plate or bread plate instead of a dinner plate.
Can you blow it for one day?
Sometimes the food situation is going to be out of your control. And that is a valid situation to prepare for. The guilt that we can cause ourselves when it comes to regretful eating can be more damaging than the once-off indulgence. Talk to your diabetes educator about how to manage your insulin when you know you’re going to have a blow out. Be prepared and take matters into your own hands.
Don’t be afraid to leave the party
And take a walk that is! Although the Romans looked cool, slouching around on their chaise lounges, that kind of behaviour wasn’t doing their blood glucose levels any favours. Before the idea of a post-feast sleep takes hold, hustle up the troops, find the dog, take a walk around the block and admire the crazy Christmas lights and lawn nativities**. And let’s be honest – walking off the meal means you can sneak in that last tiny slice of Christmas cake before you make off with Grandpa’s cherished tin of mince pies*** doesn’t it?
*Backyard cricket and Christmas is particularly Australian as Christmas is in the middle of summer for us so the party usually moves outdoors at some point during the day.
** Does this happen in your country? In Australia some people get pretty competitive about decorating their house with Christmas lights. It has become almost a sport in some suburbs where competition is fierce!
*** Mince pies are small pastry pies containing juicy and rich minced fruit such as raisins, citrus peel and cherries. Another Australian tradition that was brought over from England.
This article was first published in the Australian Diabetes Educators Association magazine in December 2013.