Sometimes you may overeat when you have diabetes, and your best defense is being prepared.
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The holidays are filled with many delicious foods that just make you emotionally feel good. Portions tend to be more than moderate and leftovers are plenty. This type of food environment is tough to control, and although you may have the best intentions, overeating is certainly possible. When you have diabetes, however, this can end up making you feel sluggish and can potentially lead to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. Below you'll find more information on how food impacts blood sugar and five tips on what to do if you eat too much when you have diabetes.

The Impact of Food on Blood Sugar

The carbohydrates from food can cause your blood sugar (aka glucose) to go up after a meal. However, not all carbs are created equally. Complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes are higher in fiber, helping slow down your digestion and avoiding sugar spikes. In contrast, sugary foods like soda, cakes, cookies and pies are also carbs, but their high added sugar content and lack of fiber will cause an increase in your blood sugar. That doesn't mean you need to eliminate carbs from meals. Instead, focus on choosing complex ones over those with added sugar. And when you eat higher in sugar, like baked goods, have a small portion.

The amount of carbohydrates you need to eat is individual and varies depending on factors like your height, weight, sex, activity level and blood glucose management plan. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or registered dietitian (RD) can help you set an eating plan with the number of carbs that work for you. They will also consider your eating preferences, budget and habits when advising you.

Eating too many carbs, perhaps on a special occasion or during the holidays, can wreak havoc on your body, and you probably won't feel well. Also, it can potentially lead to high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Signs and symptoms include high blood glucose, high levels of glucose in the urine, frequent urination and increased thirst.

If you do have hyperglycemia, you want to address it. Failing to take care of hyperglycemia can be life-threatening, as a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis can occur. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), symptoms of ketoacidosis include shortness of breath, breath that smells fruity, nausea, vomiting and a very dry mouth. It is important to talk about all scenarios with your health care provider before they occur so you know how to handle them if it does happen.

What to Do When You Overeat

Breathe

The first thing to do is not to get upset; it happens even under your best intentions. Forgive yourself, have positive thoughts and take the appropriate steps to get your blood sugar back into its normal range.

Check Your Blood Sugar

During the holidays, when there is more food than you're used to or you're not sure how your blood sugar will react, speak with your doctor about how often you should check and what your blood glucose levels should be. Checking your blood glucose and then treating high blood glucose early can help you minimize problems associated with hyperglycemia.

Exercise

Exercise can help lower your blood glucose levels. According to a 2022 study published in Sports Medicine, walking after meals for just 2 minutes is enough to lower blood sugar. However, if your blood glucose is above 240 mg/dl, you should first check your urine for ketones, per ADA. And if you have ketones, you should not exercise as it can increase your blood sugar. Your best bet is to call your doctor to find the safest way for you to lower your blood glucose levels.

Hydrate

When you have hyperglycemia, one of the signs is frequent urination which can lead to dehydration. If you've found yourself overeating, drink plenty of water—at least 8 fluid ounces (or 1 cup) every hour. This can also help dilute the high blood sugar in your bloodstream.

Wear Your Medical ID

It's recommended for folks with diabetes, especially those who use insulin, to wear a medical ID at all times in case of an emergency. The medical ID usually provides critical information about the person's health status, including if they have diabetes and whether or not they use insulin. Some medical IDs include a compact USB drive that can carry a person's complete medical record to use during an emergency. Emergency medical personnel are trained to first look for a medical ID, mainly if someone cannot communicate for whatever reason.

The Bottom Line

When you have diabetes, planning ahead is your biggest strength. This is especially true when there are celebrations or holidays where you want to try all the foods included in the festivities. Remember, saying no to seconds and taking leftovers home is okay. And if you overeat, follow these tips that will help you feel better in no time.