Trying to implement healthy diet and exercise habits to manage your type 2 diabetes isn’t always easy. We often know what we should be doing, but old habits and lack of willpower around food can sometimes get in our way.
Rather than repeating the same standard message — that eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting daily exercise is important — I want to share three nutrition and exercise hacks that will help you bridge the gap between knowledge and action.
Identify your food triggers
Eat in moderation. Only eat until you’re full. Choose more whole foods. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Ever since you received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, you’ve probably heard the same advice.
But even with this knowledge, many people struggle with cravings, overeating, or a restrain/binge relationship with food.
As a diabetes health coach, I’ve found that for my clients to create progress and lasting change with lowering their A1c levels, surface knowledge alone isn’t enough. It’s essential that we address the emotional and psychological relationship we have with food in order to be successful in changing our habits.
One helpful tool is to identify your food triggers. For every person, there are usually two to three feelings that can trigger unhealthy food decisions, even if you “know better.” Right now, or the next time you go to reach for that brownie, ask yourself what the root of your craving is:
- Are you bored? Tired? Stressed?
- Using food as a reward?
- Connecting food to a past memory?
- Are you restricting or “being good” during the week, but letting yourself go on the weekends?
- Did you not eat enough during the day, which is causing you to overeat at night?
- What’s ultimately the underlying reason you’re ending up choosing those sugary, fatty, and refined comfort foods?
Once you’re able to identify your common food triggers, ask yourself what you can do to better address the underlying issue and satisfy your need directly. Perhaps it’s meditation, going for a walk, having a cup of tea, or going to sleep earlier.
Set realistic goals for exercise
Type 2 diabetes is often associated with inactivity. If the thought of exercise is intimidating to you, or you have trouble sticking to a routine, here are a few ways to set yourself up for success:
Schedule your workouts
On Sunday evening, schedule workout time into your calendar. Just like you prioritize doing the laundry, cooking, or work meetings, create time blocks for your workouts as well.
Create a system of accountability
Whether you find a friend to walk with at the park or get a trainer at the gym, having a support system will significantly help you stay on track for the days you don’t feel motivated to work out.
While the ultimate goal is to be moving your body five days a week for at least 30 minutes, the key is to start small. If you’re currently working out once a week for 20 minutes, don’t overwhelm yourself by immediately increasing it to five days.
Each week, incrementally increase the amount of days and time. For example, maybe the first week you decide to exercise two days for 20 minutes, the third week you exercise three days for 20 minutes, and the fourth week you exercise for four days for 20 minutes.
An important piece in creating healthier habits around food and exercise is through reflection and mindfulness. Instead of being self-critical of the reasons you haven’t been able to lose weight or lower your A1c, look at what patterns and habits might be preventing you from making progress.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. You can’t expect different results if your actions are the same. I recommend taking out a notebook and writing down roadblocks you’ve hit in the past along your health and wellness journey. Then underneath each roadblock, write down how you can prevent it from occurring in the future and the best way to respond if it does come up.