What Can I Do About It?
We rarely think of the way we live as a lifestyle. But that's exactly what it is.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our current lifestyle in not healthy and probably is killing us.
But it doesn't have to be that way and if you keep reading you'll discover ways to improve your lifestyle.
The first 2 parts of this series covered the basics of Prediabetes:
Here in part 3, I want to share some lifestyle changes you can make to reverse Prediabetes and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Here are the topics we’ll explore in part 3:
- Changing your lifestyle
- Diet - It's not what you're thinking
- Exercise & physical activity?
So no more procrastinating, let's dive in!
Change your lifestyle
At the end of part 2 in this series we said making a few simple changes could help you reverse Prediabetes or significantly delay the onset of full type 2 diabetes.
Reversing Prediabetes means making lifestyle changes. As the subtitle above says, it was lifestyle that got you here and it is lifestyle that will get you back.
The leading causes of Prediabetes are:
While there is little we can do about age—at least at this time :)—there are a number of things that can be done to address the other, lifestyle related, items in the list.
Let's start with diet.
Yeah, I hear ya. Been there, done that and you’re not interested in another diet.
By now we all know diets don’t work. Or at best, only work for short periods of time. And as diabetes can be a lifelong issue, short term diets just won’t cut it and I would never suggest that you go on a diet again.
But, please stay with me a little longer to keep an open mind about what 'diet' is.
Remember, I opened this article with a statement about lifestyle being both the cause and the cure.
So, let’s look at what lifestyle change and diet have to do with each other.
For most people, the word diet conjures up a proscribed and painfully restrictive way of eating that can only be followed for a short period. Today, diet has come to mean to regulate one's way of eating for the sake of beauty/vanity/health. You’ve seen the titles:
- Alkaline Diet
- Keto Diet
- Paleo Diet
- Swimsuit Ready Diet
- The Bride Diet
- The Zone Diet
- Atkins Diet
- South Beach Diet
- Raw Food Diet
And on and on ... Amazon lists 70,000 related diet titles.
The weight loss industry in America was valued at north of $68 billion in 2017. (4)
But this is not a 'diet' we're talking about now.
What I'm referring to is the original meaning of the word diet which was “way of living,” a way of life, a way or style of eating”.
I know you’re thinking you already have a way of eating.
That's true. And if you’re like most people in America, you’re eating the Standard American Diet, referred to as the SAD diet (pun intended).
Here are some really concerning numbers associated with the SAD diet as presented by Rip Esselstyn, author of The Engine 2 Diet (2):
- 63% of America’s calories come from refined and processed foods (e.g. soft drinks, packaged snacks like potato chips, packaged desserts, etc.)
- 25% of America’s calories come from animal-based foods
- 12% of America’s calories come from plant-based foods
A 2010 report from the National Cancer Institute on the status of the American diet found that three out of four Americans don't eat a single piece of fruit on a given day. (6)
Unfortunately, half of the plant-based calories (6%) come from french fries. That means only 6% of America’s calories are coming from health-promoting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds
There's a good reason we abbreviate standard American diet to SAD. The standard American diet leads to standard American diseases that lead to standard American deaths.
So what do I do about it you ask?
It’s Simple. Change the way you eat!
Consider moving to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean style of eating that is.
The Mediterranean diet or way of eating focuses primarily on plant-based foods and healthy fats such as olive oil. This way of eating has long been known for its heart-health benefits (and, more recently, its brain-boosting effect).
In addition, major studies show that this eating plan is also effective for both losing and maintaining weight, especially among older adults.
Beyond the immediate health benefits offered by this eating plan, for many people, the Mediterranean way of eating may be a relatively easy change to make as the foods are readily available and familiar to most everyone.
Let's Go Deeper
The Mediterranean eating plan is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Many people who switch to this style of eating say they'll never eat any other way. Here are some specific steps to get you started:
Eat your veggies and fruits
Listen to your mother and eat your vegetables. Plant foods should make up the majority of your meals—perhaps up to 75% of your plate. Strive for an abundance and a variety of veggies and fruits—7 to 10 servings a day.
Switch to whole grains
Look for 100% whole-grain bread and cereal and begin to eat more whole-grain rice and pasta products.
Go nuts (in a good way)
Choose almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts for snacks. They're easy to keep on hand. Choose natural nut butters rather than those with hydrogenated fat added. And don't forget the healthy seeds - sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and others.
Step away from the butter
Butter contains a lot of unhealthy saturated fats. Instead, try olive or canola oil as a healthier replacement for butter or margarine. Use these oils in cooking as well. Dip bread in olive oil with Italian herbs for a tasty alternative to butter. Try tahini as a dip or spread as they do in the Mediterranean.
Don’t skimp on the spices
Use herbs and spices to make food tasty and rich in health-promoting substances. Reduce salt by seasoning meals with your favorite herbs and spices.
Eat wild caught fish once or twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes great and requires little cleanup. Avoid fried fish.
Put a rein on red meat
Replace red meat with fish and poultry. When you choose to eat meat, make sure it's lean and keep portions small (about 4oz). Also avoid all processed meat like sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
Choose low-fat dairy
Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2 percent milk, cheese and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
Raise a glass to healthy eating
If you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start. But if you do drink, and it's OK with your doctor, have a single glass of red wine at dinner.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Now let's turn to exercise & physical activity
Yes, I know, you’ve heard this all before as well.
Well, if you’re diagnosed with Prediabetes, getting and staying active is vital to your health and well-being.
If a healthy way of eating is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, being active is in a very strong second place.
“If exercise could be packaged in a pill, it
would be the single most widely prescribed
and beneficial medicine in the nation.”(1)
Dr. Robert Butler made that statement in 1978 and while there’s as yet no “exercise pill” we still have to remind people of the importance of physical activity in our lives.
In fact when this statement was made, only 45% of American adults engaged in physical activity for the purpose of exercise. In 2016, almost 40 years later, only 21.7% of adults aged 18 and over who met the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. That means just less than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines.
Let's Go Deeper
Exercise: The short course
There are three categories of exercise you need to consider and incorporate into a healthy lifestyle we will look at three of them here.
Those three are:
- Strength or weight-bearing
- Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise
- Balance exercise
Strength training or weight-bearing exercise
First, if you really think about, life is EASIER when you’re strong. Carrying groceries. Carrying children or grandchildren. Doing daily chores around the house. When you're strong, it's no problem.
And importantly, whether you’re seriously overweight or just need to lose that last few pounds, strength training is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and build muscle.
As an added benefit, strength training has been shown to halt and even reverse sarcopenia—the reduction of skeletal muscle that occurs as we get older—which helps us stay independent (and out of a nursing home) and live longer.
While helping to make life easier, strength training has a lot of other great benefits. Here are just a few:
Makes You Healthier: Strength training increases bone density, builds a stronger heart, reduces your resting blood pressure, improves blood flow, halts muscle loss, helps control blood sugar, improves cholesterol levels, and improves your balance and coordination.
You’ll Feel Better: I’ll bet you wouldn’t say no to more energy and confidence. How about less stress and anxiety, or even a better overall mood? What about increased cognitive function? Well, you’re in luck. Strength training has be proven to aid in each of these areas.
Prevents disease and degenerative conditions: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. They have shown strength training to correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity—all factors for heart disease.
Even for the frail elderly, studies have shown that drastic results are possible in just 10 weeks of strength training for both men and women in their 70s through their 90s. In addition, strength training may also delay Alzheimer’s and stave off dementia.
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise
Imagine for a moment that you're exercising. You're working up a sweat, you're breathing hard and your heart is really pumping. Blood is coursing through your arteries delivering oxygen to your muscles to keep you moving. You sustain the activity for more than just a few minutes. That's aerobic or cardio exercise, which is any activity you can sustain for more than just a few minutes while your heart, lungs, and muscles work overtime.
Aerobic exercise is an exercise that requires pumping of oxygen rich blood by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles.
Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart rate and breathing rate to increase in a way that can be sustained for the exercise session.
Some examples of aerobic exercises are cardio machines (exercise cycle, treadmill, elliptical, etc.) running, swimming, walking, hiking, aerobics classes, dancing, cross-country skiing, and more.
Aerobic exercise not only improves fitness; it also has proven benefits for both physical and emotional health.
Aerobic exercise can also help prevent or reduce the chance of developing a variety of chronic diseases such as some cancers, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.
The National Institute on Aging at NIH reports that each year, over 2 million older Americans go to the emergency room because of fall-related injuries (3). Balance exercises can help you prevent falls and avoid the disability that may result from falling.
Having good balance is important for many of the activities of daily life, such as walking and climbing stairs.
Exercises that improve balance can help can also benefit those who are obese since weight is not always carried or distributed evenly throughout the body.
A loss of balance can occur when standing or moving suddenly. Often we are not fully aware that we may have weak balance until we try balance exercises.
How Much, How Often
One beauty of balance exercises is that you can do them almost anytime, anywhere, and as often as you like. Also consider lower-body strength exercises because they can help improve your balance. Do the lower-body strength exercises 2 or more days a week but not on any 2 days in a row.
There are many simple balance exercises you can do whenever you want and almost anywhere:
- Standing on one foot
- Single leg deadlift
- Pendulum leg swing
- and several hundred more.
The first one on the list above - standing on one foot - is perhaps one of the easiest to get started with.
There are also more formal practices that, besides providing other health benefits, are also excellent techniques to improve one's balance. If you like the camaraderie of a group or class setting, you might consider Yoga or Tai Chi (my personal favorite).
Troubled Sleep Patterns
Getting enough sleep seems to be an issue for everyone these days. Our busy lives make getting 7-8 of sleep each night difficult.
In terms of human need, sleep is one of the five most important elements. Sleep deprivation can cause a myriad of problems ranging from decreased body temperature, cognitive impairment and hallucination, and much more.
One of the most serious health consequences that comes from disrupted, poor quality sleep is a significantly increased risk for diabetes. Diabetes can cause sleep loss, and there’s growing evidence that not sleeping well or not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of developing diabetes. Additionally, poor sleep can lead to obesity which is also directly linked to diabetes.
Talk about your vicious cycle.
According to Mark Mahowald, MD, there's evidence that sleep deprivation can lead to pre-diabetic state (7). The body's reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, a precursor to and a major aspect of diabetes. As we now know, if you’ve been following these posts, insulin’s job is to help the body use glucose for energy. In insulin resistance, cells do not use the hormone efficiently, resulting in high blood sugar.
Sleep is also an important time for restoration and repair of the body at a cellular level. That includes maintenance of the immune system (which keeps us from getting sick) and of the body’s metabolic functions.
If blood glucose levels are already running high, you will reduce those higher levels of glucose by going to the bathroom. During the day, this is a nuisance. At night, that means waking up multiple times to go to the bathroom, and ultimately not getting our 7-hours-worth.
So in summary, they have linked poor sleep to:
- High blood sugar levels
- Increased insulin resistance
- Increased A1c
- Reduced metabolic health
- Weight gain and obesity
To help you get better sleep, here’s a list of things you can do to help you get the sleep you need:
Stress is a part of everyday life. Home, work, general life, we just can't escape it. And unfortunately, the chronic stress most of us live with can have massively harmful effects on our mental and physical wellbeing. The image below outlines many of those affects.
Learning to manage the stress of daily life is important for all of us, but it is even more important for those with Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Stress changes your hormones, which may prevent insulin from working properly and raise your blood glucose levels.
We know that people with Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, meaning their bodies cannot regulate blood sugar levels.
And as a double whammy because of these imbalances, those with insulin resistance have an increased emotional response to negative stimuli.
In short, they are more susceptible to stress.
Therefore, they have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) which causes an even higher level of insulin resistance. According to a recent study, for people with blood sugar problems, being more stressed and reactive can cause blood sugar to spike (8).
Since cortisol can increase your blood sugar and potentially lead to Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, you want to reduce your stress level in whatever ways you can.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life and of concern for anyone with Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. But stress isn't always a bad thing. Take the time to learn more about stress. Begin to notice what triggers your stress reactions. What you learn may surprise you.
Diet and exercise may be the most powerful medicines we have ever seen. Not only will these two interventions help you deal with Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, but they will also make amazing changes in all other areas of your health. Now is the time to change the way you eat and find ways to increase your activity levels regularly to insure you will live a long and healthy life.
This brings us to the end of our 3-part series on Prediabetes. But it’s really just the beginning.
We offer several additional ways to learn more. You can visit our website, join our email list, or join our Facebook Group to be notified of future blog posts, podcast episodes, live Facebook video discussions, and useful free content to help you deal with Prediabetes and prevent type 2.
You can join the Prediabetes and lifestyle discussion below or in our private Facebook community Prediabetes and Beyond.
still have questions?
A diagnosis of Prediabetes can be scary and confusing.
But it doesn't have to be!
Get the answers you seek to the most frequently asked questions about Prediabetes . . .
The 6 Questions You Should Ask When Diagnosed With Prediabetes
This report will help you:
and much more.
About the Author - Gary Barclay
Gary is co-founder of Blue Coral Coaching Solutions. He is a Health Psychologist, Lifestyle Change Coach, and Diabetes Prevention Educator. As a master health and transformational lifestyle expert, world traveler, and public educator, Gary uses his unique combination of training and skills to work with individuals and groups to take their lives to the next level of optimal health and healing, while living the life of their dreams.
1 Butler, R. N. (1977-1978). Public Interest Report No. 23: Exercise, the neglected therapy. The International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 8(2), 193-195. http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/AM1W-RABB-4PJY-P1PK
2 Esselstyn, R. (2009). The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas firefighter's 28-day save-your-life plan that lowers cholesterol and burns away the pounds. New York: Wellness Central.
3 Improve Your Balance. (2018). Retrieved July, 2018, from https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/balance
4 LaRosa, J. (2018). Top 6 Trends for the Weight Loss Industry in 2018. [online] Blog.marketresearch.com. Available at: https://blog.marketresearch.com/top-6-trends-for-the-weight-loss-market-in-2018.
5 Medicinenet.com. (2016). Prediabetes Symptoms (Overweight), Diet Plans & HbA1c Range Chart. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/prediabetes/article.htm#prediabetes_definition_and_facts
6 NutritionFacts.org. (n.d.). Standard American Diet. Retrieved from https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/standard-american-diet/
7 WebMD, & Mann, D. (2018). Sleep-diabetes connection. Retrieved August 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/diabetes-lack-of-sleep#1
8 Wolf, T., Tsenkova, V., Ryff, C. D., Davidson, R. J., & Willette, A. A. (2018). Neural, hormonal, and cognitive correlates of metabolic dysfunction and emotional reactivity. Psychosomatic Medicine, 80(5), 452-459. doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000582