How To Diet With Diabetes – 10 Essential Tips For Success

Being diagnosed with diabetes may come as a shock to many people. There is a lot to learn, from how and when to administer medication to adjusting your diet to keep yourself in optimum health.

Obesity is one of the factors attributed to the onset of diabetes, which means many people with the condition may want to lose weight at some point. Dieting to lose weight with diabetes can seem overwhelming, with blood sugar levels to monitor and a lot of confusing information about what is safe to eat.

Taking Diabetes Blood Test

Tips For Dieting With Diabetes

To ensure you get the very best weight loss results we’ve put together this list of tips. Use this 10 handy tips to help create a diet that is both healthy and sustainable, even while living with diabetes- it’s easier than you think!

Tip 1 – Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels

Your doctor will advise you on the safe and healthy range for your blood sugar levels. Keeping your blood sugar within these levels is essential if you want to successfully diet to lose weight. Allowing yourself to have low blood sugar increases your risk of going into a hypoglycemic state (or ‘having a hypo’) and also causes extreme hunger.

This often encourages people to eat too fast and overeat, leading to weight gain or retention. Letting your blood sugar levels get too high is dangerous and can cause weakness, blurred vision and in the long term, organ damage. Talk to your doctor and ensure that you understand your safe blood sugar levels and how to monitor them (they will be different on waking up, before meals, after meals and after exercise).

Tip 2 – Eat Regular Meals

Skipping meals is a tempting way to lose weight but it is both unsafe and ineffective long-term. Studies of people who tried to lose weight by skipping meals found that participants were good at restricting their calories during the day, but by late afternoon they would be so hungry that they would fuel up on high-sugar and high-fat foods.

They would also eat late into the night, consuming more than their necessary daily calories despite having skipped meals earlier in the day. For someone with diabetes, skipping meals can also induce the dangerous side effect of hypoglycemia.

Instead of missing meals, ensure that you have three healthy meals with nutritious snacks in between if you feel hungry (see our traditional and plant-based meal plans at the bottom of this article!)

Tip 3 – Load up on veggies

The traditional food pyramid with grains and white potatoes at the bottom is out of date and certainly not based on weight loss- our plates should not be piled with complex carbohydrate such as potatoes, pasta or rice. Instead fill one-third of your plate with sweet potato, wholegrain rice or wholemeal pasta and half of your plate with fibrous vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, spinach, cabbage and the like. Veggies have the double benefit of being low in calories and packed full of vitamins and minerals that help revitalise hair, skin and nails. Choose organic veggies if you can for even more nutrient points and eat plenty of raw as well as cooked plant foods. Dark leafy greens are chock-full of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants so aim to have a portion with each meal. Try to avoid vegetables packed in sugared saltwater or syrup, as these will contain extra sodium and empty calories, and always drain and rinse canned vegetables. Vegetable juice is better than having no veggies at all, but is higher in sugar than the whole food so try to keep fresh veggies as your staple.

Tip 4 – Cut down on sugar

Cutting out sugar from diets has become more popular in recent years but it understandably isn’t something everyone wants or is able to do. If you love a sweet treat try and find healthier versions with natural sweeteners such as stevia instead of refined white sugar, or why not make your own sweet treats with whole foods such as dates, oats and cacao nibs or low-sugar dark chocolate chips? If you still love traditional desserts try to have them as part of a meal instead of a stand-alone snack to help prevent sugar spikes; have a smaller portion and eat it more slowly with plenty of water.

Tip 5 – Learn about portion size

It is great to replace refined and processed foods with whole food versions but any food can be the cause of weight gain if you don’t exercise portion control (and therefore the amount of calories we consume). Recommended portion sizes may be a lot smaller than we are used to eating, but as we adjust our portion sizes our bodies get used to our new normal. Examples of portion sizes for weight loss include half a cup of cooked rice, one cup of raw leafy greens, half a cup of cooked beans of peas and one slice of bread. For people with diabetes looking to lose weight, aim for no more than six servings of grains per day.

Tip 6 – Increase protein intake

It is a common misconception that eating carbohydrate is what makes us feel full. A balanced diet including carbohydrate is important but relying on carbs as the main source of our calories puts us more at risk of sugar spikes, leading to extreme hunger and cravings for sugar. Protein gives much more satisfaction and is usually gram-for-gram lower in calories (and sugar) than carbohydrates. Healthy sources of protein include Greek yogurt, legumes, nuts and oily fish such as mackerel and wild salmon. Plant-based (vegan) diets are becoming increasingly popular and examples of plant-based protein such as tofu and tempeh are also excellent, low-fat options for people with diabetes wanting to lose weight.

Tip 7 – Eat some healthy fat with each meal

Fat is another nutrient that gives us that feeling of being full, so try to incorporate some healthy fats with each meal. Examples include avocado, oily fish such as wild mackerel and salmon, nuts, olive oil (preferably cold-pressed virgin oil), coconut oil, olives and hummus. Remember to check your portion control (half an avocado is plenty)! Unhealthy fats include all trans and hydrogenated fats found in many processed foods such as cookies and chips as well as in deep-fried foods; these should be avoided as much as possible, especially for people trying to lose weight.

Tip 8 – Ditch the low-fat substitutes

Low-fat yogurts and desserts may seem like a good idea but the reality is that these products are often packed with sugar to increase the flavour that is reduced by fat removal. Having small portions of full-fat yogurts (or coconut and soy-based alternatives) is better for weight loss than the reduced-sugar counterparts.

Tip 9 – Decrease your calories

To put it simply, weight loss cannot occur unless the calories burned are more than the calories consumed. Decreasing how many calories you eat in a day is an easy way to start burning fat and losing weight. Switch white spaghetti for spiralized courgette, white rice for ground cauliflower and sugary drinks for water. If you can’t stand the thought of changing what you’re consuming, be more aware of how much you are eating and drinking (see point 5). Having a glass of water before each meal as well as drinking water regularly throughout the day can help stop you mistaking thirst for hunger pangs and allow you to consume the right amount of calories for your body.

Tip 10 – Exercise

If cutting down on your portions and treats fills you with dread, taking up a calorie-burning exercise or two is a great way to burn fat fast. Running and power-walking, swimming, lifting weights and cross-training are all great forms of exercise that burn a considerable amount of energy. If you lack motivation to hit the gym or the sidewalk, join an enjoyable class such as Zumba, Spin or yoga to have fun and meet new friends while getting your sweat on! Swimming is particularly good for people with Type 2 diabetes as it doesn’t put pressure on your joints. Check your blood sugars before and after exercising and take measures to ensure your numbers stay within the healthy range.

Meal Plan For Losing Weight With Diabetes

An example of a healthy daily meal plan for someone with diabetes who is trying to lose weight would be:

  • Breakfast: Two slices of wholegrain toast with two poached eggs and steamed spinach, plus an apple.
  • Snack:  An energy ball made from dates, oats and almond butter and a pear.
  • Lunch: A leafy green salad with quinoa, cucumber, tomatoes, olives and sweetcorn with two hard-boiled eggs and balsamic dressing. One banana.
  • Snack: A fruit salad with Greek yogurt
  • Dinner: Brown rice with wild salmon and steamed broccoli and carrots. Small piece or dark chocolate.

An example of a plant-based diet for someone with diabetes trying to lose weight:

  • Breakfast: Muesli with almond milk and two tangerines
  • Snack: An apple with a tablespoon of almond butter
  • Lunch: Mushroom and sweetcorn soup with a whole-grain brown bread roll and cucumber, red pepper and carrot crudités.
  • Snack: A banana
  • Dinner: Chickpea and sweet potato curry on cauliflower rice with spicy green beans. A small piece of dark chocolate.

Conclusion

While having diabetes does make things a little more complicated when it comes to putting yourself onto a weight loss diet, it still doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Make sure you take our advice into account and there’s no reason you won’t see success with a little bit of willpower and determination.

Hannah Canavan
Researcher at DietProbe
Hannah is a health and lifestyle journalist with a passion for veganism and nutrition.