Unlike diseases that are controlled solely by medication, successful diabetes treatment often requires drastic changes in lifestyle.
Willis-Knighton Diabetes and Nutrition Center certified diabetes educator Collette Brown doesn’t minimize the difficulty of adapting to a new, healthier diet and more exercise after a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes.
“You’re looking at changing what you eat, you’re looking at the exercise and then you’re looking at checking blood sugar and medication and things like that. It does encompass a great deal, so, for some people, they can get the hang of one thing, but struggle with another. They can follow the meal plan, but can’t exercise,” she said.
Dr. Grace Sun, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at LSU Health Shreveport, believes the world we live in is partly to blame for difficulty maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s sort of like we are so immersed in technology, we’re so used to being on a computer, being on a cellphone, and that’s not really conducive to activity and being physically active,” she said. “It’s always easier to be lazy, I think. To not move is easier than getting up and moving. The other part of it is beyond just activity: diet. It’s much harder to cook your meals than to swing by McDonald’s and pick up a Big Mac or Happy Meal or whatever is available and is quick and easy and somebody else makes for you.”
Brown can’t help but think it would be easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle out of choice before developing the disease instead of out of necessity afterward. She said she doesn’t counsel as many prediabetics and those who just want to live a healthier lifestyle as she’d like.
“We will spend a lot of money on gadgets and toys — our iPhone or TV — but when it comes to our health and looking at longevity and the quality of life, we put a much lower value on that,” Brown said. “So if anybody would read this article and just realize, whether insurance covers (counseling) or not, look at where you want to be in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. When you look at it that way, it’s worth more than the value of our flat-screen TV or our cellphone that’s in our pocket. We just have to change our mentality because diabetes is a self-managed disease. If they don’t have the proper tools, they’re not going to manage it well and, in the long run, may end up with disability or death due to not managing it properly.”
A key to making long-term changes is setting progressive goals, Brown said.
“We don’t even prohibit any type food from someone who has diabetes. What we find, however, is it may be a change in how often you’re having that food, or the amount of that food you’re having,” she said. “We would not tell someone who eats fried foods every single day that they need to cut it back to twice a month because the likelihood of them being compliant with that and being successful is lower. So we would tell them to start with their baseline and decrease from there.”
In her practice, Sun said she too looks for progress in patients’ eating habits.
“I know that it’s not going to happen overnight and if I do cut it off suddenly, all they’re going to think about is having that cake. And then what are they going to do? They’re going to cave and have that whole cake instead of a slice of it. I don’t say you can’t have any at all, but you really need to minimize the amount. Initially, I do say, ‘Let’s start with just eliminating sugary drinks. Let’s do one thing at a time.’ That’s an easy thing to do.”
Taking a step-by-step approach to lifestyle changes makes the process less overwhelming.
“It’s not a matter of never going to a restaurant again. It’s not a matter of you can’t have fast food,” Brown said. “We teach you how to do those things better so you can make different choices when you go out.”
This is the third story in a series about the impact of diabetes in our community. On Dec. 26, learn about the advanced technology used to treat and monitor the disease in our Lagniappe section.
Tips for an anti-diabetes lifestyle
•Learn your family history. “If you know the risk factors are there, then becoming health conscious long before it’s an issue is the most important thing,” Brown said.
•Maintain a diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, is low in saturated fat, high in fiber and with less refined sugars. Switch to low-fat dairy products. Watch portion size.
•Lead an active lifestyle —150 minutes of aerobic activity per week is recommended to decrease risk.
•Keep doctor’s appointments. Some people don’t have symptoms so they won’t realize anything is wrong unless they are going to the doctor regularly.
Quick dietary changes
•Reduce sugary drinks. Brown includes fruit juices in this category along with sodas and other flavored drinks. “Normally, in fruit juice, you’re getting all of the calories and none of the fiber that makes the fruit so good for you. A lot of people drink the number of calories they should be eating in a day.”
•Reduce the amount of fat in diet by cutting back drastically on fried foods and smothered-types foods. Switch to 1 percent milk and low-fat cheeses.
•Increase nonstarchy vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, tomatoes.
•Reduce the size of your plate to help with portion control.
•Eliminate eating out as much as you can. “I think eating out is just this black hole — you don’t know what’s going into your food because you’re not making it,” said Sun.
Source: Collette Brown, certified diabetes educator, Willis-Knighton Diabetes and Nutrition Center; Dr. Grace Sun, endocrinologist and assistant professor at LSU Health Shreveport.
Find information on food and fitness from American Diabetes Association by visiting diabetes.org.