If you are living with type 2 diabetes, you’ve probably faced a dining scenario like this: You are finishing your plate of grilled pork tenderloin, asparagus and rice pilaf when your well-meaning sister-in-law begins pushing her famous double-chocolate fudge cheesecake. You reply with a polite “No, thank you.” But your refusal is met with “Oh, come on. It’s a special occasion.” You cave. And there goes your blood sugar.
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The problem? Bad daily decisions actually can change the course of the disease, says endocrinologist Melissa Li-Ng, MD. Research has shown that lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, are key to controlling type 2 diabetes. Smart choices can prevent or delay damage to the eyes, feet, skin and kidneys.
“I tell my patients that they should feel empowered by the fact that they can reap big rewards by making healthy decisions. They will see the improvement,” she says.
1. Educate your plate
Research points to a need to retrain our brains when it comes to portion control, Dr. Li-Ng says. Think about this: A heaping plate of pasta may contain upwards of 90 grams of carbohydrates, when a diabetic should be getting only 60 to 75 grams of carbs for dinner. Consult a dietitian to learn portion control and calculate just how many calories you need to maintain or safely lose weight.
2. Set realistic weight goals
The insulin resistance of type 2 diabetes gets worse with obesity. Reaching an ideal weight is critical, but to do that, you need to set goals.
“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it,” Dr. Li-Ng says. Your goals also need to be realistic. “You may never be able to reach the 120 pounds you were in high school again — it might not even be a healthy target weight for you. But if you aim for unrealistic goals, you will be disappointed every time and give up.”
3. Get moving
Dr. Li-Ng recommends 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. You need to get your heart rate up, but you don’t need high-impact, muscle-toning workouts. Try walking or a light jog. Just get your body moving for two 15-minute walks a day or three 10-minute walks a day.
If you’re obese and have trouble with back or knee pain, start slow and try low-impact alternatives such as a stationary bike, an elliptical machine, swimming or arm exercises.
4. Recognize obstacles
Taking control of your diabetes and keeping a positive mindset mean that you will have to overcome inevitable obstacles. Lack of time can be an issue, so you have to make exercise and healthy eating a priority to be successful.
In addition, you may feel fine and have no symptoms — but long-term complications are still a problem. Be sure to take your medications regularly in addition to making healthy lifestyle choices. “Once complications, such as neuropathy or blurry vision, set in, you can’t reverse all the damage,” Dr. Li-Ng notes.
5. Bust your stress
Having quick “escape valves” can help you avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as eating for comfort. “Be aware of what types of situations typically sabotage your healthy routines,” Dr. Li-Ng says. “Recognizing where you tend to slip up is an important first step. Arm yourself with several stress-busting alternatives, such as exercising or calling a friend, to make you feel better without undermining your overall health.”