Staff from the Primary Care Network presented a session on managing diabetes during the Christmas season at the Golden Circle on Dec. 4th. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

Tips for managing diabetes over the Christmas season

Primary Care Network staff presented to the Central Alberta Council on Aging

Christmastime can present a particularly challenging season for those with diabetes, as sugary, tasty treats abound pretty much everywhere you go.

Staff from the Red Deer-based Primary Care Network (PCN) hosted a session at the Golden Circle zeroing in on this topic during the Central Alberta Council on Aging general meeting Dec. 4th.

“Remember it’s a holiday, not a holi-season,” noted Shirlee Hegge of the PCN. Hegge touched on a variety of topics from current medication options to lifestyle and exercise to basic dietary rules to follow, particularly at this time of year.

She reminded those gathered that if they follow the ‘80/20’ rule, that is if they take good care of their health and their sugar levels for most of the year, then they can enjoy the tasty treats at Christmas – but all in moderation, of course.

“This doesn’t mean you go crazy with that 20 per cent, but it means you have a bit more flexibility to relax your standards. Remember what you do most of the year has the biggest impact on your health,” she said.

When baking, you can opt to either utilize some form of artificial sweetener, or have a smaller portion of regularly-sweetened fare, she said.

And maybe forego those tempting cookie exchanges, as these can make your freezer become ‘temptation central’.

Another good tip is to eat until you are 80 per cent full, as opposed to overdoing it. As Hegge said, this is a good rule to follow all year long, and studies have shown that those who follow this rule tend to live the longest, she added.

Also, before heading out to a special holiday party, it’s a good idea to have a healthy snack before you go and take in some exercise.

This way, the temptation to over-indulge is also not as strong.

She also noted that if one’s blood sugar creeps too high, efficient ways to push it back down include drinking water and going for a walk. “And if you do overeat, start making healthier choices at the very next meal,” she said. “I don’t have to wait until tomorrow to do something good for myself; I can still ‘save’ the day today. That helps us get back on track sooner.

“Remember also, the sweeter it is, the smaller your portion should be. If you keep that in mind, it covers a whole lot of things,” she said.

As to exercise over the winter and beyond, it’s not about waiting until the motivation kicks in. It’s about taking action. This in turn tends to stimulate that sense of motivation, she said.

“A little progress is better than no progress at all,” she said. “Once we have a few successes under our belts, we are more encouraged to keep going.”

Karen Barry, also of the PCN, said that as no two people are alike, everyone with diabetes needs a customized diabetes care plan. “What works for one individual may not be the best course of treatment for another,” she said.

“A diabetes health care team will work with you and your caregivers to select target blood glucose levels, A1C levels, medications and a program for management of diabetes-related complications,” she said, adding that the impact of diabetes on a given individual can change over time.

“There are changes in the way your body responds and changes in the ways treatments is suggested for you,” she said, pointing out that with food choices, it’s also about balance, quality and quantity.

“Exercise is also (vital) in the development and maintenance of good blood sugar control,” she said. “Sometimes, more exercise can mean less medication.

“Also, a dietitian is a much more reliable resource to access diet information than ‘Dr. Google’.”

Looking ahead, Barry said the PCN will launch a series of discussions next May on various topics pertaining to diabetes.

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