Managing Diabetes During the Holidays

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Editor’s Note: Written by guest blogger, Christel Oerum, a passionate fitness enthusiast. She holds an ISSA Personal Trainer certification as well as an MBA. She’s had Type 1 diabetes since 1997. This post was originally published on Diabetes Strong and Beyond Type 1.

This article is part of Beyond Type 1’s  library of resources for Celebrations & Holidays. Consult  Beyond Type 1’s  food and drinking tips as well as an array of holiday carb charts .

This content brought to you by the JDRF – Beyond Type 1 Alliance.


What’s your strategy for managing your diabetes during the holidays? If your plan is to eat yourself into a food coma, you are not alone. Most gatherings this time of year do revolve around food and drinks, and usually not the healthy stuff. And I absolutely think there should be room for that!

There should be room for indulgence, throwing your diet to the wind for a few hours, and just enjoying being with family and friends. And yes, of course we can do that even though we live with diabetes.

If you are insulin-dependent like me, you just need a solid game plan and you’ll be able to get through the festivities without wreaking havoc on your diabetes management. This is my easy-to-follow plan for successfully managing my diabetes during the holidays:

1. Know your carb ratios (how much insulin to take to a gram of carbs)

If you don’t know them yet, get a piece of paper and take notes for a few days to get it right. Knowing your daily carb ratios will help you gain good blood sugar control year round, not just for the holidays. You can read my post about carb ratios and sensitivities to learn more.

2. Know what you are eating

If you didn’t make it yourself, ask the host. You can’t always see what’s in a dish. Mashed potatoes are usually not just potatoes but also include a lot of butter, milk (or cream) and maybe even sugar.

3. Bring a carb counting cheat sheet

Bring a Holiday Carb Chart , such as this one for Thanksgiving from the JDRF-Beyond Type 1 Alliance. If you go to your mom’s house during the holidays, you probably know a lot of the food she will be cooking because you have had it since childhood. You can also do a little research upfront and find out how many carbs are in a serving of your favorites. Maybe you can even get mom’s recipe to calculate the exact carbs?

4. Work out in the morning

Hit the weights before you go out. It will improve your insulin sensitivity and make it easier to manage your blood sugars during the afternoon/night. Not only will you feel better, but your muscles will love the additional carbs and proteins you’ll enjoy later in the day. Why not use all those holiday calories to build some muscles?

5. Consider increasing your basal rate

If you are sitting down eating for hours, your basal insulin may need to be turned up. Always consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your insulin dosage, but it might be an idea to increase your basal rate during dinner and throughout the night.

6. Go for a walk after dinner (or a snowball fight)

It will not only help digestion but also your blood sugar. I’m not even sure this one needs more explanation. Just be sure your sugars don’t crash during your walk or snowball fight.

7. Test, test, test and keep track of active insulin so you don’t overdose 

I bring my meter to the table and rely heavily on my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). My blood sugar levels will have some spikes, and that’s okay, as long as they come down as planned.

8. Remember to bolus for alcohol 

Bolusing for alcohol can be tricky because alcohol can make your blood sugar levels drop. My rule of thumb is that I bolus for everything except hard liquor (which I never drink anyway). Especially if your alcohol is mixed with juice or other carb-heavy drinks, you’ll need insulin with that. And please drink responsibly.

It’s really hard to manage anything—especially your diabetes—if you are out of your mind drunk. If you for some reason aren’t eating but only drinking, be very careful with dosing for alcohol since you’ll have a high likelihood of going low during the night. Alcohol is tricky, so if you’re drinking and unsure of how your blood sugars will react, I suggest having a bedtime snack just to be safe.

What success looks like …

I’ve successfully managed my diabetes during the holidays if I’ve enjoyed myself without having to worry about my diabetes too much, if I’ve been able to manage my blood sugar levels so that I don’t wake up the next morning in the 200 mg/dL 11.1 mmol/Lrange, and if I haven’t had too many low blood sugars.

I doubt Santa is going to bring me a new pancreas for Christmas, so it’s a good thing I have learned to manage my diabetes on my own. Happy Holidays!!!!


Christel is a blogger, personal trainer, diabetes advocate, fitness bikini champion and fitness personality. She has been living with Type 1 diabetes since 1997, and lives by the motto “There’s nothing you can’t do with diabetes¾if you have the right care, technology and mindset.” Christel writes at DiabetesStrong.com with her husband. She blogs about health, fitness and how to be fit with diabetes. You can email her directly at Christel@DiabetesStrong.com.