From the Patient Advisory Board: Navigating the Holidays with Type 2 Diabetes

The MCT2D Patient Advisory Board is a coalition of Michiganders with type 2 diabetes (and their caregivers) who meet bi-monthly to review MCT2D initiatives, provide insights from a patient's perspective, and share their health and health care experiences in ways that shape the direction of the Collaborative.
To the right is PAB member Richard wearing his "Seven Dwarfs of Diabetes" sweatshirt, with "Giddy, Thirsty, Hungry, Dizzy, Shaky, Feisty, and Exhausted."
In the last session of 2022, the PAB shared how they navigate stressful holiday situations. Below is a compilation of their experiences of the holidays while living with type 2 diabetes—tips, reflections of gratitude, and recipes!

The end of the year brings opportunities to celebrate traditions and togetherness with friends and family. Holidays gatherings can be a source of great joy but also unique stressors. Long car rides to new destinations, inquiring relatives, and giant snack platters—to name a few. Here are some tips from the Patient Advisory Board, lightly transcribed with permission:

Be ready for Aunt Tillie.

According to our Board, every holiday gathering or family party has one. Aunt Tillies' know you have type 2 diabetes and like to scan your paper plate or meet you at the snack table to ask, "Are you supposed to be eating that?" So, what to do when you encounter them? Dick, a patient advisor from Portage, Michigan, recommended:
Take it as an educational moment. Know yourself, your health, and your options. "Yes I'm a person with diabetes. I can eat anything I want. It's about the quantity, mix, and how I've fit this into my [meal] plan."
Another member added that they say
"Here's what diabetes is all about. I'll have more vegetables, but I can still enjoy my holiday."
For many of us, the "Aunt Tillie" is the voice inside our head or a fear of judgement from others. Liisa, a PAB member, shares, "It took a good month before I could tell my kids [about my type 2 diabetes]. They're all adults, but it was, and still is, it's embarrassing." For her, the superpower that she enabled to fight that fear was education and action.
It took a serious conversation with her primary care physician and MCT2D member, Dr. Elizabeth Albright, DO, of University of Michigan Health-West in Caledonia. Liisa worked with Dr. Albright to sign up for a diabetes education class and developed the tools to talk knowledgeably about Type 2.

Portions and knowing what amount is right for you

A patient advisory recommended talking to your doctor about serving sizes. "If you want M&M's find the amount that's right for you." Having diabetes at the holidays doesn't mean completely giving up all the treats, but understanding the impact of different foods, food quantities, and interactions with medications and exercise on your blood sugar. If you or your patient is just getting started, we've developed a low carb lifestyle one-page guide to jumpstart the conversation. If you're ready for a deeper dive, explore our Jumpstart program patient education website for goal setting and meal planning tools with recipes. More about the Jumpstart site.

Get creative with the "family heirloom."

Maybe Aunt Tillie is the one who cooks the "family heirloom" pumpkin pie sundae. Having type 2 diabetes doesn't mean you have to be out of club. For one PAB member, it just meant finding no sugar substitutions—like low carb ice cream, skipping the crust, or having a smaller portion.
The Patient Advisory Board teamed up with our Healthy Eating Jumpstart Program to develop and share diabetes-friendly recipes that were a take on family favorites or new traditions. For Delene, it was her mama's cauliflower soup: "“[I] grew up with cauliflower soup…mom grew up in the Depression and could cook lots of things with cauliflower.” Delene also shared a party favorite: Bacon-wrapped asparagus.

Get up and Move

If you're taking a long road trip or flight for the holidays, remember to get up and move. Stretch your legs, take a walk, especially after a big meal. Here are recommendations from the American Diabetes Association on breaking your sitting streak.

Give Thanks

For Liisa, support from her family made all the difference in her outlook on life with type 2 diabetes. She eventually shared her diagnosis with her children. She brought home diagrams and information she had picked up in her diabetes education classes. Her family "really started to get it." As she adapted her diet and lifestyle, so did they. Her husband was her biggest champion.
"[My family] is observing things that are specific to what I'm going through right now, so they can be helpful and not critical. [I have] such a supportive family. I feel it. I'm on the receiving end of it this time, and it's a wonderful feeling. And it helps me get going."
Around the dinner table, it becomes clear that diabetes is a family affair. Having active support from caregivers and family members is critical and can even lead to deeper connections.

We want to extend our warmest thanks and gratitude to members of the Patient Advisory Board. Thank you for sharing your time, laughter, debate, and insights for the future of the Michigan Collaborative for Type 2 Diabetes. Our collaborative is made stronger because of you! Thank you!
If you are interested in joining the MCT2D Patient Advisory Board or would like to recommend a patient, reach out ccteam@mct2d.org.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Care Network of Michigan

Support for the Michigan Collaborative on Type 2 Diabetes is provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network as part of the BCBSM Value Partnerships program. BCBSM’s Value Partnerships program provides clinical and executive support for all CQI programs. To learn more about Value Partnerships, visit www.valuepartnerships.com. Although Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Collaborative on Type 2 Diabetes work in partnership, the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by MCT2D do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of BCBSM or any of its employees.