Drastic measures for type 2 diabetics
We all know that, in conjunction with weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes is on the increase. The question of what to do about that has puzzled health officials for many years now. Medicine can deal with the immediate symptoms through drugs but cannot address the lifestyle issues that cause it. Not only do we see more cases of diabetes, but many more cases of amputations, neuropathy and blindness arising as long-term side-effects. This is devastating for those involved; their families and friends. In fact, for all of us, as through our taxes, we are supporting the NHS in having to deal with these distressing consequences.
Previous dietary advice has fallen short, and so the NHS recently announced its new plan for type 2 diabetics (1) - and it’s drastic! Up to 5,000 type 2 diabetics will follow a liquid 800 calorie/day diet of soups and smoothies for three months, to try to reverse the disease. A previous trial of 300 patients achieved a 50% success rate with this approach. I don’t know how many people dropped out during the three months - this is not for the faint-hearted.
Isn’t it good to know that type 2 diabetes has finally been recognised as a lifestyle disease that can be reversed with the right level of commitment? (2) Isn’t it even better to know that working with a nutritional therapist can teach diabetics what to eat, and how to eat in a way that is both satisfying and nutritious, while at the same time bringing blood sugar back under control? No-one likes the word ‘diet,’ and learning a new way of eating that diabetics can maintain, using everyday foods (no special meals or drinks), which is totally under the control of the individual (not the medical staff), has a lot in its favour. (Note: all changes to medications should be done on the advice of your doctor).
Is there a way that you could emulate the NHS diet, without being quite so drastic? I believe there is. It is, after all, just an 800 calorie per day diet. This can be achieved quite easily through understanding how to put food together in a way that is nourishing, satisfying, and reduces cravings. Did you know, for example, that a simple thing such as adding cinnamon and milled chia seeds or milled flax seeds to your breakfast can give you the sweet taste (without adding extra sugar), make it more filling and bump up your levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils. Add a teaspoon of coconut oil (yes, I did mean add more fat) to help you sail through to lunchtime without needing a sweet mid-morning snack, and it will also benefit the flexibility of your cells; kill bacteria, viruses and funghi; improve brain function; reduce cholesterol, and – yes – improve weight loss. Not all fats are the same, and the structure of coconut oil means it can be absorbed and used by the body very quickly so that it isn’t stored as fat.
Does this mean that you don’t need to reduce the quantity of food? No it doesn’t, but there are even ways around that, simply by eating more (in some cases, a lot more) vegetables. Picture your evening meal: it’s not uncommon to have half the plate or more filled with carbohydrates (potato, pasta, rice etc.). That’s quite a few calories. If you reduced this quantity to a quarter of your plate and increased your vegetables to half the plate, you would feel full, plus you would be giving your body more antioxidants (each colour has different antioxidants) to boost your immunity, reduce ageing and generally keep internal organs in better condition with less damage.
This way of eating is known as ‘blood-sugar balancing,’ because you avoid the big peaks and troughs in blood sugar. At the start of working with me, one of my clients described this rollercoaster as: “feeling as if I had enough energy to climb Everest one minute, then a very short time later, feeling shaky; tired; headachey; moody and searching for a ‘pick-me-up’ again.” Each meal or snack should consist of carbohydrates, proteins and fats (half carbohydrates, quarter proteins and quarter fats). You need all of the food groups. As an example: for an afternoon snack (if you need it), this could be as simple as one oatcake with some hummus and some cherry tomatoes – no added sugar in sight.
It sounds so simple, yet food is so essential to everything about our well-being, the act of eating (and what we eat) becomes an unconscious action: habits we repeat without even realising it. Even when someone points things out, we might stop for just a minute, say: “Oh yes, I hadn’t noticed that” then carry on doing the very same thing, even if we know it’s not a good idea. For type 2 diabetics, the ramifications are uncontrolled diabetes, or a steady progression from medicines in tablet form to self-injecting hormones that control blood sugar and then finally a pump which delivers medications at a constant rate, without you having to work out the ratio of drug required to blood sugar. Even with medication, the later complications of diabetes can be severe. But people are irrational, human beings. This is why we need to do more than just put people on a restricted, liquid diet: we need to show them how to work it out for themselves (and I don’t mean calorie-count, because I’ve met a lot of people who are very good at that and still very over-weight!). People need to know how to put meals together – to lose weight and maintain weight, and how to do this in a way that’s enjoyable, quick and easy. And not least, they need support to do it. This is where seeing a nutritional therapist can really help, by tailoring advice to the needs of the individual and providing just the right level of support and encouragement.