Chances are you know someone living with diabetes.
That’s because an estimated 3.4 million Canadians live with this condition – nine per cent of the population – and another 5.7 million Canadians live with prediabetes – more than 22 per cent of the population, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.
You may even be living with one of these conditions yourself.
If so, you may be aware that there are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes is caused by an autoimmune condition, and the risk factors for developing this condition are mostly beyond our control.
However, we do have control over some of the risk factors for prediabetes, gestational and type 2 diabetes. While pre-determined factors such as our age and genetic makeup play a role, so do lifestyle choices.
As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the past 16 years, I’ve met many people who are managing these chronic conditions, particularly prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, which are more prevalent. Often, in our initial meeting, people describe feelings of guilt, anger or sadness. They feel they should have made changes in their lives in the areas of nutrition, exercise and stress management sooner.
Frequently we don’t make these kinds of changes until there is a crisis or a compelling reason to change, such as a new diagnosis of diabetes. We may have so many other things going on in our lives that we just aren’t in a state of readiness to make changes. We can be so overwhelmed with other responsibilities and stresses that our own health slides to the bottom of the priority list. We may have learned poor coping behaviours for stress involving less healthy food choices, less activity and poor handling of strong emotions.
Over the years, I have observed and experienced the power of choosing to make one small change at a time, and of adding something versus taking something away. Instead of thinking about giving something up, think about what you can include, whether it’s taking a daily walk, eating a fresh fruit or vegetable at each meal or taking a few quiet minutes each day to take a few calming breaths.
It’s amazing how carrying out just one positive change increases feelings of confidence, energy and motivation. Feeling that we can improve our health creates momentum to continue on to more positive changes, seeming to naturally displace some less healthy choices along the way.
I have seen many people bring their blood sugar levels down from incredibly high numbers to within the normal range by simply harnessing the power of these changes. I am grateful for the privilege of seeing this transformation happen on a daily basis with my clients and the inspiration they provide me and others around them.
Here are some ideas for one change you can make today to help prevent or manage your own type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. I encourage you to choose something important to you that you really want to try, to help make the new behaviour stick.
10 small changes that make a big difference to diabetes:
Choose one whole grain food each day (e.g. 100 per cent whole grain breads, large flake/steel cut oats, brown/wild rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, buckwheat, rye crackers, whole wheat pasta).
Include a high protein food with your breakfast (e.g. nuts, seeds, egg, cheese, Greek yogurt).
Plan out lunch or supper meals for a week using the half-your-plate model (half vegetables, one quarter meat/alternatives, one quarter grains/starches).
Try one new vegetable each week (search online for tasty ways to prepare it).
Include a fresh fruit at each meal.
Pay attention to hunger cues (take time to eat, stop when full).
Drink water when thirsty (flavour with lemon/lime/mint if needed).
Plan out an evening snack that includes some protein and carbohydrate (e.g. peanut butter on whole grain toast, fresh fruit with nuts/cheese/plain Greek yogurt, salmon/tuna on whole grain crackers, baby carrots with hummus).
Plan a 20-30 minute walk into your daily schedule.
List some hobbies/activities you enjoy to use as an outlet for stress.