1. Eat more often
Start your day by eating breakfast, then go no more than five waking hours without a meal or snack.
By keeping food in your system, you avoid wild fluctuations in blood glucose – deep valleys brought on by skipping meals or eating them late, and high peaks caused by a surge in glucose when you finally get something into your stomach. But just as important, you keep your appetite under control by not letting hunger build to the point where you’re ravenous.
Eating more often means, for a start, eating breakfast every day. According to several studies, this not only helps to keep your blood glucose levels stable, it also helps you to eat fewer kilojoules throughout the day. What’s more, it boosts your metabolism so you burn more kilojoules.
Research suggests that adopting this simple habit can result in striking health benefits. For example, a report presented to the American Heart Association in 2003 found that rates of obesity and metabolic problems such as insulin resistance were 35 to 50 per cent lower in those who ate breakfast.
If you’re planning a late lunch or dinner, you’ll need to have a snack in between. Again, the aim is to keep your blood glucose levels steady and make sure you never become too hungry.
2. Eat balanced meals
Forget the protein versus carbohydrates debate. Include some of both at each meal, plus at least one fruit or vegetable.
This is the best approach to controlling your blood glucose, feeling full longer and losing weight. It sounds simple, and it is. Yet clinical experience suggests that if you’re overweight, that is probably not the way you’re eating now. In fact, your nutritional intake may be so out of balance that you may be deficient in certain nutrients even though you’re taking in too many kilojoules.
Some nutritionists believe that the body’s need for a variety of nutrients triggers your appetite in order to make sure that you get them. But if you simply eat more of what you always eat, your body never gets enough of certain nutrients it really needs.
3. Eat a little less of everything but vegetables
Portion control is essential to weight loss, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get enough to eat. On the contrary, you have permission to eat as much as you want – of vegetables.
Consider vegetables (other than the carbohydrate-rich ones such as potato, sweet potato or kumara, corn, yam, parsnip and taro) the ideal food. They are generally low in fat and high in fibre, and they are also rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. That’s why different types of vegetables should fill at least half of your plate at any meal.
Many fruits offer the same nutritional benefits as vegetables, but to avoid consuming too many sugars you should limit yourself to 3 or 4 portions a day, spaced evenly throughout the day.
By adding more vegetables to your plate, you may actually eat more in terms of volume while still helping yourself to lose weight. Plus, you’ll leave less room for foods that constitute so much of the typical Australasian diet: highly processed and packaged foods, meats, sweets, cakes and fats. Are these foods forbidden? No. All foods belong in your eating plan, and everything can be included. But for the plan to work, you need to reduce your total intake of kilojoules.
4. Trim the fat
Cut back on your total fat intake and substitute healthy
fats for not-so-healthy ones.
Fat contains more than double the kilojoules of carbohydrates or protein, so it’s an obvious target if you are trying to lose weight. Simply by eating more vegetables, you’re likely to eat less fat. But there’s no need to eliminate all the fat from your eating plan. In fact, studies show that eating a moderate amount of fat helps people to stick to healthy eating plans, and some types of fat even help to keep your blood glucose levels steady.
The key is to reduce your intake of the less healthy types of fat: eat leaner meats, skinless poultry and low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products. Meat, poultry skin and dairy foods contain saturated fats, which contribute to insulin resistance (not to mention clogged arteries). ‘Healthy’ fats, on the other hand, such as those found in olive oil and fish, actually help to stabilise your blood glucose level.
In one study, women trying to reduce their overall fat intake found that the best strategy was to avoid fat as a flavouring, such as butter on bread. Add flavour with reduced-fat versions of salad dressing and mayonnaise, or fresh herbs or lemon juice. It is also important to include some of your favourite healthy high-fat foods (such as seeds, nuts and avocado) in your eating plan.
5. Be more active
Start to become more physically active by walking – just ten minutes a day at first. Then gradually build up the time and introduce simple strengthening exercises into your routine.
Weight-loss experts agree that no weight-loss plan is likely to work unless it includes physical activity. It burns kilojoules and tones the muscles. It also boosts your muscle cells’ insulin sensitivity, making your body more efficient at using glucose and thereby lowering your blood glucose.
Furthermore, people who exercise are more successful in keeping the weight off in the long term than people who simply watch what they eat. And exercise does feel good.
6. Learn to relax
Stress not only causes your brow to wrinkle: it also raises your blood glucose levels. We want you to reduce your stress levels using simple relaxation strategies and mood-calming mental techniques.
When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases certain hormones that rev it up and prepare it to fight or flee. The same hormones also raise your blood glucose levels. Recent groundbreaking research shows that you can significantly lower your blood glucose levels by bringing stress under control and relaxing.
You can manage stress, anxiety and hostility by meditating, breathing, relaxing your muscles and practising mental imagery exercises.
7. Track your progress
Monitoring your progress will encourage you when you see positive results and will highlight any areas where you’re struggling so you can work on them.
It’s also important to record your efforts to be more active and eat more healthily. Studies show that people who write down what they eat are more likely to consume fewer kilojoules. And we are convinced that people who track their physical activity are more likely to stick to a get-moving plan.
How often you need to test your blood glucose depends on individual factors, including whether you are on insulin or diabetes tablets and how stable your blood glucose levels are. You should work out a testing schedule with your doctor or diabetes educator.
As a general guideline, if you don’t take medication or insulin and your blood glucose levels stay within a range of between 4 mmol/L and 8 mmol/L, you may be able to restrict testing to just a few times per week. But you should test at least three times a week at the start of the program, preferably in the morning before you eat anything. Your doctor or diabetes educator may also want you to test again before meals or two hours afterwards for an idea of how your blood glucose level changes during the day.
If your blood glucose swings higher into the abnormal range (above 11.1 mmol/L), follow your doctor’s or educator’s advice for testing more frequently. If you’re on insulin, medication, or both, you may need to test three or four times a day, typically before meals, two hours after meals and perhaps also at bedtime.