The Scarlet ‘D’

Do you ever wish you could leave your diabetes at home?  Maybe you’re at a holiday party, chit chatting with your buds gathered around the bar enjoying an adult beverage (or two), maybe grazing at the table of cookies, cakes and other tempting morsels.  “Oh, I think I’ll try one of those.  Maybe one of those too.  I didn’t bring my diabetes with me, so I don’t have to think about it tonight.”  Diabetes is not last year’s outfit you can leave at home, or a bad relationship you can dump and move on.  It is more like a tattoo.  It goes everywhere with you.

Holidays are the hardest time to have diabetes.   Food is everywhere.  Day light hours are fewer and the weather is harsh, hindering activities and exercise outdoors.  Maybe well-intentioned party hosts offer you sugar free alternatives while others get the good stuff, and you feel like a scarlet D is on your forehead.  When I was first diagnosed in 1991, I was thrilled to find all of the sugar free cookies and chocolate.  I remember devouring a giant bag of chocolate sweetened with sorbitol, thinking this diabetes thing is not that bad, then read the label that said excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.  You also realize that sugar is not the enemy, it is carbohydrate.  The casserole or pasta or potatoes can be just as damaging to your blood sugar as the Ben and Jerry’s and brownies everyone thinks is all you have to avoid.   Everyone with diabetes has encountered someone, no doubt sincere but just not knowledgeable about the condition, who thinks that you are allergic to sugar.  Even though you just gave yourself a private cookie bolus, they spot you sinking your teeth into a chocolate chip beauty and look at you like your face is going to swell into a balloon.  

At holiday parties I try to give myself plenty of bolus doses of insulin and bring my blood sugar meter with me.  An insulin pump is a great tool for delivering multiple boluses conveniently and discretely when food is nibbled and not just at regular meal times.  I check my blood sugar a couple of times, before and during the event, to see if I am keeping myself in control.  I also avoid liquor drinks mixers are usually full of glucose whether it is just juice or daquari mix or some exotic combination.  Beer is a safer alternative that I prefer, and also a little easier to avoid excessive consumption for safe drinking, but again, consume in moderation and amounts you have experience with in the past.  Of course, exercise is extremely important in the winter.  Bundle up and get outdoors, find an indoor sport, or health club.  You blood sugar, and your body, will love you for it.  I was invited to participate in a local Dancing with the Stars competition and I have been amazed how much my blood sugar drops in those hours of practicing.  Being an athlete does not mean you can dance, and I’m finding that out!

Many of us spend a lot of time in the car where low blood sugar can be a real danger.  I keep a blood sugar meter in my car, and check it whenever I have a doubt.  I also keep a bottle of high carbohydrate sport drink called Carbo Force (get it at your local GNC store at the mall) to sip whenever my blood sugar is low.  It has 100 grams of carbohydrate in one 18 ounce bottle so a few sips is all you need, and it does not spoil staying in the car.  I also keep Clif Bars in my glove box and snack on those when needed, and they are also packaged to avoid spoiling and do not melt in the car in hot weather.

Those who read my column will remember last issue I wrote about traveling with diabetes and recommended you bring extras of everything.   Ironically, last month I had to put my advice to use when my insulin pump malfunctioned on the first day of a four day weekend trip out of town.  I called the company and had another shipped overnight to my home because unfortunately I had no place to receive it on my trip.  Fortunately I had syringes and insulin and was able to get by for 3 days on multiple daily injections.

Hang in there these holidays.   You can still have fun and keep your diabetes under control.  Just be smart and remember, excessive consumption can have . . . a lot of effects.

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