a-mother-daughter-eatingUnderstanding what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat is one of the most challenging parts to living with diabetes for a majority of individuals. It is particularly challenging because there is so much information out there about how to eat to control diabetes and everybody has an opinion.  Unfortunately, a lot of it is myths and just plain wrong. Whether your diagnosis is brand new, or you have been living with diabetes for a while, these 3 tips will help you embrace healthy eating and think more positively about fueling your body.

Put it in perspective–food is not the enemy.  I know it may not feel like it is at times, but food is essential. Your body needs the fuel and nutrients that food is intended to provide. Yes, carbohydrates do raise blood glucose levels, but carbs raise everybody’s blood glucose level (diabetes or not). Try to embrace that our bodies are engineered this way and that we can’t do anything about that. We can, however, do something about what it is we choose to fuel our bodies with.

The saying “eat to live, not live to eat” may be worthily stated here. So, we eat to fuel our bodies for life and to accomplish what we are put on this earth to do every day. Certainly, there are some choices that are better than others. Plan to make healthful choices more often. When we fuel our bodies with the right mix of nutrients we can feel our best and get the best results.

Avoid Extremes–All foods can fit into a healthy diabetes meal plan.  The key is to find the right balance that works for you. Far too often clients come to me swinging on a pendulum from one diet extreme to the next. This makes it impossible to find balance. The most common extreme is trying to avoid carbohydrates altogether because somewhere along the way someone told them or they read that carbohydrates are bad. Did they actual read that carbs are bad or did they translate information that carbs raise blood glucose into carbs are bad? This is a misinterpretation of the facts, and it happens all the time. 

Commonly I hear, “I’ve been avoiding all bread, potatoes, corn, rice, and my blood glucose is still high. And did I mention that I’m starving?” So these people's diet pendulums hang over the low-to-no-carbs ratio. How frustrating to deny yourself of foods you like and not see results to reinforce the behavior!  Diets of extremes tend to lead to frustration and disappointment because they don’t work long-term. 

Avoiding carbs does not guarantee low blood glucose levels but you may well accomplish a low energy level, and who wants that? Think about a car for a moment. The car may have all of the essential fluids except for gasoline, so it eventually stops moving because there is no gas. Think of carbohydrates as your gasoline. The key is to choose high octane carbohydrate sources more often and the right amount for your engine. 

Think of whole grains and less processed carbs as 93 octane (high quality). For example, 100% stone-ground whole wheat, barley, quinoa, starchy beans & legumes, sweet potatoes, steel cut oatmeal, fresh fruit can be considered high octane.  Go for 93 octane carbs as often as possible. I would put foods like brown rice, pasta, quick oats, and rye in the 89 octane category (mid-grade). The 87 octane (regular) may not be the best for you but are okay in moderation and smaller portions. These are refined grains like white bread, white rice, corn, and rice cereals.  

Every meal should include at least one serving of carbohydrate. The plate method is a great meal planning approach to ensure that meals are balanced and not void of carbohydrates. Using this method, one-half of your plate would consist of non-starchy veggies; one-quarter of your plate should be 93 or 89 octane carbs; and the last quarter of your plate should be a lean or plant-based protein.  If you have been swinging on the low carb side of the diet pendulum, I’ll bet you will feel better and have more energy by incorporating some high octane carbohydrate choices in the right-size portions laid out here.    

Learn to listen to your body–Stop second guessing your body and its natural signals.  We set food rules that override our signals. A common rule people try to abide by is “no eating after dinner.” When clients ask me about this, I always answer their question with a few questions of my own. I ask them things such as: How do you feel about doing this? What time is dinnertime and what time is bedtime?  Are you hungry before you go to bed? 

This usually turns into a conversation about gauging hunger. Hunger or habit? If you are truly hungry, then a snack is in order.  Also, we take a look at the composition of the dinner meal. Does this need more balance to provide more satiety?  Then, we discuss if you need to have a snack what some of the better choices for are later in the evening. Are there food rules that you are trying to hang on to that are going against what your body is saying because you read it in a book or it works for someone else?  Let go of the rules and give your body some leeway to guide your decisions.

I’m not saying to throw all caution to the wind, but I am saying give your body a chance to help you come up with a plan that will work for your long-term success with managing your diabetes.  

If you have never seen a registered dietitian, consider asking your physician for a referral to get individualized attention for developing a nutrition action plan that will work for you and your diabetes goals.