My Week as a Diabetic and What I Learned
November 13, 2014
Dietetic Intern Neron Francis spends a week on a Type 2 diabetic diet.
We're well into November now, and that means we're gearing up for the holidays. From a nutrition standpoint, it can be a challenging time, given all the stress and goodies that surround us constantly during this busy season. So it's a good thing that November is also National Diabetes Month.
It's vital that we continue to raise awareness of this increasingly prevalent disease. In fact, recent statistics show that diabetes afflicts 30 million Americans—both adults and children. Another 86 million are considered pre-diabetic or at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. The health implications are worrying. And so are the estimated costs associated with them: $245 billion back in 2012!
Life as a Type 2 diabetic
As a nutrition student and (in the near future) registered dietitian, one of my class assignments was to assume the role of a person recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes for an entire week. My initial thought was, “Piece of cake.” (Pardon the pun.) But I quickly found the assignment overwhelming.
Trying to balance my diet was not an easy task. When you're really paying attention, it's eye opening to see what is actually in the food we eat: excess calories, saturated fats, sodium, added sugars. It's a constant challenge to find wholesome choices that aren't processed or full of additives. But it's not impossible. This project made me realize how important it is to read labels when trying to eat right.
Grocery shopping is one thing, but eating out is an entirely different monster. At least when you shop at the market, you control the ingredients that go into your food. When dining out you have to be even more careful, as many of the choices are far from healthy.
Research suggests my restaurant experiences are not unique. A majority of the 79 million Americans who eat out on a daily basis know that they are not consuming healthy, balanced foods.
But don't ban all restaurants just yet: just because you have diabetes, or are at risk for it, doesn't mean you can't eat out. It just means you have to do a little more homework and plan ahead by researching restaurants that offer sensible choices. People love to eat out, but they also want to eat right!
The market is reacting
In response, more and more food establishments are recognizing the importance of having healthier options on their menus.
SPE can be a great resource for any food establishment looking to go this route. SPE Certified foodservice operations are committed to providing delicious and nutritious choices on their menu, by attaining standards that reduce salt, saturated fats, sugar and applying cooking methods that ensure nutrient density. So when customers see the distinctive SPE Certified logo, they will know that establishment is committed to their health and well-being.
Through this project, I quickly learned that food choice is one of the biggest (of the many) challenges that diabetics face each and every day.
What is diabetes?
Before we can talk about how to deal with diabetes, we need to take a step back and understand what exactly, this disease is. There are two kinds of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Both are metabolic disorders that, if not managed properly, reduce the quality of one's life. Each has a strong genetic link.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at an early stage in life (hence its alternate name, juvenile diabetes). Type 1 appears to be linked to autoimmune disorders. The body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas, compromising its ability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose levels.
In Type 2 diabetes, which this discussion is focused on, the beta cells of the pancreas continue to produce insulin, but the body’s ability to utilize the insulin is compromised as a result of excess body weight or obesity.
There's a widespread belief that Type 2 diabetes is something that only develops later in life. Unfortunately, more and more adolescents are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It's an alarming trend, and as long as the obesity epidemic continues to rise in the US, so will the rate of Type 2 diabetes. Certain groups also have to be more vigilant: Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common among Latinos, Asians, blacks and the elderly.
What can be done?
Although there isn’t any “cure” for diabetes, there are some effective lifestyle modifications you can make in order to help manage and control this metabolic disorder. Two of the most important changes are increasing physical activity and consuming a balanced diet.
Try resistance training, brisk walking and stretching. It's been suggested that these activities help control Type 2 diabetes. Remember: it's great to feel motivated, but don't do too much too soon. Always consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.
A diet that emphasizes plant-based foods can also help to effectively control and manage Type 2 diabetes. Dark leafy green vegetables and non-starchy vegetables won't spike your blood sugar levels, and they're rich in powerful nutrients that carry loads of other health benefits. Plus, veggies provide high amounts of fiber, keeping you satisfied longer. That means less snacking between meals.
Thankfully, I was just a "diabetic" for a week. Unfortunately, it's a very real disease for far too many people. The good news is that if we commit ourselves to a healthy lifestyle, we can do our part in controlling this disease.
Do you live with diabetes or know somebody who does? Share your experiences or tips with us in the comments below.
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