1. Focus on habits, not numbers on a scale.
Maria Ricupero, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who works at Toronto General Hospital, says losing weight isn’t nearly as important as the positive impacts of changing your behaviour. Even without weight loss, healthy eating and exercise can improve blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, sleep patterns and energy levels.
2. Don’t skip meals.
When you’re trying to cut calories, it can be tempting to forgo meals or replace them with juices. But eating whole foods at least every four to five hours is important for keeping your blood sugar stable, says Ricupero. She adds that juices are usually devoid of fibre and can therefore cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. A dietitian can help you safely reduce your daily calorie intake and make healthier choices.
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3. Maintain a balanced diet.
Cutting carbs might seem like the perfect solution for lowering blood sugar and losing weight, but it could cause additional health problems. “If people are just eating protein and fats, they may see an improvement in their blood sugar, but they may also raise their cholesterol,” says Kathy Dmytruk, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Edmonton. She explains that fibre—which is plentiful in healthy carb sources such as whole grains—lowers cholesterol, which is vital to heart health.
4. Add physical activity to your day.
If you don’t exercise already, Ricupero says you should make time for it. “It doesn’t have to look fancy or be expensive,” she says, and suggests walking as a great way to begin. “Whatever it is, start gradually and go from there.” Though 30 minutes of exercise every day is the general recommendation, you can kick off with 15 minutes, then add five more each week. And check your blood sugar after a workout—Ricupero says you’ll be motivated when you see the immediate benefit of those numbers dropping.
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5. Adjust your dosage when necessary.
If you’re on medication that causes your pancreas to secrete insulin, Dmytruk says it’s important to talk to your doctor when you change your dietary habits. If you’re eating less, you may need less insulin or oral meds. When some people don’t adjust their insulin to the amount of carbs they’re consuming, they eat more to stabilize their levels—a practice Dmytruk calls “feeding your insulin”—which can lead to weight gain. You should be matching your meds to your food intake, not the other way around.
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6. Get plenty of sleep.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, shut-eye is important: it helps regulate your hunger hormones and gives you the energy necessary for exercise. But securing a good night’s sleep can be challenging for people with diabetes, who are prone to sleep apnea. “People with sleep apnea stop breathing during their sleep, leading to a lack of oxygen, so they’re kind of choking,” says Ricupero. “That causes stress hormones to be released, raising blood sugar.” If you snore or notice you’re overly tired during the day, talk to your doctor about requesting a sleep study.