Making Thanksgiving Work for You and Your Diabetes

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T-Day is almost here. Nora Saul, a dietitian at Joslin, is here to give you some tips for getting through it healthfully and enjoyably

Thanksgiving is a carb fest.  There is no way around it; traditional Thanksgiving meals are mostly carbohydrate.  And they bend the needle quite far on the fat-o-meter too.  Okay, there’s the turkey and a nod to the world of greens with the ever-present green bean casserole (which, with its use of cream of mushroom soup, isn’t exactly a paen to the low-fat, high-fiber, low-calorie image non-starchy vegetables are supposed to present) and possible a green salad on some tables.  But that is basically it.

Think about it—the rest of the meal: mashed potatoes, rolls, sweet potato casserole, stuffing and a variety of pies.   Oh and, even the turkey isn’t carb free.  It comes with the slightly cloying, but ever so addictive, cranberry sauce and gravy.

Now not every family will serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal and some people couldn’t care less about the types of food that are usually served.  If you are one of these folks stop reading now- you already have a plan.

So, if you’re still following along with bated breath, how do you realistically enjoy the  Thanksgiving repast?   Well, remember the 80/20 rule- 80 percent of the time you follow your meal plan, the other 20 percent you can indulge in greater latitude.  You decide, not your family, your health care providers or anybody else if this meal is important enough to you to make it one of your 20 percent days.

If it isn’t, then stick close to your meal plan (you will likely have to expand your carb allotment somewhat.  If you generally have only 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrate at meals, you won’t be able to try very many dishes) by choosing one or two of your favorite foods and filling up on the salad and plain roast turkey.

If you’re willing for this to be one of the times that you are not going to have perfect control but still not make a glutton of yourself, then make a plan.  Remember there is no reason for anybody, whether they have diabetes or not, to be so stuffed that they are uncomfortable and nodding off in front of the college bowl games.

Keep your portions reasonable, and try to fit some exercise in during the day.

Focus on the meal and forget the appetizers, unless they are vegetable nibbles such as carrots sticks.  Don’t starve yourself the rest of the day.  Know the timing of the meal in advance and eat appropriate snacks to keep from going too long without food. This will stave off excessive hunger and keep glucose levels balanced.

Now we get into the fine detail.  Visualize your dinner plate into thirds.  Instead of the traditional plate method of carb counting where ¼ of the plate is starch, today you get a third, plus a small sampling of dessert.  Translation: choose a reasonable slice of one of the pies and no, it doesn’t have to be pumpkin.  Choose the one you like, be it pumpkin or pudding or pecan.

If you take insulin, determine beforehand how you will want to account for the extra carb. If you don’t know how to do this, talk with your educator or doctor in advance. (Knowing how to do this is a good idea in general, not just for the holidays.)

Think about how you can incorporate physical activity into your day.  Remember exercise makes your cells much more insulin sensitive and also burns some calories.  The more you do, the more you get to eat without a  rise in blood glucose. Fit in a gym session before heading off to the feast, or get together a family flag football game pre-dinner.

One more point—extra calories and/or extra carbohydrate on one day have almost no effect on overall glucose control or weight.

And whatever you decide to do about the food, enjoy the holiday!  Remember, Thanksgiving is also about reconnecting with all your family or friends.

3 Responses to Making Thanksgiving Work for You and Your Diabetes

  1. Low Carber says:

    I am more inspired to just eat the meat and salad. Personally I’m not tempted by the rest of the stuff.

  2. Still Learning says:

    I like to take a teaspoon of each of the appealing carb choices, then go back for another of the ones I like. I usually only like one or two, so it doesn’t add up to much. Desserts I do something similar, but ONLY the ones that I like. Pumpkin ain’t on that list! Fresh fruit, however, I’ll eat more of it and dose accordingly, without adding on as many calories as pie, for the same number of carbs.

    Then, on Friday, back to the plant-based eating.

    I did not offer to cook so I can avoid the leftovers, nor do I have to clean the house! : )

  3. Susan Blanton says:

    Come on people…, for every one of you that “don’t want to” or “aren’t tempted” there are a dozen of the rest of us who DO want…..
    When my son developed diabetes (too), I decided I’d better learn to cook differently so he’d be able to stay on his diet w/o feeling lke a martyr. For this T.day were are having: glazed (SF jam) tenderloin medallions, sauced brussel sprouts (Splenda brown sugar), cranberry sauce made w/sug substitute, oranges & walnuts, 2-chocklate cheese cake(SF Oreo cookie crust, SFwhip topping, SFpudding mixed in creamcheese) & a pumpkin triffle (SF pudding, reduced carb milk, SFspiced cake & SFwhip topping).
    Ya’ll come!
    (p.s.–I’ve had diabetes myself for over 40 years)

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