Have you ever stopped to think about why people show love through food during the holidays? It’s not that we can’t say how much we appreciate each other, it’s just that it’s easier to say, “I made your favorite pie!” When you have diabetes, this complicates things - both for being tempted by the cooking and for being on the receiving end of the “loving.”
My grandmother was perhaps the most aggressive “I love you with food” person on the planet. Her love and friendship also happens to have been one of my most treasured gifts I can remember. She would make one of every kind of pie for the holidays, from chocolate silk to pecan to pumpkin. Anytime someone said a type of pie was their favorite, she made it just for them. When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes the “loving through food” had to go through a transformation. It was painful for both of us. I happen to think pie is one of the most holy foods in the universe, and I would eat it every day if I could. Granted, I can still eat everything - just take some insulin, but we all know dosing for dessert is easier said than done—much more of an art than a science.
She and I sat down together and talked about what would be “bolus worthy” and what just wasn’t worth the hassle anymore. I could tell it made her sad, so we agreed she would make the chocolate silk pie I loved and substitute sugar free pudding for the bounty of sugar and chocolate she was using. It made it easier to bolus, but man, it was not the heaven I remembered. After that, I decided we were not changing my favorite dessert, but would just serve it in smaller portions and only make enough to not tempt me to have it night after night.
Navigating the conversation with family on what is served on holidays is much more delicate than it seems
This was a constant negotiation, as my grandmother loved you not only through food, but through sheer volume of food. And she loved me very much, which meant downsizing cooking for an army to trying to cook for the actual headcount. In the end, it was much more compromise, but she was able to do it and so was I.
Navigating the holidays with food is tough. We have deep emotional connections to these foods and what they mean to us. For those who love people “through” cooking, this must be even harder when a loved one needs to have a change. All this is not to say people with diabetes shouldn’t have dessert, it’s more to say that navigating the conversation with family on what is served on holidays is much more delicate than it seems.
I think of the conversations I’ve had with people with diabetes where we have talked about troubleshooting the holidays with family and how we navigated it like the twists and turns in an action film. “If Grandma Jane pulls out the stuffing for thirds, this is what I will do,” etc. It’s a dance and it’s a difficult one to learn since it needs to be relearned at almost every holiday event.
Remember that everyone is negotiating their own script of what they need to do. There is no reason to guilt anyone or ask why they don’t want seconds or thirds of your lovingly cooked dish. Offer the food up to be enjoyed in whatever capacity it needs to be for your family and guests, and don’t worry about the rest. Maybe when you see Grandma Jane shoveling another heaping pile of food onto someone’s plate, you could give her a hug instead. It’s high time we translated feeding people as a loving act into actually showing love. For all the “lovers through food” out there, it’s hard, but with a little practice, that bowl of mashed potatoes can become a warm conversation with your loved one—and managing diabetes during the holidays can be made just a little bit easier.
About the Author:
Molly McElwee-Malloy is the head of patient engagement and director of marketing for TypeZero Technologies, an artificial pancreas company. She also volunteers with the Charlottesville (VA) Free Clinic to help oversee the Diabetes Insulin Titration Telemedicine Program. She's active in the diabetes online community: @MollyMacT1D.