In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, Courtney Wilson, a registered dietitian and diabetes care and education specialist at Texas Health Resources, offers people with diabetes tips and tricks for navigating the holiday sugar rush.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Alexis Allison: What is a diabetes care and education specialist?
Courtney Wilson: Our biggest goal is to focus on the individual person and to guide them through the process of their diabetes journey. We have gone to school — you could either be a nurse, a psychologist or pharmacist registered dietitian, anyone that has a medical degree that also is wanting to specialize in this area of diabetes. And so we just meet people where they’re at, educate them and just help them be healthier and try to prevent some of those long-term complications.
Allison: How do people prevent long-term complications? I guess my question is more about diabetes management in general — what does that look like?
Wilson: People with diabetes have to make a decision on different things that they’re doing throughout the day. They’re making decisions based on what’s going to keep their blood sugars in the target range that they’re looking for. Even the level of stress can affect our blood sugars, being sick can affect our blood sugars. Just learning how to do stress management and work with how our body processes our food, because it’s different from the person next to us. So, just learning and self-discovery.
Allison: How do the holidays affect people who are living with diabetes?
Wilson: I think that you take what they’ve been doing the rest of the year, and you magnify it more. So you have added stress, you have added parties, more events that you might be at, or you have more emotional situations that you’re in, where maybe mental health is something that people are struggling with. It might not be a happy time for them. A lot of those different things can come out in your body as a stress reaction and that could raise blood sugars. A lot of those are external things, but also, how do I cope with them on the internal level? And do I drink that sugary drink? Or choose the other option?
Allison: What are some tips and tricks that you have for people with diabetes during the holidays?
Wilson: A holiday is a great time to be around other people and enjoy the memories. A lot of those memories come with food. Trying to figure out, what is it that I want? What is it that I like most about this holiday? Because, you know what? I can eat mashed potatoes in the summer. So, if I’m going to eat a carb, I want it to be a carb that I can’t really get another time of the year. And then, how much is that carb going to affect my blood sugar? Maybe the portion size isn’t quite as big as I would have eaten in the past. I’m just getting a couple of bites of it instead of taking the whole slice of that pie.
Maybe a quarter of my plate has some kind of food that would be considered a carbohydrate — whether it’s the dressing, or the mashed potatoes, or any of those types of things, making it the smaller size of your plate. Even to the point of, you know what, I still have three meals in a day, why is this day treated any different? Why am I trying to force it all into one session? Whether it’s like, you start out with the potato roll for breakfast with your scrambled eggs and then you move to lunch and have another carb that you really like, and then a little bit later, have another kind of carb, so you’re separating them out through the day so that you’re not getting this huge spike at one time.
Allison: The CDC is recommending that people with diabetes eat pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie. Why would that be?
Wilson: It comes down to, how fast is that going to break down in my body? So when I think about a pecan pie, I’m like, ‘Oh, pecans have a lot of good protein and fat.’ But really, that pecan is just the little sliver layer on the top and the rest of it is this sugary yumminess in the middle. Compared to a pumpkin pie, where it’s going to have pumpkin, which is a higher fiber carbohydrate. We have egg in there, which is a protein. You have some sugar still, but it’s going to have less of that ooey, gooey, plain sugar, that’ll raise that number pretty quick.
I mean, can you figure out ways to adjust the pecan pie? You probably can with altering the recipe some. There’s no wrong. I think that that’s the biggest thing: There’s no food that should be treated as the bad guy in the holidays. It’s just, how big a portion can I really eat? Am I willing to eat that size of it and be satisfied?
Allison: I feel like I need to go eat pie after we finish our conversation. Are there any tips that are not food related that you have for people as they navigate the holidays?
Wilson: A lot of times we eat that food, and then we go sit on the couch and just hang out. But what if we made a tradition of being more active? I know here in Texas, usually it’s not going to be that cold outside. We can put on our little jackets and head out, maybe walk the block with the family. I know some people have traditions of playing football in the yard or something like that. But just being physically active can make a big difference.
Also, from the mental health perspective, seeking help if you need professional help with some of that. Emotional help as well from your family, your friends, your support people in your life. Or even, what helps you cope with stress? Is it turning on your favorite music and dancing with nobody watching you? Is it listening to something that just kind of chills you out? How do you manage your stress and de-stress? Because, even if we are happy and everything’s going the way it’s supposed to, we have deadlines, right? Have I gotten all of my grocery shopping done? Have I gotten my shopping list done as far as Christmas presents and that type of thing? There are a lot of stresses and trying to figure out how to plan ahead so that there’s less of that.
Allison: If anyone wants to learn more about navigating diabetes during the holidays, where would you direct them?
Wilson: There’s so many different choices. Of course, I work at Texas Health Resources and I think that we have such an awesome program here with lots of great diabetes care and education specialists. Our website is texashealth.org/diabetes. We also have a phone number — it’s 800-804-3399, if they want to call.
I think a great resource is going to be the American Diabetes Association, especially if it’s related to nutrition. They have a website that’s just for recipes. They have great holiday recipes on there. It’s called the diabetesfoodhub.org. You can just type in anything and it’ll pop up and tell you how many carbs are in it. And they’re very yummy. I’ve actually tried the pumpkin pie one — it’s really good.
Allison: Thank you, Courtney. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Wilson: Just take a breath, right? Just take a breath and be in the moment and enjoy yourself even in all of the choices that we have to make. And just know that the season is full of memories for us. Some of them good, some of them bad, but hopefully we’re going to make some good ones this year.
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.