I was just told I have type II diabetes. I'm overwhelmed...any suggestions?

I am sorry that you are feeling overwhelmed. If your current stress is related to your diet—please take a deep breath. It is often a misconception that those living with diabetes need to follow radically different diets than other people. In fact, they need to follow the same nutrition guidelines as the general public. However, people with diabetes will need to balance their food intake with insulin and other medications, and exercise to manage blood sugar levels. When first diagnosed with diabetes, it is often overwhelming to think about counting carbohydrates and measuring foods. It is advisable to meet with a registered dietitian who can help tailor a meal plan that is right for you (go to www.eatright.org to find a RD near you)! The dietitian can help you take a look at your current diet and find areas that could use improvement. They can help you become familiar with serving sizes/portion control, food labels, creating a balanced plate, and help you pick foods with the highest quality nutrients.

If you are anxious to immediately start changing your eating habits, first pinpoint areas of your diet that you feel may benefit from change. Do you regularly consume beverages with sugar/increased calories (iced coffee drinks, fruit punch, soda, alcohol)? Do you often snack on foods with a lot of sugar (cookies, candy, chocolate, brownies, and pastries)? Do you feel like your portion sizes are bigger than most and do you frequently return for seconds? Do you feel you are mostly sedentary and get little physical activity? If you answer “yes” to these questions, then there are definitely things you can work on before you meet with a registered dietitian.

The easiest and most effective dietary alteration can come with your beverage choices. Begin to substitute water, low sugar juice (Old Orchard’s Healthy Balance) or flavored water for your calorie laden drinks. This can help you to reduce the amount of sugar you are taking in each day leading to better blood sugar management. It can also help you to lose weight by reducing your calorie intake. Now evaluate what you consistently snack on each day. If you do have a sweet tooth, try to explore other naturally sweet foods that are lower in sugar and calories. Choose homemade trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate, sunflower seeds) in place of a candy bar or cookies. Snack on unsweetened yogurt topped with fresh berries instead of ice cream and serve fresh fruit for dessert in place of brownies.

Portion control is one of the main reasons that people are overweight. Many people don’t know how much they are eating because they think “one serving” is whatever ends up on their plate. In reality, portion sizes are generally much smaller than people think, and many people consume 3-4 servings of a food in one setting. Even seemingly “healthy” choices of various foods can lead to excess calorie intake if you are not careful. Take frozen yogurt for example. In many cases it may contain less fat and maybe less calories than traditional ice cream. But, if you are not sticking to the ½ cup serving size (which is not much), your “one serving bowl” may contain ~500 calories! In addition to portions, evaluate your eating behavior at meals. If you find yourself always going up for seconds, try to slow the pace at which you eat during the meal and take more time focusing on the flavor of food. This may allow you to feel fuller and more satisfied, which may prevent you from returning for more after you have initially cleaned your plate. And, make sure that your plates are balanced. Instead of having the majority of your plate consist of a large piece of meat and starchy potatoes or corn, try to include a lean protein, a large helping of vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy. Finally, get moving! Check with your doctor first but try to get some degree of physical activity each day. Find activities you like to do and schedule some time each day to move your body. This will help you manage your blood sugar levels, help you lose weight if needed, and overall help you to feel better each day!

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