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How do you handle holiday food if you have diabetes?

Attendees at MIT Medical event share ideas and strategies for healthy eating
Anna Jasonides (left) and Joan Hill led a group on handling holiday food challenges if you have diabetes.
Anna Jasonides (left) and Joan Hill led a group on handling holiday food challenges if you have diabetes.
Photo: Kim Schive

Almost everyone struggles with maintaining a healthy diet during the holiday season, but for people with diabetes, making the wrong food choices can have serious health consequences beyond simply gaining a few extra pounds. A group of MIT community members with diabetes gathered on Dec. 14 to share strategies for navigating the nutritional minefields of the season — everything from treats in the break room at work to bounteous buffets at holiday parties.

“Coping with Holiday Food Challenges” was sponsored by MIT Medical’s Diabetes Care Management Program and facilitated by MIT Medical’s diabetes educator Joan Hill, R.D., C.D.E., L.D. and nutritionist Anna Jasonides, R.D., L.D., who described the session as “more like a workshop than a class — interactive and less didactic.”

After sharing their biggest challenges and temptations, attendees broke into small groups to discuss coping strategies. To resist temptations at work, for example, participants suggested bringing your own healthy snacks, or “changing the channel in your head” by meditating or going outside for a walk. To avoid overeating at restaurants, one person suggested asking for a to-go container along with the meal so you can put aside half the food as soon as the meal arrives.

Hill and Jasonides encouraged participants to be discerning in making choices. “Enjoy the special treats of the season in moderation,” Jasonides advised. “But don’t fill up on foods you can get any time of the year.”

When it comes to buffets, Jasonides suggested checking out the spread before getting in line. “I tell people to look at the variety in a buffet as a way of making sure that everyone at the event will have a few food choices they’ll enjoy, not as an invitation to eat some of everything,” she said.

Attendees brought bag lunches to the session and enjoyed low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-sugar appetizers and desserts (stuffed mushrooms and almond meringue kisses) prepared by MIT Medical’s Dietary Service. “We wanted to show people they could easily prepare attractive, healthy, and festive foods for their holiday gatherings,” Jasonides said. “We also gave out recipes.”

“Talking with one another and working in small groups seemed especially helpful for many of the folks who attended this session,” said Hill. “It’s definitely something we’ll plan to do more of in the future.”

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