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How to Navigate the Holidays with Type 1 Diabetes

4 min read

By Abigail David

Family gatherings are meant to be savored and enjoyed. Unfortunately, when living with type 1 diabetes, quality family time can be physically and mentally exhausting. These gatherings can start to feel more like a chore and less like a positive, nourishing experience. Managing type 1 diabetes and  simultaneous trying to enjoy the food and company of loved ones during the holidays is a  tricky situation to master.

New foods, new meal timing, new people, and overall new environment all have an impact on a diabetic’s blood sugar. If not approached with the proper care and caution, diabetes can quickly cause holiday havoc. Luckily, with preparation, self compassion, and time, it is absolutely possible to feel unburdened and excited by family gatherings!

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Holiday Diet

Unless you are the one hosting the gathering, try to get as much information on what kind of  foods are going to be served. Most of the time, meals with family include specials foods that are often higher in fat. Take note of how fat affects your blood sugar. Will you need to adjust how and when you dose your medication? It’s a good idea to consult your doctor about this.

Another matter to take into consideration when it comes to food is timing and serving style. Is  it going to be at an earlier time of day or later? If it is going to be later you may want to adjust  the size and contents of your earlier meals are (if you plan on indulging). If it’s earlier, then vice versa. You should also consider possibly increasing your basal rate — also something to bring up with your doctor.

As for serving style, it’s important to find out if it’s going to be buffet style and casual timing (over multiple  hours of the day), or if it’s going to be one big sit down meal. Eating slowly over a couple of hours is very different on blood sugar than eating one big meal. Eating over an extended period of time usually requires stacking  (cumulative doses of medication over time which can make it hard to keep track of what is going on with glucose levels).

If it is buffet style, I suggest keeping track of how much medication you have  been administering on your phone or a checklist so you aren’t faced with unexpected, unexplainable highs or lows.

If there aren’t many options for you and you feel like your health will be compromised, don’t be afraid to bring something for yourself or a dish you and others can enjoy. You don’t want to feel like you have to compromise your physical health in order to attend family gatherings.

Conversation Around Diabetes

Getting together with family members you don’t often see or who don’t know much about your diabetes can be difficult and tiresome. Feeling judged or like you have to fight for your decisions is not a fun experience. Most humans are curious about things they don’t know about, which is something I like to remind  myself of when someone asks me about my diabetes.

Try not to take what they are saying too personally because they’re likely just asking out of curiosity and in most cases, the questions are harmless. However, they can be hurtful or repetitive. If you do want to talk about it, then that is great. Educating your family on diabetes is a beautiful thing, but just because you live with it, doesn’t mean you have to be an advocate.

Advocacy can be exhausting so saying something like “I’ve been pretty mentally taxed by diabetes lately and would love to talk about other things right now” is  absolutely okay. Taking care of yourself should always be a top priority when it comes to  chronic illness.

And Finally, Expectations

It’s a good idea to have realistic expectations about how you’ll be able to maintain your blood sugar throughout the evening. Just in case something does go awry. That way it’s not so upsetting. When it comes down to it, even if every precaution is taken, diabetes can still  act in ways that we don’t want and it can leave us feeling defeated and hopeless. Try to focus on doing your best, which includes includes being kind to yourself when things don’t go exactly as planned. If you are relaxed you will be able to enjoy the conversations and company of your loved ones and allow you to be more present with them.

If you are newly diagnosed, I suggest having a plan of action written down for the first couple of family gatherings you will attend. This will allow you to keep track and reflect on what works and what doesn’t work for you. Write down how you will approach the day in the morning and set your expectations. When the day is over, input how the day went: were you able to stick to you plan or would you have rather been less or more rigid?

There’s no one perfect way. Everyone has different needs and comfort levels. Perhaps the next time, you will want to  change something about your approach. I highly suggest actually writing it down somewhere so that when the next one comes around, you have a detailed documented recollection instead  of having to rely on your memory.

Type 1 diabetes can get in the way of many beautiful, sacred moments this life has to offer. It’s  necessary to remind yourself that with time and effort, diabetes will get in the way less and less. Gatherings, holidays, and creating meaningful family memories are just some instances  where proper preparation has the ability to make a huge impact on your personal success.

Writer, Type 1 Diabetes

Abby is a 27-year-old Vancouver native currently living in Toronto, Canada. Over the past 9 years of living with type 1 diabetes, she has learned a lot about how to harmoniously coexist with the disease and shares her knowledge on her own blog and at local meet-ups. She knows that her blood sugar will never be perfect all the time, but knowing that she has the ability to keep it within her comfortable range, and still live a fulfilling, non-restrictive life, is empowering to Abby. When not writing about life with type 1 diabetes, Abby is a full-time musician and music teacher.

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