The importance of diet for diabetes self-management isn’t just about better glucose management. The right eating plan will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, can help prevent the development of diabetes-associated complications. But what if you need to lose weight first before you can think about maintaining a healthy weight? Here are some tried and tested methods to help you.
1. Reduce calories by focusing on nutrient quality.
With so many fad diets, it is easy to get caught up in the hype. However, research has found that fad diets rarely work in the long term. Focusing on the quality of nutrients in your meals and total calories consumed is a more effective approach for long-term weight loss. In fact, choosing nutrient-rich, high-quality foods is an easy way to consume fewer calories. Low-quality foods such as processed items are high in calories and low in nutrient content. In contrast, high-quality foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and fruits are rich in nutrients and contain fewer calories than processed foods.
This means you don’t have to eat less to reduce your calories; you just need to eat differently. Rather than embarking on a fad diet or restricting your food consumption, make simple changes to the types of foods you eat.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
Depending on the flavor, a 16-ounce Grande Starbucks Frappuccino averages 300-plus calories, while a glass of wine can contain 100 calories or more. It’s easy to overlook the calories you consume through beverages like these, but if you are making healthy food choices and still drinking a lot of sugary drinks, it will sabotage your weight-loss goals. Fortunately, since liquid calories don’t contribute to feelings of satiety, reducing them will not cause feelings of deprivation or hunger. You can reduce your liquid calories by substituting sugary beverages with water and healthier alternatives. You could even add some fresh lemon or raspberries to your water to add some flavor to it.
2. Control your portions.
Portion control is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Research has found that we tend to eat more food when it is served in larger portions, so one simple way to manage your portions is to use a smaller plate. It is also important to have a general idea of suitable portion sizes to avoid overeating. For instance, 3 ounces of poultry, fish, or meat should be roughly the size of the palm of your hand, while one medium-sized fruit should be the size of your fist.
If you eat out often, it is important always to check that your portions are not too big. Portion sizes at restaurants are often large, and you may be unaware that you are overeating. Asking for half portions or sharing your dessert are simple ways you can avoid overeating when dining out.
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The Diabetes Plate Method
The Diabetes Plate Method can help you to create a healthy balance of carbohydrates, vegetables, and proteins. All you need is a medium-sized dinner plate, approximately 9 inches in diameter.
- Step 1
Fill half your plate with vegetables that are low in starch, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, carrots, mushrooms, leafy greens, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, cucumber, or squash. These vegetables are high in nutrients and won’t elevate your blood sugar levels, so they are a healthy way to get essential nutrients and fill up on fiber.
- Step 2
Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein, such as fish, chicken, shellfish (e.g., shrimp, scallops, clams), lean beef, or lean pork. You can also get lean protein from plant sources such as tofu and tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts, and nut butters, hummus, or falafel. Incorporating lean proteins into your diet reduces your intake of saturated fats and provides a healthy way to get your protein.
- Step 3
Fill a quarter of your plate with carbohydrates. Since carbs have the highest impact on your blood sugar, monitoring your intake of carbs is essential. You can opt for grains or other starches such as potatoes, rice, or pasta. However, it is recommended that you avoid refined carbohydrates and go for whole-grain options where possible. In this step, you can also choose to substitute carbohydrates with more vegetables.
3. Fill up on fiber.
One of the main reasons weight-loss attempts fail is hunger. When you constantly feel hungry, you are more likely to binge eat or snack on unhealthy foods.
The best way to beat hunger pangs is to include lots of fiber in your diet. Indeed, studies have found that eating 30 grams of fiber each day can help with weight loss, lower your blood pressure, and increase insulin sensitivity. Fiber-rich foods are low in calories but have a filling effect that keeps you satiated for longer. Soluble fiber also slows down the rate at which sugars and fats enter your bloodstream, giving you a steady supply of energy.
Some examples of fiber-rich foods include whole-grain breakfast cereals; whole-grain oats and bread; fruits such as oranges, pears, and berries; vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and sweetcorn; and peas, beans, and pulses.
4. Stay active.
Physical activity and exercise are an integral part of weight loss. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week. Exercise not only boosts weight loss by helping you burn calories, but it also helps regulate blood sugar levels. Finding ways to stay active is especially important if you have both diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle. It is recommended that you break up sedentary periods every 30 minutes with some form of physical activity.
Taking regular brisk walks, doing aerobics, and even weight training are all beneficial for weight loss and regulating blood sugar. Fitness is not restricted to sweating it out at the gym. Simple lifestyle changes like walking after dinner or parking a block or two away from your office can help you add more physical activity into your life.
5. Don’t skip meals.
Skipping meals will make your blood sugar levels fluctuate and is likely to prevent weight loss. You might have an initial weight loss, but your metabolism will start to slow down, which will make long-term weight loss and maintenance difficult. Having regular, balanced meals keeps your blood sugar levels steady and also makes you less likely to overeat.
6. Get enough sleep.
Poor sleep can interfere with hormones such as ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that sends signals to your brain causing you to be hungry. When you are sleep deprived, your body produces higher levels of ghrelin, increasing your appetite. Studies have also found that high ghrelin levels are linked to increased food cravings and emotional eating.
On the other hand, leptin — a hormone that signals fullness — is produced in lower quantities when you are sleep deprived. The net effect of this is that the less sleep you get, the higher your appetite and the more you are likely to eat.
To avoid hormonal imbalances, you should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep daily.
7. Find ways to de-stress.
Stress eating is a common cause of weight gain. The effect of stress on hormones such as cortisol has also been found to contribute to weight gain. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid that stimulates appetite and increases cravings. In other words, you are more likely to engage in emotional eating when you are stressed out or anxious.
Physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, or therapy are some ways in which you can de-stress. It is also important to have a support system to help you cope with your diabetes and encourage you with your weight-loss efforts.
Choosing what works
In overweight people with type 2 diabetes, even marginal weight loss of about 5% has been found to improve blood glucose control. This means you can significantly improve your quality of life by achieving a healthy weight. While weight loss is far from easy, it will be easier if you avoid fad diets and stick to tried-and-tested weight-loss techniques. Fortunately, these techniques are much more achievable over the long term — and that is why they work!
Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Losing Weight Without Feeling Hungry: Eight Tips,” and “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”