Understanding Diabetes

I’ve got my Thanksgiving countdown going on. I love Thanksgiving and I’m actually a little annoyed when Christmas takes over too early! Sure as a Christian I love Christmas, I mean the best thing in the world came to earth and that’s why we celebrate it BUT Thanksgiving is just awesome. It’s a month that I take every year to step back and be thankful for my blessings. I enjoy the food…turkey, side dishes, pies, but I also love the family time…it’s all wonderful! When you have diabetes though, the holidays can be a time of worrying about what your blood sugars are going to be for over a month!

When you have diabetes, the holidays can be a time of worrying about what your blood sugars are going to be for over a month! If you have your 3-month appointment any time within the December, January, or February time-frame you know how stressful it can be! Your A1c level tattle tells you and there’s just no way around it! 🙂

Blood sugars can be finicky especially when you are eating foods that you don’t normally eat; however, they can also be quite calculated if you understand diabetes and how your diet interacts with your blood sugars! What you eat and WHEN you eat can be the map to better blood sugars.

This is the first installation of a few posts about diabetes and eating to control your blood sugars through the holidays! These posts are also helpful if you have a family member or friend with diabetes.

So what is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects your pancreas. Your pancreas is an organ in your digestive system that makes insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key to open cells in your body to let sugar inside. The sugar goes into your bloodstream from eating foods with carbohydrates.

Picture this…

You go to the grocery store and come home. Let’s be honest, we all try to get into the house by making the least amount of trips, so you pile those grocery bags on your arms. You get up to your house and the door is locked and somewhere between the grocery store and home, you’ve lost your house key. Without that key, you can’t get in and your groceries are stuck on your arm, weighing you down BUT that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that whoever is inside the house won’t get fed without those groceries.

You’re welcome…

Well…when you eat foods with CARBOHYDRATES your body turns that into sugar or GLUCOSE. The groceries are GLUCOSE  and you are the BLOODSTREAM. Your BLOODSTREAM’S job is to bring the GLUCOSE to the CELL door (your house door). The problem is if your body doesn’t have the key which is INSULIN then the GLUCOSE doesn’t get into CELLS and your body doesn’t get fed.

SO the problem isn’t necessarily that the sugar is in your blood, but that the sugar is NOT getting into your cells. Still with me????

When you check your blood sugar and it is high, the sugar isn’t feeding your cells because it is stuck in your bloodstream due to a problem with your insulin.

Now that you know what diabetes is and what happens inside of your body, stay tuned for ways to keep your sugars controlled during the holidays!

Diabetes and the Holidays

As a dietitian I can appreciate how difficult the holidays can be for someone with diabetes. Year round is challenging for those that struggle with blood sugar control, but when you are surrounded by pie, cookies, candy, cakes, carbs, carbs, carbs the holidays can be down right scary.

I have a few tips for those with diabetes and pre-diabetes for this time of year and I hope it helps you get through with level blood sugars and feeling empowered!

  1. Remember it’s not just sugar that increases your glucose. Carbohydrates in any shape or form raise your blood sugars. That is not necessarily a bad thing but the amount is important! Sure the sweets make your glucose go up but so do potatoes, pasta, rice, sweetened beverages, crackers, chips, pretzels and many other foods. Watch your portions.
  2. One cookie may be fine but 3 cookies could make your sugars sky rocket. Know your body and know your limits.
  3. Test, test, test, test, test. Ignorance is not bliss. Know your blood sugars!
  4. Take your medicine/insulin. Again, testing is key but so is being compliant on your medications. If your body needs help controlling blood sugars and your doctor has prescribed you a medication to lower them…take the meds your body needs!
  5. Pair with protein. A meal of cookies, cake, crackers, pie, and fruit punch may land you a trip to the hospital. Lower your portion sizes, pick and choose the carbohydrates you really want to eat, and then pair those carbohydrates with protein. Things like cheese, meats, eggs, and Greek yogurt are great sources of protein.
  6. Don’t waste carbohydrates or calories. If you pick something to eat at a holiday party and it doesn’t taste good Do. Not. Waste. Carbohydrates! Politely throw it away and get something else that you would enjoy.
  7. Alcohol is not a carbohydrate. Contrary to popular belief beer, wine, and liquor will not bring your blood sugars up. Although there are “carbohydrates” on the label alcohol technically digests like a fat so it won’t send your glucose sky high. If you pair alcohol with a sugary beverage then count on the sugary beverage to increase your blood sugars.
  8. Eat regularly. Even if you are going to a big holiday party in the evening, eat a regular breakfast, lunch, and snacks to keep your blood sugars under control.
  9. HbA1c’s don’t lie. Even if your next doctors appointment isn’t until February the HbA1c blood test will tell your doctor an average blood sugar over the last 3 months. He or she will know if the holiday season was tough on your blood sugars! It’s like Santa…it sees you when you’re eating, it knows when you don’t take your medications, so for goodness sake be careful! 🙂
  10. Why do you care what your blood sugars are during the holidays? Because every time your glucose goes too high it impacts your body in a big way. It affects your eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves, and brain especially. Keeping it under control will not only make your doctor happy but it will also make your body happy.

If you need extra help this holiday season go to see your dietitian. Make an appointment to get a game plan for Christmas parties, cookie exchanges, family gatherings, and keeping blood sugars controlled in your every day life. Having trouble finding a dietitian? Check with your local hospital or Find An Expert.