Learning to Eat Again

When you first get diagnosed with diabetes, it is natural to assume that you will have to change your diet.  If your body isn’t processing the insulin created by the pancreas well enough to control your glucose levels, then you will need to regulate those levels with diet or medication, or both.  The thing is, your diet really doesn’t need to undergo that much of a change, if you are already a healthy eater that is.

I found out that I didn’t have to entirely cut sugar and sweets from my diet.  I also found out that sugary foods aren’t the only types of foods that will make my glucose levels go up.  In fact, the entire idea of a “diabetic diet” isn’t really that restrictive at all.

My endocrinologist has told me that the healthiest type of diet for me – a person with Type 2 diabetes – is the same exact diet that is healthy for everyone else.

food pyramid normal diabetesAll this means is that you should eat a variety of foods – keeping in mind the Food Pyramid we are all taught in school – on a daily basis.  This includes eating portions of fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein.  It also means that you DO need to watch the size of your portions.  You should also be sure to get enough fiber, and don’t get too much of stuff like sugar, alcohol, salt and fats.  That being said, if you plan carefully, you really can have your dessert!

I have been doing this and I found out that by following these steps, my blood sugar is more under control.  What’s more is that I have been able to reach AND maintain a healthy weight, which is also a great thing!

Getting a Plan for Healthy Eating

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t eat as healthy as we should.  I know I didn’t.  I loved sugary foods.  I would think nothing of having a few donuts for breakfast or snack cakes in the middle of the afternoon.

I can still have those things now; I have just had to moderate them.

Regardless of your medical condition, before beginning a new diet or eating plan, you need to discuss it with your doctor.  Being diabetic can also mean working with a dietician to develop a plan for eating that will work for you.

You will have to learn a couple of things… at least I did.  These things are known as counting carbs and food exchanges.

  • Counting carbs – with a carbohydrate counting system, you will learn how to keep track of each gram of carbohydrates that you eat (carbs are sugars and starches). The idea here is to spread your carbs out over the day so that you will be able to maintain a stable blood sugar without any spikes or lows.
  • Food exchanges – This is easy. It is basically a system that divvies up your food into a few categories, such as fats, proteins, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and starches.  Then it tells you how many portions of each one you can have throughout the day.

Once you have mastered the art of this, you will have learned to eat according to your needs.  According to my dietician, plans like these take all sorts of factors into consideration – eating habits, lifestyle, gender and even age.

Going From a Plan to Action

It is all well and good to make a plan, but sometimes putting it into action is a whole nother ball game.  I have never been one to have very much willpower when it comes to staying away from certain foods.  For this reason, I never did well when it came to dieting.  What I found with the diabetic meal planning is that you don’t really need to stay away from any type of food.  Maybe this is why it worked for me.

Following the plan created by my dietician meant that I could eat just about everything that a healthy person could eat.  The only difference is that I had to learn portion control.  I also, well, my wife and I, had to learn to prepare the foods in different ways too.  Another thing I had to start thinking about was when I eat.

I had to think about consistency too.  When I became diabetic, I had to learn to eat approximately the same amount of food every day and at approximately the same time every day.  I had to learn not to skip meals or even to go more than about 5 hours during the day without eating.  They told me that doing things this way meant that my glucose levels would remain more consistent and I wouldn’t have those highs and lows that make me feel so bad.

I know I have already touched on it here, but portion control is something else that I found out is important.  You will need to have a sit down with your dietician or endocrinologist and find out what your correct portion sizes should be.  I found out that these sizes are quite a bit smaller than what I thought they would be.  For me, a single serving of meat is relative to a deck of cards and a single serving of pasta is relative to about a half of a tennis ball.

Ditch the Myths

Once I learned how to control my portions, I had to learn what those portions should consist of.  This is where the diet myths get busted.

  • Sugar – I found out that both my endocrinologist and my dietician agree that I CAN have sugar. Because sugar is a carb, I can substitute it for another starch – like pasta or bread.
  • Fat – Diabetic or not, having too much fat in your diet is not healthy for anyone. For people like me though, who suffer from diabetes, this means that having too much fat in your diet can be a trigger for things like artery and heart disease, things that we are already susceptible to.  I had to teach myself to go for the leaner cuts, eat more fish and cut that delicious skin off the poultry.  I also had to learn to make the switch to low fat and even skim dairy products while cutting out butter entirely.
  • Salt – being diabetic means that I am more prone to have high blood pressure. This can also be affected by the salt that I eat.  To limit this, I cut back on things like fast foods and convenience foods and even cut out salty things like mustards and pickles.  Instead of table salt, I have taught myself to use things like garlic and herbs to spice my meals.

At the end of the day, there are quite a few people, myself included, who live both healthily and happily with their Type 2 diabetes.  That being said, the changes aren’t all easy to make right off the bat.  Here are some things I did that helped me along the way.

  • I asked my family for support.
  • I planned ahead for when I would be tempted.
  • I educated myself on my disease.
  • I made the necessary changes gradually instead of all at once.
  • I started exercising.

Now, I’m not saying that you will be able to do all of these things, or even that you should, I am just telling you that it really is possible to learn to eat again and still control your diabetes without cutting your favorite things out of your diet.

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