Gearing up for Holiday Treats: Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

Holiday Pies

As we enter into the holiday season and the aromas of fresh-baked pies, roasting turkeys, and wonderful holiday foods fill the air, it becomes difficult not to give in to sugar cravings and overeat, gaining another few pounds on top of last year’s contribution. But many people don’t realize that these habits increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, among a number of related health problems.

Most Americans are resigned to the fact that they will come out of the holiday season weighing just a bit more than they did going in, and most actually plan to lose the weight afterward. Unfortunately, most also have a low likelihood of following an effective plan for doing so. This is the time of year when we should ask ourselves, “What are my habits doing to my body?” Or perhaps, “How can I enjoy holiday foods without putting myself at risk?”

There is still hope for making it through an entire holiday season without gaining an ounce or placing ourselves at risk – but a lifetime of overeating and giving in to a hankering sweet tooth may have already caused considerable damage to our bodies.

Avoiding High Risk Behaviors

If you think you aren’t at risk for diabetes, these statistics may come as a surprise. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the United States:

  • • 35% of people over 20 years of age have prediabetes (the stage before diabetes in which the damage may still be reversible) – many of which haven’t yet been diagnosed
  • • 11.3% of people over 20 already have diabetes
  • • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in America
  • • Diabetes is the primary cause for kidney failure, nontraumatic limb amputations, and adult-onset blindness
  • • Diabetes significantly contributes to heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and nervous system disease

On the positive side, studies have shown that there are a number of ways we can change our habits to become healthier, happier, less stressed, and far less likely to develop diabetes.

Exercise 30 minutes every day. Exercise lowers blood sugar levels and helps the body to achieve optimal insulin levels to efficiently transport energy to the muscles and organs when they need it.

Limit meal sizes to doctor-approved levels. Too much body fat around the waistline directly translates into a much greater likelihood of developing diabetes – especially if your BMI (Body Mass Index) is over 25. By consulting with your doctor and eating smart, you can add years of feeling and looking great to your life.

Replace partial wheat products with whole wheat. Clinical studies have shown that partial wheat products and low fiber intake often leads to obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. Whole wheat, on the other hand, is a great source of fiber, helps to reduce cholesterol, and provides stable energy throughout the day.

Schedule regular checkups that include fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1c tests. By catching problems early, you may be able to reverse damage and avoid diabetes altogether. See your doctor at least once per year for a checkup and blood screening, or every 3 months if you are in a high risk category.

Avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing diabetes-related diseases like heart disease and stroke, in addition to numerous health problems. Clinical studies also show that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages reduces the risk of heart attack, but heavy drinking leads to numerous health issues and increases the risk for developing diabetes.

Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High cholesterol and blood pressure levels significantly increase the risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. Consult with your doctor regarding the most effective methods for keeping these under control.

Know your risk category and compensate for it. Age, race, gender, and family history all factor into your risk for developing diabetes. By understanding your inherent risk, you can take precautions to increase your chances of staying diabetes free, or reducing the severity of symptoms if diabetes develops.

Visit the American Diabetes Association or the CDC to learn more about these risks and how to compensate for them.


Trade Bad Habits for Good Ones

Everyone reacts differently when attempting to change bad habits, but there are a few principles that will help you find success through the trials and temptations ahead.

A recent University College of London study shows that it takes 66 days to form new habits. This is far longer than most people anticipate, which is why we often find short term success, only to fall right back into old behaviors a few weeks later.

Breaking bad habits is somewhat trickier to categorize in a specific time range. Psychologist Ian Newby Clark teaches that the time it takes to break a bad habit depends on how ingrained that habit is. If you’re particularly attached to it, and you’ve been indulging for a few decades, it will certainly take more than a few weeks to succeed. Succeed by knowing that it will be difficult, staying focused, rewarding yourself for good behavior, and avoiding self-punishment for occasional setbacks.

Maintaining good habits while avoiding the bad ones for at least 66 days yields the greatest chances of remaining strong for any length of time thereafter. Break up the time into manageable intervals, and don’t get frustrated if you struggle. Write down your progress in a visible place as a constant reminder, and picture your healthier, happier life for best results.


ADA: Diabetes Basics
ADA: How to Tell if You Have Prediabetes
ADA: Prevention
CDC: National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011
How long does it take to form a habit?
New England Journal of Medicine: Roles of Drinking Pattern and Type of Alcohol Consumed in Coronary Heart Disease in Men
PubMedHealth: Type 2 Diabetes
Psychology Today: Creatures of Habit