There’s no denying it, the holidays are veritable food fests. From Thanksgiving dinner to Christmas lunches, it’s gathering after gathering situated around various tables. 

While we all can feel a little guilty for overindulging, for some, holiday frivolity can generate serious health complications. 

Jim Williams knows that firsthand. As a diabetic, he knows it is critical for him to keep his focus on his health, even during the celebratory Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.  

After being diagnosed in 2015, it was, naturally, pretty challenging to change the way that he’d always lived. When it came to exercise, a component of living with diabetes, he discovered that morphing his mindset was absolutely key.

“Making changes can be a challenge. Instead of looking at it as having to make yourself exercise, just go for a walk. If it is too hot out, go to the mall and walk the walking path in the mall,” he says. 

Sue Ullrich, Diabetes Program Coordinator at the Southeast Georgia Health System, left, and patient Jim Williams discuss ways to keep diabetes under control during the holiday season.

There are two primary types of diabetes — Type 1 and Type 2. Both involve how the hormone insulin acts within the body. 

“When we eat, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose or sugar, which then goes into our bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone that the body uses to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for energy,” explains Sue Ullrich, Diabetes Program Coordinator at the Southeast Georgia Health System.

“When someone has Type 1 diabetes, their body no longer produces insulin. Type 1 diabetes is managed with insulin therapy, healthy eating, physical activity, and stress management.”  

The second type of diabetes develops when the body can no longer produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin effectively. The treatment plan is similar to the first — healthy eating, increasing activity, and managing stress.

“Various diabetes medications, and insulin are available to assist in the management of Type 2 diabetes,” adds Ullrich.

There are also some people who hover right on the border. This is a condition known as, “pre-diabetes,” which occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than those for someone without diabetes, but not high enough to be diagnosed as a diabetic. 

“Healthy eating, increasing activity, managing stress, and sometimes medications can be used to help prevent pre-diabetes from converting to diabetes,” says Ullrich.

The common thread in all of these management plans is a healthy diet. Diabetics must take their diets seriously in order to maintain their health. It has to become a lifestyle, one that doesn’t change just because the holiday party season rolls around. 

As a diabetic, Williams knows that changing the holiday routine is tricky. But he’s learned a couple of tricks that help.

“When socializing and mingling with people, always have a sparkling water, or something low in calories, in your hand. Participate in, and focus on the conversation, and not on the food,” he says. 

“Another tip: eat a small amount of the one thing that you really like and leave the rest.”

Williams learned many of these techniques from classes at the Southeast Georgia Health System. Along with Ullrich, Lisa Mason, a Registered Dietitian, offers monthly sessions for diabetics, helping patients maintain good health year-round. She also meets one-on-one to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy for those managing the illness.  

The appointments, which are often covered by insurance, closely examine one’s eating habits, and explore how to achieve the best possible results. 

“Healthy eating and monitoring portion sizes play an important role in daily self-management. We focus on an eating pattern that is sustainable, and not the fad diets that typically fail long-term,” Mason says.  

“Making small changes that include healthier food choices over time to your current eating pattern has a major impact on your diabetes management. And therefore, has a major role on your long-term health. Learning what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat are cornerstones to diabetes self-management.”

In addition to sessions with Mason, the health system also offers monthly support groups and extensive information for patients. Staying informed and aware is critically important to continued good health, which of course, is the greatest gift of all. 

“It is important for anyone with pre-diabetes or diabetes to realize these conditions can be managed, and they can live a healthy life. Learning the tools to self-manage pre-diabetes and diabetes on a daily basis is an important part of living with these conditions,” says Ullrich.