Type 1 & 2 Diabetes: Don’t be a Turkey on Thanksgiving

I really look forward to Thanksgiving. For me, it’s a great time to spend with family and friends, watch some ballgames on TV and eat. All those wonderful traditional dishes that taste so good are ready for my undivided attention. But for a diabetic, Thanksgiving dinner can be a bit tricky when it comes to controlling your blood glucose levels.

By no means do I want to take the joy out of this festive occasion, but I do think a little prudence is in order when it comes eating.

Think About What’s Ahead—Since I have been old enough to remember, Thanksgiving dinner has been a real treat for me. There are just so many choices: turkey, honey-baked ham, stuffing, home-made rolls, green beans, asparagus, pineapple soufflé, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and rum cake, (to name just a few) are always there. 

My Mom can really cook and she doesn’t hold back when it’s holiday time.  Of course, when I became diabetic, she was always tweaking recipes so she could make each dish easier on my glucose levels. 

However, my mom’s Thanksgiving meals are fairly predictable. But you might be eating out or over at a relative’s house this year, so there could be some surprises on the table. I suggest you put a little thought into what you should eat before diving in. Think about your plate ahead of time and then pick the best possible foods that are easy on your blood glucose levels. 

Get Involved—If you happen to be visiting relatives and want to ensure that you have some healthier options available on the big day, offer to bring a few dishes with you or help prepare a few when you arrive. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into planning and cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, so your hosts will probably welcome any help they can get. 

Doing this helps you make sure that some healthier dishes make it to the table. The more proactive you are, the better. Never assume people will be considerate of your health. You have to be the one who takes the lead

(I remember when I was a kid going to birthday parties and how my Mom always brought diet soda for me, just in case they didn’t have any at the party. It is always better to plan ahead rather than have to go without.)

The Other Meal—There’s never much discussion about breakfast on Thanksgiving because it’s a meal most people overlook. This makes sense because everyone in most households is getting ready for “the big show” at either lunch or dinner, so breakfast takes a back seat. 

But for us diabetics, there is no such thing as an overlooked meal. Most of us have a real tendency to over-eat if we show up for a meal starving, so I always like to eat a good breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to do this, but I highly advise it. 

Calculate—Before you begin your journey down the giant buffet line of food, make a mental note of what you plan to stack on your plate. This will give you a ball park estimate of how much insulin you’ll need to give yourself before beginning your feast. Foods like turkey and ham are going to be very low on the carbohydrate side, therefore will be easy to calculate. Sweet potatoes on the other hand, good luck! Once your plate is full and you sit down, be sure to give yourself insulin before eating. Never eat first.

Don’t Punish Yourself—Yes, Thanksgiving with all its special treats isn’t one of the easiest of holidays for a diabetic, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have any. I encourage everyone to have at least one or two items he or she wouldn’t usually eat as a reward for dealing with a day as tough as this. By having a small treat, this prevents you from giving in to an even bigger temptation later in the day. 

Portion Control—While it’s okay to have one or two “goodies” on your plate, the critical component is how much you put there. Portion control is our biggest enemy at times. Just because it is a holiday does not mean we should pig out, especially since the amount of exercise most of us do on Thanksgiving is minimal. All foods that you select to go on your plate should be conservative amounts: Moderation is the key. 

If you are having a hard time resisting the urge, try to sit as far away as possible from poor food choices to remove the temptation. Not being able to see all the goodies truly helps. Try to have one steadfast rule: No second servings for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods—It’s “one and done” for them.

The Aftermath—We all know “that” feeling, the feeling of being completely stuffed you get after a great Thanksgiving meal. The turkey starts to resonate in our stomachs and a sudden wave of drowsiness starts to fall over us. The next thing you know, you are thinking that a nap sure would be nice. Don’t fight it; you deserve a nice little refresher after a long day of eating. 

After the nap is when you’ll need to make a choice. Try to get up and do some type of physical activity. I’m not saying that you have to go exercise, but sitting around for the remainder of the day is not going to help you secure the low blood glucose level we all so desire. Our bodies need to move to get that insulin flowing. Take a walk, go throw the football with some friends, or if you are really feeling generous, help clean up the dishes. 

My Meal Plan—Turkey, three or four slices of ham, green beans, asparagus, a small scoop of sweet potatoes and stuffing, along with some pineapple soufflé are going to be my choices for Thanksgiving dinner. For my special treat, I’ll have one slice of rum cake.  

Enjoy Yourself—Don’t let diabetes get in the way of enjoying Thanksgiving. This is a fun time to spend with our families, and having diabetes doesn’t have to put a damper on it. Take the necessary precautions to make the day easier and keep you feeling good by properly managing your diabetes. Relax, take a breath, and enjoy!

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