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Diabetes: 5 Easy Steps for Patients and Families

Content by: Erin (Nugent) Bern, RD and Contributor for SoulFIRE Health

Yes, it’s an enormous challenge! The sea of patients with Type 2 Diabetes or pre-diabetes seems never ending. There are a lot of people with the condition, and the role of the educator is incredibly important to each individual. Read more...

Diabetes:  5 Easy Steps for Patients and Families


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As we continue to think about patient and family education approaches, it is helpful to simplify education into 5 Easy Steps.

Time is your greatest challenge!
The greatest challenge is the amount of time available with any single person and family. It can be difficult to decide how much can be delivered, conveyed and received in a limited number of interactions. Prioritizing teaching goals becomes as important as the teaching itself.

#1 Choosing the right foods.
Using the USDA MyPlate or Diabetes Plate as a guide can be an easy way to start understanding appropriate portion sizes. This method encourages making half of the grains "whole" selections, choosing lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and making half the plate fruits and vegetables. The Diabetes Food Model Kit as a visual in making food choices. This can also be a gateway into discussing meal planning with clients. Planning out weekly meals increases the chances of eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed convenience foods that are consequently lower in nutrients.

#2 Making the most of your carbohydrates.
Understanding the difference between simple and refined carbs vs complex carbohydrates can help to get the most nutrients out of carbohydrate intake, while maintaining stable blood glucose levels. Things like fruit, juices, honey, syrups, and milk are defined as simple carbs that are quickly broken down in the body and quickly spike glucose levels. NOTE! Teaching clients to pair some of these items with a protein source can help to slow down absorption and help to stable glucose levels. Items such as white bread and regular pasta are refined carbs that have had the whole grain removed during processing. These also break down quickly and spike glucose levels. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and are absorbed more slowly, avoiding a sudden blood sugar spike. These are items such as starchy vegetables, whole grains and beans.

#3 Increasing physical activity!
Physical activity offers several benefits. Exercise helps muscles to use excess glucose, and therefore, increases insulin sensitivity. By combining increased activity and healthy eating habits, a person is more likely to experience beneficial weight loss. Weight loss can help to reduce inflammation in the body, a symptom of insulin resistance. As little as a 5% weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity. And, it’s okay to start small! If a person is nervous about starting to exercise, encourage starting with a 15 minute walk over their lunch break, and gradually increase as their endurance increases.

#4 Get enough sleep and reduce stress levels.
Too little sleep and/or poor quality sleep can increase insulin resistance by increasing stress hormones in the body, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Some tips to improve sleep quality include avoiding caffeine and alcohol intake late in the evening, no electronic devices in the bedroom, and keeping a cool, quiet, dark sleep environment. Lack of sleep and other daily stressors can lead to mental stress. This can then prevent weight loss and effective blood glucose control. Help your client find a stress relieving activity that works for them.

#5 Make annual visits to your doctor.
Due to the increased risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes, it is important to have glucose and A1C levels checked annually. Regular visits to a doctor and dietitian can help improve success in lifestyle changes. Find fun ways to recommend ways to increase client success. Encourage exploration! What works for some people may not work for others.

NOTE: There is more than one way to get the results. And, it may be necessary to continue seeing a educator/coach for continued support, in order to make these changes.

Quick Tips!

- Make 50% of the plate non-starchy vegetables.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains.
- Choose lean proteins.
- Choose low-fat dairy.
- Avoid sugary beverages whenever possible.

Review the 5 Steps:

1. Choose the right foods.
2. Make the most of carbohydrates.
3. Increase physical activity.
4. Get enough sleep and reduce your stress levels.
5. Make annual visits to your doctor.

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