Surviving the holidays with diabetes

Dietitian offers tips for everyone to watch calorie, carb intake

Be honest. How much candy have you already eaten today? (This blog was posted on Halloween.) On top of that, Halloween kicks off two months of chocolate, cakes and other holiday sweets.

This time of year can be hard to control calorie and carbohydrate intake for anyone, especially people with diabetes

Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, dietitian and diabetes education specialist with St. Joseph’s/Candler

“Three months of candy, sweets and sugary desserts are a big part of most everyone’s holiday celebrations, with once-a-year types of foods especially tempting,” says Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, dietitian and diabetes education specialist with St. Joseph’s/Candler. “There are more opportunities to socialize, which always have a food component. Holiday times also are often high stress with a wide range of emotions. Stress eating and emotional eating can lead to overdoing the sweets and treats that are more easily available during holiday months.”

To help both kids and adults, whether or not they have diabetes, Cowan offers some advice.


Halloween is a great time of the year for youth, one that kids with diabetes can enjoy as much as anyone.

Cowan encourages walking during trick-or-treating as opposed to driving.  She also offers some “tricks” parents can use to help manage candy consumption.

Allow kids to pick out a few pieces to eat when they return from trick-or-treating and then allow a piece or two every night for dessert or packed into a lunch box if allowed for one to two weeks.

“Small pieces eaten as part of a meal have less effect on the blood sugar than when eaten in between meals,” Cowan says.

After one or two weeks, Cowan recommends throwing away leftover candy or allow the child to exchange the remaining candy for a gift or toy.

Related Article: 10 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating 

Thanksgiving and Christmas

After the treats of Halloween commence a parade of potlucks, Thanksgiving feasts and merry desserts.

“Many holiday foods are rich in calories, such as stuffing, gravy, highly seasoned veggies and desserts, meaning they are especially high in fats which add significantly to our extra calories consumed,” Cowan says.

Cowan offers these eight tips to help all of us manage holiday eating:

  1. Reduce portions eaten to half portions at one time. Because the food choices at holiday meals are many, this allows us to taste most everything without going overboard.
  2. Prepare a second plate for later, rather than having seconds is the best way to enjoy the delicious foods longer and not have the effects of high blood sugars seen when we eat too much at one time.
  3. Make or take a green salad, fruit salad or low-carb veggie dish that gives a healthy calorie choice. A healthy, calorie-friendly dish also is a welcome to others who are trying to be mindful eaters.
  4. Try using a fat-free or low-fat substitute for cheese, broth, soups, milk and cream in recipes. Reduce the amount of oil and/or butter in recipes and substitute with water, egg whites or even applesauce to make recipes healthier.
  5. Be sure to eat a light breakfaster rather than just skip meals leading up to the big feast.
  6. Drink lots of water and calorie-free beverages throughout the day to help control blood sugar highs.
  7. People with diabetes should more frequently check their blood sugar when your meal times and food choices are different from your normal routine.
  8. Take walks or get to the gym regularly during the holidays, especially after larger meals, to better control blood sugars.

Related Article: Eight misconceptions about diabetes

The St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Diabetes Management is an American Diabetes Association certified program. It offers individual diabetes management counseling programs as well as group educational classes on topics including exercise, carb counting and diet and preventing complications with diabetes.

A doctor’s referral is required for insurance reimbursement; however, the staff can help with referrals. For more information, call 912-819-6146 or visit our website.

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000