If you’re carrying extra weight, chances are your doctor wants you to start on a diabetes weight-management plan to shed pounds. This includes healthy weight loss, a healthy diabetes diet, and an active lifestyle that together will help you control your blood sugar and your overall health.“Successful weight management isn’t just dieting, it’s also activity,” says Debra Simmons, MD, an endocrinologist and a professor of medicine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. And consider the payoff: Once people lose some weight and increase activity, “we find that they need less medicine to control their diabetes,” she says.A healthy lifestyle rather than short-term changes are needed because managing diabetes is a lifelong condition. “Successful weight loss and maintenance is achieved through a healthy diet and regular exercise — doing one without the other doesn’t usually work in the long term,” says diabetes educator Susie Villalobos, MPH, LDN, RD, program coordinator at the Tulane Center for Diabetes & Endocrine Weight Management Program in New Orleans.
That said, you can find motivation to go the distance with a series of short-term goals, and as you reach each one, you’ll see and feel improvements that propel you to the next one. For example, rather than focusing on (or being discouraged) by the 50 or 100 pounds you need to lose, break it down into smaller objectives. “For short-term goals, I like to use 5 to 10 percent of your current body weight,” Villalobos says. “A 10-percent weight loss can have a big impact on lowering blood sugar.” It can also lead to healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels. “Once you achieve that goal, then you can set the next goal,” she says.
One of the most pressing questions on your mind may simply be, “What can I eat?” A review of diets published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that Mediterranean-style diets, low-carbohydrate diets, low-glycemic-index diets, and high-protein diets all lead to improvements in blood sugar levels as well as some heart disease risk factors. The Mediterranean and low-carb diets resulted in greater weight loss. All of these diets emphasize vegetables, limited whole grains, legumes (such as beans), lean proteins, and small amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil. The Mediterranean-style diet showed the greatest improvement in blood sugar control.
A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that how people eat and approach weight management is important to their success. Participants trained in mindful eating — learning to be fully present and enjoying meals rather than eating mindlessly in front of the TV, for instance — had an advantage in weight loss and glycemic control over their peers. You can achieve results like these with relatively small changes. For example, choosing to eat a cup of beans each day could lead to better glycemic control and also provide some weight loss if the beans replace a higher-calorie, higher-fat item in your diet.
- Build a Weight-Management Plan That Works for You. As interesting as it is to hear how your aunt or best friend lost weight, the best strategy for you is one that takes your specific needs into account. Try these steps to craft your own perfect plan for healthy weight loss:
- Set your own goals. Talk with a diabetes educator or dietitian to figure out what you should weigh and how many carbohydrates and daily calories you need to make it happen. “I like using the BMI [body mass index] for a healthy weight range when setting a long-term goal,” Villalobos says. If you want to lose a pound a week, set your calorie intake at 500 fewer calories than you would eat to maintain your current weight.
- Explore technology. Modern tools, such as applications for smartphones, can provide you with instant feedback on your eating and activity for the day. Check out the Everyday Health tools to stay on track or use apps such as MyFitnessPal. “There are numerous apps that can be adapted to diabetes-related nutrition goals,” Villalobos says. “MyFitnessPal can help people track carbohydrate intake and also analyze their own recipes.” Look for apps that can track blood sugar, physical activity, and food intake.
- Embrace the learning curve. Many people worry that a new diabetes diet won’t feature foods they like. It’s true that if you’re going to be trying out a Mediterranean-style diet, for example, you might need to learn new ways of preparing food as well as trying new flavors and dishes. But at the same time, your dietitian or diabetes educator can help you find ways to make your family favorites friendlier to your diabetes diet and show you ways to incorporate healthier treats.
- Start slowly with exercise. The advice to increase physical activity doesn’t mean you’re going to have to win a triathlon next month. The recommended weekly goal of about 150 minutes of exercise sounds like a lot, but that breaks down to just 30 minutes on five days during the week. And you can break those half-hours up throughout the day if you need to. “If you don’t currently exercise at all, start with five minutes a day, then keep adding minutes each week,” Villalobos says. However, she also suggests to push yourself a bit, too: A brisk 20- to 30-minute walk is better than slowly strolling for an hour, she says. If you take insulin, make sure you know how to exercise safely. Generally, your blood sugar level should be at least 100 mg/dL before you start to work out.
- Make small changes with your diet. Adding one serving of fruit or vegetables, using whole-grain products instead of refined flour products, making a dish with beans instead of fatty meats — these are all small steps you can take to improve your diet and meet your weight-loss goals.
- Clean out your pantry. You know what your weaknesses are — the guilty foods you snack on when you’re too tired to cook or hungry at night. Get rid of these foods and replace them with snacks that can help you meet your weight-loss goals, such as a cup of baby carrots and a tablespoon of low-fat dressing for dipping.
Reward yourself. “Each time you achieve a goal, celebrate with something that doesn’t involve food,” Villalobos says. It might be new workout clothing for your leaner body, new shoes, a massage, a piece of jewelry, or a special activity with friends or family.
- No one says it’s easy to make the kinds of sustained changes that you’ll need to maintain your weight-management strategy for years to come — but it’s certainly doable. And you don’t have to do it alone. Include friends and family who will welcome getting into better shape themselves or join a weight-loss support group for an added edge of accountability.
Finally, your medical team should include experts who are there to assist you. “Ask for help from a dietitian or diabetes educator to create your own personalized health-improvement plan,” Villalobos says. When you’re tired, frustrated, or confused, these are people you can lean on for guidance and support.