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From Me to Oprah Week #5: You Don’t Need to be the Biggest Loser: Small Steps Can Help Prevent Diabetes

February 4, 2010

On today’s Oprah show, diabetes–a group of metabolic diseases marked by chronic high blood sugar levels– will be the hot topic. While it’s unclear from the promos if a registered dietitian (or even better, an RD who is also a Certified Diabetes Educator) will grace the Oprah stage alongside Dr. Mehmet Oz, Bob Greene, and others, the show is likely to bring to light not only the dangers of this disease, but what to do about it if you have or will be diagnosed with the condition in the future.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 23.6 million adults and children– about 8% of the population– have diabetes. Unfortunately, only three quarters of those with the condition have actually been diagnosed. The clock is ticking for another 57 million who are estimated to have pre-diabetes.

Of course knowing you have the condition is the first step towards managing the condition, so it’s critical that people who are overweight or obese, inactive, have a family history of diabetes, or have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) go for annual physicals and to look for signs and symptoms of the condition. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes (the type of diabetes that accounts for about 90 to 95% of all cases of diabetes).

You’ve no doubt heard that prevention is the best medicine. The good news is research from the Diabetes Prevention Program has shown that people can take steps to dramatically reduce their risk–by as much as a whopping 58%– of developing type 2 diabetes.

The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health? Weight loss. Losing even a little bit–as little as 5 or 10% or about 10 to 20 pounds if your initial weight is 200 pounds–can help you lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and other diseases because of its positive impact on blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure. Taking a slow, steady, and safe approach to a trimmer you may not sound sexy, but is is more likely to help you physically and mentally adapt to your new habits and keep the weight you lose off over the long-term.

To lose weight, you know you need to cut your calorie intake. Of course taking fewer bites at all your meals can make a difference and maybe help you lose some weight. But you may need more support getting started–that’s where a registered dietitian can help. He or she can help you design your own personal “diet” that incorporates your unique tastes and preferences, lifestyle, schedule, and other variables that affect your eating habits. You can find an RD in your area by going to the American Dietetic Association web site (see sources below).

Consuming fiber rich foods and whole grains also seems to be a great way to prevent type 2 diabetes (and if it leads you to consume fewer calories, it can even help you lose weight). Filling up with fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans will not only make less room for high fat, high calorie foods and treats, but will provide tons of nutrients and other beneficial substances like phytochemicals. Most Americans should aim for about 25 grams of fiber a day, so be sure to include at least one fiber-rich food for each meal and snack you have each day. To count towards that, make sure at least half of your grain servings for the day are whole grains (one whole grain equals 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 1 cup puffy/flaky whole grain cereal, 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal, 1/2 cup brown or wild rice or whole wheat pasta).

The other half of the weight loss equation is exercise and physical activity. Being active on a regular basis can help you burn more calories, and at the same time preserve muscle and protect bones. Walking a few extra blocks each day can help, but incorporating cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching can help you reap the full benefits of exercise.

Be sure to to get medical clearance before you start any new exercise program. If you want some guidance in finding safe, enjoyable ways to fit exercise into your life, look for a personal trainer or fitness professional who is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (see sources below).

Last but not least, sit less! That’s a great way to mindlessly burn more calories. Make sure to get up for at least 10 minutes out of every hour you sit simply to move. This can help you burn a few more calories, keep you limber, and give you an energy burst (especially if you walk briskly for at least some of those minutes).

Small changes over time will add up to big dividends–as long as you make the changes, work them into your life, and are consistent. Enhancing the quality of your life by eating less but eating more nutritiously, and keeping your bones and muscles on the go not only help prevent or at least minimize the risks associated with type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases and conditions, but can make you feel better. That’s worth everything, isn’t it?

Sources:
American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
American Dietetic Association: http://eatrght.org/
National Strength and Conditioning Association: http://www.nsca-lift.org/
American Council on Exercise: http://www.acefitness.org/

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