Your diabetes is not the same as my diabetes – and we don’t have to follow the same diet.
BY CHRISTEL OERUM (DIABETES STRONG)
Everyone living with diabetes knows managing their diabetes isn’t just a question of staying healthy, counting carbs, and taking meds.
Sometimes managing your diabetes can be like trying to control a hysterical toddler.
Some of us even describe our diabetes as if it has its own personality. And just like with people, the personality of my diabetes is probably going to be a lot different than yours.
Sure, your diabetes follows the same general rules as mine — such as carbs will increase blood sugars and high blood sugars will make us cranky. But when you get into the real details of daily diabetes management, just how much those factors will impact your blood sugar levels and insulin needs will differ so much from person-to-person and early in the morning versus later in the afternoon.
Given that, why would we eat the same way, take insulin the same way, and exercise the same way?
Instead, I believe a crucial part of thriving with diabetes comes down to figuring out what works for you. Remember that there is no such thing as a one-fits-all.
My journey to find the meal plan that works for me
I’ve tried a lot of the nutrition approaches that are often recommended for people living with diabetes —ketogenic, low carb, high(er) carb, intermittent fasting, and eating many small meals versus fewer large meals. And my experience with each approach to nutrition has been really mixed.
I know others living with diabetes who thrive on a specific diet while all it did for me was leave me feeling extremely tired and increasingly insulin resistant (which also meant my diabetes became much harder to manage).
With so many different nutritional guidelines and rules — many of which claim to be the ultimate approach to nutrition for better blood sugar — it is not surprising that so many people are left feeling confused and frustrated.
It’s so much more than following strict food rules
I have come to believe that being able to follow one diet dogma or another isn’t the most important thing. Instead, it is also important to look at what you are eating and how your diabetes is behaving in response to it. A ketogenic diet isn’t helpful if it makes your diabetes’ personality seem like a hysterical toddler.
For example, I can go through periods of time where my blood sugar’s reaction to sweet potatoes is amazing (gentle hills and valleys), while other times sweet potatoes will send my blood sugar soaring.
I also go through periods where I am more insulin resistant, followed by periods where I need much less insulin to cover my meals. Things change — often without any obvious explanation that I can pinpoint — and I’m sure you have noticed this with your diabetes as well.
To find a nutrition plan that works for me, at this time in my life, I build on all I have learned from trying different ways of eating and combine that with how my diabetes is currently acting.
I think it is ok to try out new approaches — to experiment and see what happens. Give a new approach a real chance by trying it out for a while, but don’t forget that it’s okay to jump ship if something doesn’t work for you. Maybe it is making your blood sugars fluctuate more, or maybe it is just too strict for you to adhere to.
Just because one way of eating works perfectly for someone else doesn’t mean it is the right fit for you. Nor does it mean you are out of options!
Personally, I've come to learn through open-minded experimenting and reflection that the only "rule" that absolutely always works for me is starting each meal with protein -- typically fish, poultry, meat, or eggs. But how many carbs and fats I add to those meals will depend upon my current health and fitness goals, as well as my diabetes management overall.
Finding an approach that works for you
I have coached hundreds of people living with diabetes from all over the world, and my message with each client comes down to this: find what works for you, for your lifestyle and for your diabetes.
When talking about food, we start by looking at your current habits, and then creating a new structure and approach to food that feels realistic and right for you. I have found that most people know what types of food and guidelines work well for them even if they have struggled to create a larger plan and habits around those foods. Most people already have a good sense of which foods work for them and which foods will send their blood sugars through the roof.
So, instead of just talking about a nutrition structure — like low carb or intermittent fasting — we also discuss which foods are worth including and which foods should be limited.
If you are considering a new approach to nutrition, consider these 3 steps:
1. First ask yourself: will this realistically work for my lifestyle? For example, let’s say your work doesn’t allow for more than one break. Planning to eat lunch and two snacks during your workday probably won’t be the right approach for you. If, on the other hand, you get ravenously hungry during the day, and you have the option of snacking, why not include snacks in your meal plan?
2. Find an approach to eating that you can see yourself sticking to for months. If doing a ketogenic diet or a strict low carb diet takes the joy out of living, and you know how to dose for carbs, why would you not include carbs in your diet? It is easy to think a “low carb” diet means eating zero carbs, but that rigidity doesn’t work for most people. Instead, what about including the carbs you enjoy the most while working to reduce the carbs you can live without? A low-er carb diet with more flexibility is likely something you will stick to for the long-term.
3. Lastly, consider how your diet of choice impacts your blood sugars and overall well-being. Does this approach really work for your diabetes? Does it work for your energy? Does it work for other aspects of health besides your blood sugars? Remember, things change and it’s OK to change your habits.
Take what works from each approach you experiment with and create your own nutritional guidelines. I suggest writing them down and saving them, so you can refer to them when you need to share them online or get ideas from others.
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