If you have type 2 diabetes, losing weight and eating healthy are important steps in managing your condition. If weight loss has been on your radar for a while — yet you’ve made little progress on your own — it may be time to consult a registered dietitian nutritionist or registered dietitian. They’ll work with you to create an eating plan that helps you lose weight and manage your blood sugar levels.
What a dietitian can do for you
Many people with type 2 diabetes are referred to a dietitian after receiving their diagnosis. They are a key player in your diabetes management team.
Contrary to what some might think, there’s no so-called diabetes diet. Although there are general dietary guidelines, diabetes eating plans are individualized and vary from person to person. A dietitian can be instrumental in tailoring the right eating plan for you.
When developing a plan, they’ll consider:
- your diabetes treatment plan
- other health conditions you have
- your lifestyle
- your weight loss goals
- your fitness level
Managing carbohydrates, or carbs, is important in successful diabetes eating plans whether your goal is weight loss or not. All carbs increase blood sugar to some degree, but your body still needs them. Eating too many refined carbs may spike your blood sugar levels and lead to weight gain.
The American Diabetes Association estimates carb intake needs to be about 45 to 60 grams per meal. But your ideal carb intake may be higher or lower depending on your fitness level, medications, and overall health. A dietitian can advise you on which carbs to eat and how much.
Sugar, a simple and quickly digesting carb, is a confusing ingredient for many people with diabetes. You can enjoy sugar in moderation as part of your diabetes eating plan if you substitute it for other carbs to stay within your total carb count. A dietitian can help you identify common high-sugar foods and hidden sugars in foods. They can also suggest ways to substitute healthier ingredients such as monk fruit for sugar in your recipes.
A high cholesterol level is also a concern for people with diabetes. Diabetes may lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. This increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. A dietitian will advise you on which foods help manage blood lipid levels and which foods may be harmful. They can also recommend ways to use herbs and seasonings to flavor foods instead of unhealthy fats.
Help with reading food labels
Food labels are a great tool to help you eat healthier, lose weight, and manage blood sugar. They list the per serving total of:
- select vitamins
- select minerals
Food labels have come a long way since their inception. Still, they can be confusing. A dietitian can help you make sense of food labels and teach you how to use them to make nutritious choices.
Why you shouldn’t fall for fad diets
For many people, losing weight on their own is hard, so they turn to quick-fix fad diets. Yet it’s overwhelming to evaluate the claims of fad diets: One diet tells you to eat carbs, but another tells you to avoid them. One plan claims fat is your friend, but another says to shun fat at all costs. The bottom line is fad diets may help you drop weight in the short term, but they’re almost impossible maintain.
If you have type 2 diabetes, fad diets can wreak havoc on your health. They don’t teach you how to eat healthy with managing blood sugar in mind. Severely limiting calories and eating or eliminating certain foods may negatively impact your blood sugar levels and put stress on your kidneys. You may lose a few unwanted pounds, but you may also end up less healthy than when you started.
If you’re thinking about trying a fad diet to lose weight, consider this: If these diets are so effective, why are two out of three adults in the United States still overweight or obese? The answer is that fad diets aren’t a healthy, sustainable weight loss solution.
What to expect when meeting with a dietitian
At your first visit with a dietitian, you’ll discuss your past and present medical history, medications, eating habits, and fitness level. You’ll also review:
- your weight history
- food allergies
- favorite foods
- health goals
- previous weight loss obstacles
- concerns you have
It’s helpful to keep a food journal for a couple weeks before your visit to share your typical diet.
Your dietitian will work with you to identify the best eating plan for your situation. They’ll tell you how many calories, fat, and carbs you should eat each day and help you set measurable goals. Some questions to consider asking are:
- How does food impact my blood sugar?
- What types of carbs are better choices than others?
- Should I eat more protein?
- Can I eat fruits since they’re high in carbs?
- Which foods help lower blood sugar?
- What should I eat before and after exercise to keep blood sugar levels stable?
- How do I manage my cholesterol?
- How does alcohol affect my blood sugar? Should I avoid it?
- Can I eat starchy foods such as potatoes or rice?
- Which fats are healthy?
- What are the best food options when dining out?
A diabetes eating plan is generally the same as many other healthy eating plans. It generally includes:
- lean proteins
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy
- fruits and vegetables
- healthy fats
- meal balance and timing
But because many healthy foods have carbs and impact your blood sugar levels, a diabetes eating plan is more than just eating healthy. It goes much deeper and helps you identify how specific foods impact blood sugar. Having a dietitian on hand to personalize an eating plan and help you stay accountable helps make your weight loss journey easier and healthier.
A dietitian isn’t there to deprive you of your favorite comfort foods. Rather, they’re available to help you learn how food affects your blood sugar and how you can enjoy all foods now and then as part of a healthy, well-rounded eating plan.