It’s January 1st and you’re all fired up, ready to start with that New Year’s weight loss resolution. You’re determined! Now is the time to make life-altering changes to your diet, your fitness, and your diabetes management in order to drop those extra pounds that have been bothering you. You might already have bought all the gear, read all the fitness magazines and stocked up on test strips. That’s great! I’m proud of you, and honestly applaud your enthusiasm and desire to make positive changes in your life. Allow my experience to be an additional resource for you on this journey, and let me help you reach those goals with a few tips.
Not to be a downer, but you’re most likely taking on too much too quickly
Start with one small change and then add more as time goes on. This is not a race, it’s a lifelong journey. If your overall goal is to “get healthy and drop a few pounds”, then break that down into smaller components and tackle them one at a time. Your goals could be to exercise more (ask yourself; how much is more?), eat better (what does that mean to you?), take better care of your diabetes (is that testing your blood sugar more often and adjusting your doses?). When you have all your goals and sub-goals defined and written down, prioritize them and start with what’s most important to you. By tackling one thing at a time and taking them on at a sustainable pace, you’ll set yourself up for success.
Let’s say the most important thing to you at this point is exercise. If you’ve never exercised before, a good starting point might be 3 times weekly for 30-40 min. Doing too much too soon will quickly wear you out and, in the worst case, could leave you injured. Adopting new habits slowly means that you’ll have a greater chance of sticking to them.
Another very important aspect is how these life changes impact your blood sugar control. When you start exercising or changing your eating habits, your blood sugar management will change too. If you take insulin, you will most likely need less the more you exercise due to increased insulin sensitivity. This is not a bad thing! However, if you change too many things at once, it can be hard to identify your new treatment needs, and you have a higher chance of your blood sugars running high or low.
If you need a good template for setting realistic but motivating goals, read my post on How to set Realistic Fitness and Diabetes Goals and Find Your Positive Motivation on DiabetesStrong.
Start out with what yields the highest return
If your goal is to lose weight, the best place to start is by assessing your diet. Your first inclination might be to start exercising, but you really can’t outrun a poor diet. Revamping your diet by ditching processed, high calorie, high glycemic foods and replacing them with produce, lean meats, and healthy fats will take you further than any amount of cardio.
Even if you start small, like by replacing high glycemic carbs (like white bread, pasta, cake, candy, and soda) with moderate portions of low glycemic carbs (like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats and sweet potato), you will see benefits to both your blood sugar and your waistline.
Notice how I said moderate portions? Getting a food scale so you can measure and track your portions can be the key to success. The thing is, even healthy foods can place you in a calorie surplus if you have too much of them, and then fat loss is impossible. You can have too much of a good thing.
The focus on moderate portions of low glycemic carbs instead of high glycemic carbs will result in way less drastic increases in your blood sugar. That also means that if you treat your diabetes with insulin, you’ll need less insulin per meal, which can also reduce the risks of hypoglycemia.
When you have your diet dialed in and your blood sugar management adjusted to your new eating patterns, I suggest you add in exercise. If you haven’t exercised in a while or it’s completely new to you, start with something as simple as walking, biking or swimming. Get used to moving, always respect your limitations, and build endurance and strength. Be aware that if you take certain diabetes management drugs (like insulin or sulfonylureas and meglitinides), the risk of exercise-induced hyperglycemia increases. Test your blood sugar more frequently when starting an exercise regime, bring glucose tabs or juice with you, and learn how your body reacts to exercise.
When you’re ready, or if you feel like you’re in pretty good shape already, add some resistance training to your routine. Building muscle is key for anybody with diabetes. Even a little more muscle mass will increase your insulin sensitivity, making your diabetes management easier.
Adjust your goals to where you are on your journey
As you get stronger and the pounds start coming off, it might be time to change both your goals and your strategy. But first; Celebrate! Celebrate that first week of eating better, celebrate that first walk, that 5K run, that 1 lbs. fat loss, and, of course, eventually reaching your end goal. You don’t have to celebrate with things or food, but recognize how big of an achievement it is, be proud of yourself, and say it out loud.
When all that is said and done, decide what you would like to achieve next. Again, break that goal down into smaller sub-goals and tackle them one by one. Even if your goal is just “to be healthy”, define what that means to you, and break down how you’ll achieve it.
Join a community or online challenge
There is strength in numbers, and making changes can be easier if you have a strong network supporting you. We don’t all have that, and often our networks and support systems don’t really understand diabetes. That’s where communities like the DiabetesSisters and the online diabetes community in general can play a significant role. Facebook also has groups for pretty much any person living with diabetes. You can find groups for moms, for runners, for general athletes, etc. etc. Just do a search and you’ll see. And who knows, you might find your next diabuddy online.
Another resource is my January Fit With Diabetes New Year’s Challenge. It’s a free online event that we host on DiabetesStrong, and the theme will be healthy nutrition and weight management. Almost 2,000 people with diabetes participated in my last challenge, and we have the most friendly and supportive diabetes communities you could imagine.
Whatever you decide, please know that if you need us, the diabetes online community is there for you, to help cheer you, give advice, and share experiences.