Two things run strong and hard on both sides of my family: heart disease and type 2 diabetes. As a deluge of medical research tells us, the two are closely linked. Often diabetes precedes heart disease, but in my family–particularly on my father’s side–it goes both ways. My dad had his first heart attack when he was 48, but didn’t develop diabetes until about 10 years later.
The long and short of this is that I have to be careful. My last blood glucose test revealed that I’m flirting with the pre-diabetic zone (defined as a blood glucose level between 100 and 124; 125 and up is considered diabetic). So my doctor wisely directed me to consult with a dietician before the situation worsens.
I had my first consult a couple of months ago and received a docket of good advice touching both diet and exercise to rein in the sugar. But the best advice was simply this: the best way to avoid diabetes is to think like a diabetic and act accordingly.
Basic as it sounds, this one-liner is brilliant in its simplicity. People spend so much time fretting over the details of their diets, counting calories, reading the latest fad theories about what this or that nutrient does or doesn’t do. How much better if we just start with what matters most: think differently.
I’m a little more in touch with this than some people because several of my family members have had diabetes and I know how they had to adjust their thinking and behavior to regulate their health. But even if this isn’t true for you, it’s easy enough to find out. Once you do, it’s not necessarily essential that you carbon copy the eating and exercise habits of a diabetic (though it may be, depending on your blood glucose situation), but at least get in the proverbial ballpark.
For me, it’s like this: cut way down on everything that is bleached, starchy and processed to the point of barely being food. That includes white bread, white rice, most pasta, and any sort of processed potato or corn stuff. Those are the really difficult things for me (I’m Italian, after all, and we like our starchy carbs). Then there are the more obvious culprits: cookies, cake, candy. Also hard, but I’ve found from past experience that once you’ve “de-hooked” yourself from those things for a few weeks, the cravings drop off. Also take it easy on the juice. I love juice (grape especially), but the problem is that the juicing process removes most of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar. And, goes without saying, stay away from soda, period.
What’s left? Lean proteins, nuts, veggies, fruits (not juiced), yogurt (preferably Greek, and low-sugar), natural peanut butter, tea (unsweetened), lots of water, alcohol in moderation (2-3 drinks a week), whole wheat bread (I prefer pita), whole wheat pasta (occasionally), brown rice… You get the idea. I know, this looks a lot like other diets, but the point here is that this isn’t really a diet. If you have diabetes, you’re not on a diet; you’re eating to maintain your health for the rest of your life. That’s the way to think.
Throw in some modest exercise and you’re there. Just walking for 45 minutes a few times a week will do wonders. Exercise is particularly important when it comes to diabetes because it has the beneficial effect of making your body more sensitive to its own insulin. It’s also crucial to helping maintain a healthy weight in the long-term.
What, so far, has thinking and acting like a diabetic done for me? I’ve trimmed 16 pounds in two months. Believe me, that was a hard fought 16 to lose, and I have many more to go, but I wouldn’t have lost an ounce without recalibrating my thinking. I have another blood glucose test coming up this month and hope to see a concomitant drop out of the red zone.
This is a topic I’m very close to. My dad died too early from the lethal combination of diabetes and heart disease and I don’t plan on following suit. If you have any questions about anything in this post, please feel free to tweet me @neuronarrative.
Originally Published on Psychology Today.