Diabetes in the Wild: Holiday Party Hacks


Note: This article is part of our library of resources for Celebrations & Holidays. Check out our food and drinking tips as well as an array of holiday carb charts here.

The holidays are here again, somehow. For most, the idea of holiday festivities is fun and exciting. For those of us with diabetes, however, there often needs to be a bit of planning involved before we can party it up.

Lower-carb, gluten-free and other alternative recipe foods have gotten quite trendy, which makes it easier to exist as a person who needs to count carbohydrates and dose insulin. But holiday nostalgia being what it is, most festive recipes haven’t gotten the same update. We all want the cookies, cakes, candies, drinks and other sugary items that remind us of holidays past, and it can be difficult for our brains to accept new ways of doing things when there are traditions involved. Add in family expectations, heirloom recipes, and just wanting! to! have! the! treat! dang it! and holidays can be frustrating to navigate.

Enter: holiday party hacks. Here are a few questions (and my ensuing two cents) about certain holiday festivity scenarios that are often tricky to navigate.

My friend always hosts parties with only sugary food options. How can I stick to my lower-carb diet without seeming rude?

First, it depends on how good of a friend this person is. If you are super comfortable being honest with them, it couldn’t hurt to be clear about any low-carb preferences. Put yourself in their shoes. If you had a friend with a medical consideration that you could make easier by providing one or two extra snacks, wouldn’t you do it for them?!

Another great option is to offer to bring something for the party. Not many party hosts would refuse extra food. There are a ton of delicious lower-carb party treats you could bring that everyone could enjoy. For instance:

  • Veggie tray with hummus
  • Cheese platter
  • Charcuterie board
  • Cocktail sausages
  • Smoked salmon or sashimi
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Mixed nuts (make sure there are no serious nut allergies!)
  • Deviled eggs

Or, if you have a little more time on your hands, you could make your own low-carb dessert! My favorite recipe by far is Grace & Salt’s low-carb chocolate chip cookies.

I personally have one friend (I will not name names; she knows I love her) who always seems to make her parties some theme that involves SUGAR.

She can’t seem to get the hint, so I just keep throwing massive amounts of low-carb, high protein options in her face. (Probably not the worst threat, in retrospect. Hey… let me essentially cater your parties with awesome, healthy snacks!) Oh well. Whatever works.

Disclaimer: I (Alexi) am not pushing one way or the other for strict, low-carb eating. It is simply how I tend to eat! I know many others who do as well, and many who do not. And, not to say that I don’t indulge every now and then. Check out our resources on food and diabetes to learn more about different ways to eat that could be great for you! 

A lot of my family members just don’t understand managing diabetes. They try to push me to eat certain things. What should I do when they keep insisting?

We all have one (or two) of “those” in our immediate family. A lot of people don’t want to put in the effort to learn about a disease, either because it does not affect them directly or because the reality of it might scare them too much.

Never be ashamed to hold your ground on what is best for you. Managing our diabetes and staying healthy always takes precedence over someone else’s mere comfort. If you don’t want to eat something, don’t eat it. JUST SAY NO!

This is its own form of peer pressure, only this time it’s not our peers trying to get us to try pot for the first time. It’s our own families being a little bit ignorant of the gravity of our day-to-day health concerns.

A good plan of action is to have a “sit down” with those family members and really explain, in perhaps a condensed way, what exactly you have to do each time you eat carbs, and how they affect you. Show them your insulin pens, syringes, or pump. Show them your continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or glucometer readings! Seeing something concrete to reflect back to may help make it real for them.

I always tend to drink alcohol at holiday parties with my friends and family, but I have overdone it a little bit sometimes. How can I make sure that I stay responsible about my blood sugar levels but also have fun?

First—be sure to check out our Alcohol + Diabetes Guide! Always be safe when drinking, no matter what!

An important thing to keep in mind is how different forms of alcohol impact our blood sugar levels. No alcohol is alike in that regard. It is also important to note the unique carb counts for each drink, especially if it is mixed with a juice or something sugary. Adjust your insulin dosages accordingly as advised by your doctor.

Another good trick is to ask a friend to be your “Designated Blood Sugar Buddy.” If you typically check your blood sugar with a meter, have that person come bug you to check every hour or so while you’re drinking and being merry. If you wear a CGM, give that person your transmitter (if they’ll be at the party and close to you) or invite them to follow along using your CGM’s sharing app, if yours has one. Let that person know that you will be drinking that evening (and where you will be if they are not with you), so that they know to look out for alerts, and what to do in case of emergency.

It also never hurts to carry your emergency glucagon with you any time, although it is important to note that glucagon may not work when drinking alcohol.

And—as always—make sure to drink lots of water (try one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume) and eat a good, balanced meal with protein beforehand.

I was invited to a Christmas party last year and wound up getting low. I was embarrassed and had to go into the bathroom to have some glucose tablets. After that, I really just wanted to leave. How can I avoid this happening next time?

Parties are always high risk for getting low or high blood sugars because we may be eating different things or more frequently than our bodies are used to. I have noticed that when I am at parties I tend to “graze” quite a bit, which is not very friendly to blood sugar numbers if the foods are higher in carbs.

It always helps me to take a quick scan of the foods and appetizers that I know I will be gravitating toward right when I arrive and noting the carb count for each of them. It makes it much easier to keep a tally of what I’ve been shoveling into my trap and calculating it accordingly for my insulin.

Check out these Holiday Carb Charts that give us a whole lot less math to do before the partying commences!

Secondly, do not ever feel embarrassed to correct your low or high blood sugars around your friends and family. One helpful thing about holiday parties when it comes to lows, as I’ve noted, is that there is usually no shortage of sugary options to easily and stealthily bring that blood sugar back up!

WRITTEN BY Alexi Melvin, POSTED 12/12/18, UPDATED 11/03/22

Alexi Melvin is a writer, artist and actress in the Bay Area. She also serves as a member of the Beyond Type 1 Leadership Council. Alexi studied at the New School University in Manhattan as well as the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. She has written for multiple publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and has been a regular contributor for Beyond Type 1 for many years. You can also hear her voice in two Star Wars films. She has been a loyal advocate for type 1 diabetes awareness, education and fundraising since she was diagnosed in 2003. She hopes to continue to empower and be a voice for those who choose to embrace type 1 diabetes as a part of their lives, but at the same time, do not allow it to define them. Instagram: @alexienergyart Twitter: @aleximelvin