Diabetic holiday survival manual

For people with diabetes, holidays can be fraught with temptations and make you want to hibernate. Mignon Jordan shares her diabetic holiday survival manual for you to be more mindful and survive the holiday temptation.

Many of my clients get so anxious and scared when holiday season is approaching. This is due to the mind-set that all the year’s hard work will go out the door. The simple question everyone asks is what can I do as a person with diabetes to resist the holiday snacks and over-sized seasonal meals?

Holiday times are such a special time to spend with family and friends and just to relax after a long, hard year. This can also get so challenging because your blood glucose levels don’t ever take a holiday. The good news is you don’t need to have uncontrolled blood glucose levels while enjoying seasonal activities. What if I guarantee you this: you can still enjoy parties and social gatherings with everyone else and have controlled blood glucose levels, if you follow the following steps.

The diabetic holiday survival manual

  1. Plan-ahead

When visiting a restaurant with family or friends, make sure you know what type of food is being served and what time the meal will be eaten. This gives you time to prepare.

Choose the best of worst

Choose a balanced meal of whole grain starch, vegetables and lean protein. If the choice of meal is not determined by you, choose the best of the worst. For example: the choice between chicken pie, lasagne or steak casserole with rice. These choices might be difficult to choose from so go for the option that contains the least refined carbohydrates, like white flour, and also with the least saturated fat, like cream/fatty meat/saucy food.

  • The chicken pie dough is a refined carbohydrate, which means it is high-GI and will spike your blood glucose levels and make it drop down soon after.
  • The lasagne option is high in saturated fat due to the cheese sauce and mince used.
  • The steak casserole with rice contains starch, protein and vegetables. The white rice is not low-GI but the overall fat content will be lower than the other two options which will be great for the waist line and the vegetables will assist to lower the overall GI of the meal. This option will win!
  1. I am the host for dinner

This makes it easier, because now you have control over what is served and what times.

  • Make sure the meal contains a good amount of vegetables and whole grain starch in controlled amounts and lean protein.
  • Stick to braaing, grilling, steaming or baking the food instead of frying.
  • If there is a lot of leftovers, give it as a take away to your guests.
  1. Always ask if you can bring something to an event

This will allow you to bring snacks that you know will be suitable for yourself, something you will feel safe to eat. Focus on snack ideas everyone can enjoy and that are diabetic friendly, like fruit kebabs with yoghurt dip, popcorn, nuts and dried fruit, whole wheat crackers with low-fat cream cheese dip or veggie sticks and hummus.

  1. Don’t arrive hungry

Make sure you have your snack as per usual before arriving at the event. This will prevent over-indulgence in the snacks provided which most probably will be high in fat and sugar.

  1. Be mindful when there is a buffet meal

When you look at the big amount of food and the wide variety in front of you, think before you place it on your plate. Think about what will affect your glucose level the most and what your body actually needs. Minimise big amounts of refined carbohydrates and saucy dishes.   

  1. Always use a side-plate

This is so effective to keep your portion small and prevent over-indulgence. 

  1. Choose the dessert selectively

If grandma’s famous chocolate mousse is served, it will be impossible to resist, right? Enjoy a small amount of the dessert and cut out the mash potato/roll at the main dish to minimise the carbohydrate load you are eating. Ask if you can bring a pudding that you know is diabetic friendly, such as a low-sugar milk pudding/cake. 

  1. Drink alcohol in moderation

Remember alcohol consumption causes blood glucose drops when consumed in excess. Also check the sugar content of alcoholic drinks and stick to the options with the least carbohydrates and sugar content. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa recommends that if you drink alcohol, then do so in moderation. This means not more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Remember that alcohol does not only have an impact on your glucose level but also your cholesterol levels.

  • ONE DRINK IS: 340 ml beer, 120 ml wine, 60 ml sherry or 25 ml spirits.
  1. Be active

Being physically active can assist to burn off the extra calories eaten during holiday times and improves your insulin sensitivity. This doesn’t mean you need to spend hours exercising, even walking is good enough. Just move.

  1. Test your blood glucose levels constantly

Make sure you test before and after meals to ensure you take the correct amount of insulin or medicine for the unusual holiday meals.

  1. Be aware of social cues

When you are at a party or dinner, the usual thing people do is eat constantly. Beware of “unconscious eating,” the tendency we all have is to absent-mindedly take a cookie or a sweet when you walk pass it. A little here and there can add up quickly. Say no to seconds, as you will not want seconds because you are hungry but because it is delicious.

  1. Get back up and onto the station wagon

Mistakes happen and by simply having a day of eating energy-dense carbohydrate rich meals and snacks shouldn’t demotivate you to get back on track. Guilt feelings of over-eating is a negative emotion which leads to more emotional eating, especially on high sugary foods leading you to feeling even worse and eating even more. It is a vicious cycle.  

Try this delicious Spinach and roasted red pepper dip.


Mignon Jordaan is a registered dietitian. Her heart’s desire is to make a difference in people’s lives with her knowledge of nutrition. Being a Type 1 diabetes patient herself, she can walk the journey of “mindful eating” with her clients.

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