The Winter Survival Guide (How To Thrive In The Cold and Cheer)

Diabetes Winter Time

‘Tis the season to begin all things with ’tis the season. Colder temperatures inspire big lifestyle changes. Our diet shifts, time in the sun drops, and daily movement declines. We tend to think of these change as burdens on our healthy lifestyles (and diabetes management), but really, it’s all natural. We’re supposed to slow down, go inside, and be by a fire.

This article is not about rebelling against winter or the holidays. Again, these are not detriments to our health. Instead, let us harness its spirit to wind up healthier (with a lower a1c) come spring. It’s possible, let’s check out how I’m doing it.

Sleep is our secret weapon

I just listened to a podcast from Rich Roll, with sleep expert Shawn Stevenson, and yeah, sleep is important. Especially during winter, this is our natural time to recover. Sleep is the force amplifier. We do everything better when our sleep quality improves, including daily diabetes decision making.  To share a few hacks from their show, I’ll mention the tips I’m actively using in my life:

  • BLACK OUT THE WINDOWS – This isn’t just for the night shifters. This is for all of us. Anyone else ever woken up in the middle of the night and found the street light shining through the blinds annoying? Me too, it’s probably because that street light woke us up.
  • GET SUNLIGHT – Especially early in the day, our body seeks the daily pattern of light. I try to sneak out to watch the sunrise (wherever possible), take a walk before lunch and after lunch, and always keep the windows open. This primes a more robust release of melatonin later!
  • LIMIT ARTIFICIAL LIGHT LATE-NIGHT – Screen time is inversely linked to sleep quality, I can feel this from experience. If I distance the television or phone in just that previous hour before bed, it works wonders on sleep onset. If you work into the evenings (after the sunset), try out f.lux. It blocks out a good portion of the light that prevents deep sleep.

Begin a new diabetes daily habit

Winter is the time to move inside, inspiring us to ask the deeper questions. Like, how can I actually improve my diabetes management? I’m ditching the standard logic of, “In 3 months, I will have an a1c of X”, and now use an a1c calculator to see the average blood sugar necessary for an a1c goal. Even then, having an actual blood sugar number may not be the spark that lights the a1c change.

Really, daily habits are less abstract for me than a number. I get better results from habit construction. A few tangible habits I work to incorporate are eating meals as my blood sugar is stable or declining, limiting low fixes to 20 carbs, and taking a walk after lunch. Just one choice repeated daily over 3 months does wonders.

Lift weights again

About once per year, usually in the summer, a thought like this appears, “Ya know, I may never go back to the gym ever! I love the trail so much!” Unfortunately, this thought neglects seasonality and daylight savings, effectively cutting off trail activities at 5PM (I’m getting a bike headlight for a partial fix). So, to remain active on weekdays, the gym has called… and I’m loving it! Blood sugar stabilization due to anaerobic activities cannot be understated. One particular difference I always notice is better fasting sugars when I incorporate weights back in the routine.

Eat whole foods

The holidays are meant to be a joyous time, not filled with moments spent back in grandma’s pantry manually carb counting off of bags of brown sugar and chocolate chips. I do not advocate for full-on sweet adventures, but I also have a tolerance policy. Shifting the focus toward eating as many whole foods (fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, etc.) as possible during the other days of December, then when something that’s off my usual food plan appears, like pumpkin pie, I might eat a slice if the situation is right, if my blood sugar’s in a good spot, and give carb counting my best shot. Overall, getting hung up in the fine details of carb counting over one family get together isn’t the focus. The focus shines more on the accumulation of nutrients and good diabetes habits surrounding that one choice, so that one miss on a piece of pie doesn’t take away from the big picture.


Sleep, habits, movement, and good food. Best of luck moving into the new season everyone! Let’s touch base come spring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.