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Diabetes-friendly eating for weight loss

Focus on Diabetes
ISSUE #3 OF 6 IN AN E-MAIL SERIES
Harvard Medical School

Diabetes-friendly eating for weight loss


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Contrary to popular belief, there’s no specific type of weight-loss diet — such as low-fat or low carb — that’s best for people with diabetes. Rather than focusing too much on what you eat, concentrate more on how much you eat. A good strategy to try is to train yourself to consume fewer calories. One way to do that is by cutting portion sizes. If you eat the same foods — just less of them — you automatically cut your calorie intake.

Another strategy is to eat fewer high-calorie foods — targeting and eliminating foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both, such as French fries, donuts, and ice cream. Because these foods tend to be highly refined, they leave you feeling hungry again soon. An apple not only packs more nutrition, but also satisfies you for longer. Many people have a hard time estimating the number of calories in foods, so to make sure you’re on track, consult a calorie guidebook, an online calorie reference (such as the one at calorieking.com), or a calorie-counting app for your smartphone. A digital food scale that calculates the calories, carbs, fats, and other nutrients in thousands of whole and packaged foods can also help. To lose a pound a week, you need to cut 500 calories per day.

Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Successful weight loss depends largely on becoming more aware of your behaviors and starting to change them. Instead of relying on willpower, this process demands skill power. This report offers a range of solutions that have worked for many people and can be tailored to your needs.

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Lasting weight loss not only demands that you transform your eating and exercise habits, but the many other choices you make each day that can make a difference, such as how much time you spend sleeping or surfing the Internet. The habits described here can help you move closer toward your weight-loss goal.

Set small, specific, and realistic goals

Perhaps you’d like to be the same size you were in high school or when you got married, but that would mean dropping more than 50 pounds. Don’t go there — not yet, at least. Set a more realistic goal of losing 5% to 10% of your weight, and give yourself plenty of time and some flexibility to reach that goal, keeping in mind that most people take at least six months to achieve that degree of weight loss. Also try to avoid generalized goals, such as “I should eat less at dinner and exercise more.” Instead, set specific and short-term (that is, daily or weekly) goals, such as these:

  • I will choose a few dinner recipes and shop for the ingredients on Sunday.

  • I will bring a healthy lunch from home at least three times next week instead of going out.

  • I will call a friend to take a walk after work on Monday and Wednesday.

  • I will decrease exposure to problematic food (“stimulus control”) to avoid temptation, such as keeping cookies away from sight in the kitchen.

Eat breakfast slowly — and mindfully — every morning

Many people skip breakfast because they’re too rushed or they aren’t hungry. Try getting up 15 minutes earlier (which means going to bed earlier so you don’t sacrifice sleep time) to make time for breakfast. Practice eating slowly by putting down your utensil or sipping water, coffee, or tea between bites. Ideally, you should spend at least 20 minutes on each meal, but that may be more realistic during your midday or evening meal; choose one to get started. Set a timer to check yourself.

Seek support

If you’re struggling to lose weight, a dietitian can help you develop a personalized eating plan. After all, you’re not making temporary adjustments; this is a lifelong commitment.

People who’ve been recently diagnosed with diabetes are usually asked to keep a food diary to track their calories, carbohydrates, and fats. A dietitian can instruct you on how to meet your caloric needs and blood glucose goals by counting fat and carbohydrate grams, measuring portions, and adjusting your food intake to the amount of exercise you get. If you prefer, more structured menus have been developed specifically for people with diabetes. Check your library or bookstore, or contact the ADA.

Even once you’ve learned to manage your diabetes, you may find that a change in schedule, a trip, or a move to another part of the country necessitates some adjustments in your meal plan. On such occasions, consult your dietitian.

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Lose Weight and Keep It Off

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Overweight and obesity: What’s behind the growing trend?
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