When it comes to type 2 diabetes, you need diet and exercise goals that encourage you to succeed—not ones that set you up to fail, says Ann Goebel-Fabbri, PhD, a psychologist and investigator at the Joslin Diabetes Center, in Boston.
"I think goals have to be small and well spelled out for people. Everyone has the experience of going to a health practitioner and being told something vague: 'You know, you really ought to lose weight.' What does that mean? Goals need to be broken down into small nuts and bolts," she says.
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First step: See where you stand now
Margaret Savoca, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, suggests that you stop and look at your eating and exercise habits, and figure out what will be the easiest changes to make, rather than making huge changes that are tough to sustain.
"Diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint," says Elizabeth Hardy, 47, a Dallas resident who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2005. For Hardy it was easiest to make changes in her life one step at a time.
Here are 10 ways to start.
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Keep a record of your physical activity
Most people overestimate how much exercise they get. If you write it down, you'll have an honest appraisal of where you're starting.
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Bring your own lunch
Avoid eating lunch at restaurants or fast-food joints. Restaurant meals "can go out of control easily," Savoca says. They tend to have large portions, lots of calories, and high amounts of fat. Research has found an association between eating out more and having a higher body weight.
When you make your own lunch, you control the ingredients and your portion sizes. If making your own lunch every day is too much, you might want to try twice a week to start.
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Change your daily routine
Instead of stopping for a fat-filled latte on the way to work, have a cup of coffee with low-fat milk and a low-fat granola bar.
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Make healthier choices when you go to restaurants
For example, at McDonald's, a diabetes-friendly choice might be a salad with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing. "What's important is for people to be able to problem-solve," Savoca says. "People probably have a lot of the answers; it's just that it takes a little time to come up with them and make them their own."
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Use a pedometer
These handy devicesavailable for less than $20 at sporting goods storesclip on to your waistband and record the number of steps you take. Use one to estimate how many steps you take on an average day. Then set a goal to slowly increase that number. Maybe you want to take 100 extra steps every day this week, and add another hundred each day next week. Although many experts recommend going 10,000 steps a day for good health, feel free to set goals that work for you, Goebel-Fabbri says.
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Keep gum handy
Pop a piece of sugar-free gum (but not too many piecessome sugar-free gums contain sweeteners that can upset your stomach at high doses). Gum may "fix" your need for a snack and leave you with a fresh, minty taste that you won't want to ruin with a bag of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.
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Try one new fruit or vegetable each week
With the variety available at a typical supermarket, this strategy could introduce you to new favorites for months.
However, test your blood sugar after trying a new itemespecially fruit. Some may have a more dramatic effect on blood sugar than others, and if they do, you may have to limit portion sizes accordingly.
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Take home menus from your favorite restaurants
You can research the healthiest options on the menu when you're not rushed to make a decision. Decide what you want before you go into the restaurant and order ahead of your dining companions so you won't be tempted by their choices.
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Serve home-cooked meals on smaller plates
Portions matter. If you serve yourself less food, you tend to eat less than if you have a large plate with a large meal.
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Test your blood sugar two to three hours after meals
Hardy frequently tests her blood sugar with a glucose monitor. With time she slowly figured out which foods made her blood sugar jump up too quickly. Sometimes her blood sugar gets too high, but she doesn't get down about it; she just aims to do better. "Know that you're going to make mistakes and know that's OK," she says.
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