“The typical response from people when I tell them I'm diabetic is, 'Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.' You know, I'm not. I'm a better athlete because of diabetes rather than despite it. I'm more aware of my training, my fitness and definitely more aware of nutrition. I'm more proactive about my health.” – Charlie Kimball
“What should I eat?” you may be wondering. Should you cut out carbohydrates from your diet? Should you adopt one of the many diets out there said to be designed just for diabetics?
Actually, the good “old-fashioned” healthy and balanced diet – advocated by nutritionists for everyone young and old, healthy or suffering from a chronic condition – is still an effective option for diabetics like you.
Your nutrition goals
You will be working with your dietitian to plan your meals. This may seem complicated at first, but don’t worry, you will soon get the hang of it.
- Practice carbohydrate counting. Basically, you would have to make sure that you are aware of how much carbohydrates you are having in each meal, and carbohydrate counting allows you to ensure that your meals do not contain too much of it. If you are on insulin, knowing how much carbohydrate is present in a meal is important to ensure that you get the right dosage.
- Eat food in appropriate portion sizes. A good way to start is to list down the usual portion sizes of the food you eat often and share them with the dietitian, who will advise you on how much to cut down. You will then be using measuring cups and a scale to make sure that your meals are all in the right portions.
- Think well-balanced. You will include a good mix of every food group to make sure that you get all the nutrients you need to stay healthy. For carbohydrates, you should choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains as they contain what we call complex carbohydrates (such as starch and fibre). Such foods can help keep your blood glucose level stable while still providing energy. Consult your dietitian on the types of food that would best suit you at your current state of health.
- Avoid food and drinks that contain added sugar. In addition to glucose, you should also avoid food and drinks that contain sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and other types of sugar. You can check the ingredient list on the bottle or package to be certain. Such drinks tend to be high in calories but low in nutritional value, and their sugar content can cause your blood glucose level to rise rapidly.
However, if you are experiencing the effects of low sugar level such as dizziness and sleepiness, such drinks can be used as a way to quickly raise your blood sugar.
Changing your eating habits for the better
It can be hard to change your diet, as it often requires discipline, willpower and the ability to unlearn bad eating habits – all of which can take time, and you may become frustrated and even feel tempted to give up along the way.
Here are some tips to help you stay on course despite the various challenges and frustrations you will encounter:
On your mark...
Don’t try to make many big changes at once, as you would only be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, start simple.
Sit yourself down, then, list all the possible eating habits you have. You can enlist the help of family members, as sometimes you may have habits that you are not aware of. Typical bad eating habits include: eating while watching the TV or computer, stress snacking, eating too-largefood portions, enjoying high-fat meals and so on.
Next, list all the good eating habits you would like to adopt. You can consult your dietitian for advice if you are unsure of what these habits are.
Now, pick 5 bad habits you would like to break, and 5 good habits you would like to adopt.
To get ready for this new you, pick a "start date". The weekend is always a good time, as you have more time to focus and there are fewer distractions. Also, set a realistic "end date" for you to evaluate your progress.
In the meantime, make sure that you are clear on what you need to do. Consult your healthcare team to share with them your plans, and make sure you have a good blood glucose monitor at hand.
On the start date, jump right in! Break 5 bad habits, adopt 5 good habits! Remember to detail your efforts and progress in your journal for you and your healthcare team to review after the end date.
At the end date, if you have achieved your goals, it is time to pick another 5 good habits to adopt as well as another 5 bad habits to break. Of course, you must also maintain your current progress. We will not lie; it will not be easy. However, there are ways to keep yourself motivated.
Don’t forget to move!
Regular physical activity is a good way to burn excess calories, keep your weight within healthy limits and strengthen your body. Not only does regular physical activity slow down or halt any damage caused by the progression of diabetes, it can also lift your mood or de-stress you.
The Malaysian Clinical Guidelines on Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (2009) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week. This boils down to about 20-30 minutes a day.
If you are not active before, or if you suffer from a condition that may make exercising difficult, share your plans with your healthcare team. They will advise you on the most appropriate types of physical activity you can adopt.
It can be hard to get the body moving, especially if you are used to a sedentary lifestyle. Give up your TV time to go jogging? You may instinctively balk at the thought. Still, with some determination and our tips, you will soon be moving and enjoying every minute of it!
Making it fun. If sports or hitting the gym is not your thing, pick an activity that you will enjoy, or one you can do in the company of people you like. Ballroom dancing, yoga, tai-chi and weekend walks to a picnic spot are some options worth considering.
Think outside the box. There are other forms of physical activity which are not the typical recreational ones. For example: take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk instead of driving, devote more time to gardening and house work. If you love window shopping, spend more time walking in your favourite malls, and park a little farther away from the entrance.
Use a pedometer to measure how many steps you take a day, and slowly build up your walking rate so that you will eventually walk about 10,000 steps a day.
Find and channel your motivation
The first few weeks of your new adventure will be the hardest, as you will be trying to replace habits you enjoy with habits that you may not enjoy doing as much, at the beginning. Going lunch with your colleagues can be a challenge in itself, as you would be tempted by all the delicious but unhealthy foods that you used to enjoy indiscriminately!
There may also be moments when you become frustrated at your slow progress, and you may even experience a degree of “withdrawal symptoms” of the favourite foods and old habits that you have enjoyed all this while.
During those moments, your resolve may waver, tempting you to give up because everything seems so impossible. Don’t succumb to it! Stay focused. You can do it.
Here are some tips to help you strengthen your resolve.
Know why you are doing this. It is not enough to say that you want to be healthy, as sometimes it can be hard to remember why this is important when you are craving for chocolate ice cream.
So, list down more specific reasons. Perhaps you want to stay healthy for your children and your partner as well as yourself? What are the dreams and goals you want to achieve, but will not be able to do so if your diabetes worsens? These reasons do not even have to be long-term in nature. Perhaps you want to lose weight to fit better in a bikini and impress everyone when you saunter down the beach later the year. There is no right or wrong motivation - so long as it matters to you, it’s worth listing down and remembering.
Paste your list in a prominent place where it can be spotted easily, especially when you are feeling vulnerable, such as at the door of your refrigerator, the monitor of your computer or even as a reminder on your mobile phone.
Don’t do this alone. Support from other people is a powerful motivator to keep you going. Therefore, enlist a family member, friend or co-worker for support. Support can come in many forms, such as a diet or exercise partner, but sometimes, even just having someone to confide your joys and frustrations in can be a great boost to your morale.
If you have problems finding someone close to you who is willing to support you, why not branch out? For example, you can:
- Organise a weight-loss or exercise group at your workplace or neighbourhood.
- Join a support group. If you cannot find one in your neighbourhood, you can search for an online support group.
- Connect with fellow diabetics via a blog, Facebook account or other social media platforms, and share your progress and frustrations with them.
Don’t be discouraged by lapses. Occasionally you will slip up. Do not let this bring you down. Review the possible causes for your lapse, and work to overcome them. If you find yourself lapsing often, consult your support group or healthcare team on how you can stay motivated.
“My mom passed away at 41 from diabetes. And I'm 42, thank you. I didn't want to do that to my son. So any time I was at the gym, that thing that helped me do that last squat was my son calling some other woman mommy. And that would just give me that extra oomph to do that last squat. I want to be around for him.” – Sherri Shepherd