Enjoying food with Type 2 Diabetes

Yes, it is possible!

Jardiance Main Img 1000x750Photo Credit: Cindy Bekkedam

Accepting and understanding a diagnosis of diabetes

When Hae-Yung Yim was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she experienced various emotions on her journey to acceptance. First, it was shock. “I went to the doctor for pain related to kidney stones and tests revealed that I had type 2 diabetes,” she says, explaining that the discovery was a total fluke. Then came the disbelief. While she knew she had genetic risk factors, with both parents being diagnosed with the disease in their 70’s, being diagnosed so young came as a surprise. “I’m in my 50’s, still young, and I’m pretty healthy. I walk, travel and chased my kids around when they were younger. Weight was never an issue.”

Then the regret flooded in. While Yim has always been blessed with a high metabolism, she began to re-evaluate her favourite foods like cola, pasta, and bread, thinking, if I had just taken better care of myself, I could have delayed this diagnosis. But finally, she accepted it, and began learning everything she could about diabetes and its connection to cardiovascular health. “Diabetes and heart health are interconnected,” explains registered dietitian Shannon Crocker. “In fact, cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in people with type 2 diabetes.”[1]

Jardiance Img2 1000x750Photo Credit: Hae-Yung Yim

A plan, not an overhaul.

Following her diagnosis, Yim took on an all or nothing attitude when it came to her diet. “I avoided eating almost everything,” she says. “I limited myself to lean meats, eggs and salads.” But she was always hungry and realized it wasn’t sustainable. “You don’t need to overhaul your entire diet,” confirms Crocker, “I recommended seeing a dietitian who specializes in diabetes and can work with you to create a personalized plan that takes into account your lifestyle and medical needs.” At the end of the day, it’s about nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods in moderate amounts, and sticking to regular and consistent mealtimes.[2] Most importantly, it’s about creating sustainable habits and finding joy in healthy foods. Luckily, that’s Crocker’s specialty.    

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How to make your diet doable.

Yim was overwhelmed at first. She agonized over labels in the grocery store and struggled to understand what changes she should make. It all felt too big. Crocker advises to start small.

  1. Break it down into bite-sized changes.

Write down small steps that you can make every day to meet your health goals. Keep it simple and tackle one change at a time. [3]

As for a first goal? Start by focusing on one meal, like breakfast, and swap in low-glycemic index foods…that’s a bite size change that can help you include more foods into your diet that raise your blood sugar less quickly. [4]

  1. Make a checklist.

Research shows that you’re better able to stick to new lifestyle changes if you track your habits. [5]

  1. Change your mindset.

Put a positive spin on changes. Think of it as adding more healthy food as opposed to restricting less-healthy food. [6]  Add fish to your meal plan once a week. Add beans to your meals twice a week. Add roasted chickpeas to your snack cupboard. [7]

  1. Have an accountability buddy.

Set up a meal planning call with a friend – or cook a healthy recipe together via Zoom. [8]

  1. Learn the plate method.

Fill half of your plate with veggies, a quarter of your plate with a whole grain or starchy food, and a quarter of your plate with lean protein. [9]

  1. Enjoy the foods you love.

Just make them a little more diabetes-friendly or heart-healthy with simple swaps. Switch white bread for whole grain, white rice for brown rice or barley, potatoes for sweet potatoes, sugary cereal for unsweetened muesli. [10]

It bears repeating: You CAN eat the foods you love.

If Yim had understood this from the start, her journey might have been easier. But over time, she did learn how to eat a more balanced, less restrictive diet and ultimately rediscovered the joy of food despite her diagnosis. She still has bread, but she opts for pumpernickel in small doses. She still eats burgers, but when she does, they’re open-faced. Yim continues to make her favourite fried rice, but now uses a mix of brown and riced cauliflower. She eats out, but her main course is always a salad, which she accompanies with a side of pasta or another starch. And yes, Yim still does have desserts, but usually it’s a smaller portion or a couple of spoonfuls. For her, that’s totally satisfying. “Your cravings change,” she explains. “No food is off-limits ever,” says Crocker, “but you might enjoy some of them less often, or in smaller portions.”

Jardiance Img4 1000x750Photo Credit: Cindy Bekkedam

Set yourself up for long-term success.

To help sustain success and make healthy eating a lifestyle, not a fad, Crocker has some tips and tricks:

  1. Netflix and prep. Having a meal plan, even a loose one, is critical to staying on track. Plan, cook, and prep while catching up on your favourite show. Wash and chop or roast veggies, make a salad dressing from scratch, and cook a big batch of barley so they’re ready for the week’s power bowls, salads and snacks.
  2. Cook once eat twice. To save time and energy in the kitchen, make extra with purpose. Have a plan to repurpose your leftovers in a different way.
  3. Use healthy kitchen shortcuts. Make healthy eating easy and stock up on healthy meal starters. Cruciferous slaw mixes (think shredded broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale etc.) make for a fantastic stir fry. [11] Canned beans and canned fish are filling salad starters. Simply add pre-chopped veggies and dressing and serve! [12]

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Avoid these pitfalls.

We all make mistakes – but here are some of the most common ones that Crocker says to avoid when you can.

  1. Flying by the seat of your pants. If your meal plan is no plan at all, you’re more likely to be stressed come supper time and opt for less healthy choices.
  2. Over-cooking without purpose. If you double your batch without thinking of where you’ll use it, you’ll get sick of the same old meal, and you might let it go to waste (or overeat to get rid of it). It’s not healthy for you, the planet, or your budget.
  3. Overly intricate planning. Making every meal from scratch without using smart shortcuts or strategic leftovers, causes you to burnout and, eventually, resent the process.

Healthy eating is for everyone.

“Anyone can benefit from meal planning, eating nourishing foods, being active and managing stress,” says Crocker, who reminds us to think of food as more than nutrition. It’s about self-care. But you don’t have to sacrifice the joy of food – or flavour! Yim, who is used to a lot of rice and noodles in her mom’s Korean cooking, navigates traditional family dinners strategically, and with support. Her mom cooks more lean meats and veggies – but she always adds the spices Yim loves. Rice dishes will have brown rice rather than white. She uses sugar substitutes. And this way, Yim – and her family – can still savour the traditional flavours she grew up with. “Food is about passion, culture and tradition too,” says Crocker. No one should have to sacrifice that.

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For more…

Visit the Cart2Table website at cart2table.ca to discover (or rediscover) the joy of healthy eating. There, you’ll find delicious recipes, nutritious swaps, cart-smart advice and a meal-planning resources. The tips and tricks are not just for those living with type 2 diabetes – they’re for everyone who loves food. (And don’t we all?)

[1] Einarson, T.R., Acs, A., Ludwig, C. et al. Prevalence of cardiovascular disease in type 2 diabetes: a systematic literature review of scientific evidence from across the world in 2007–2017. Cardiovasc Diabetol 17, 83 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12933-018-0728-6

[2] Cart 2 Table. “Nutrition Matters”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/nutrition-matters  (Accessed November 2021)

[3] American Psychological Association. Making lifestyle changes that last. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/healthy-lifestyle-changes. Accessed November 2021

[4] Cart 2 Table. “A Guide to the Glycemic Index”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/nutrition-matters/glycemic-index. Accessed March 2022.

[5] American Psychological Association. Making lifestyle changes that last. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/healthy-lifestyle-changes. Accessed November 2021

[6] Everyday Health. Why Are Healthy Eating Habits Important? Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/importance-healthy-eating-habits/. Accessed November 2021

[7] Cart 2 Table. “Cart Smart”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/grocery-guide/cart-smart (Accessed November 2021)

[8] American Psychological Association. Making lifestyle changes that last. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/healthy-lifestyle-changes. Accessed November 2021

[9] Cart2Table.ca. Portion Control. Available at: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/meal-planning/portion-control. Accessed February 2022.

[10] Cart2Table.ca. Swap it. Available at: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/grocery-guide/swap-it. Accessed February 2022.

[11] Cart 2 Table. “Cart Smart”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/grocery-guide/cart-smart (Accessed November 2021)

[12] Cart 2 Table. “Cart Smart”. Retrieved from: https://www.myheartmatters.ca/cart2table/grocery-guide/cart-smart (Accessed November 2021)

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