After her diabetes diagnosis, my patient’s MD gave her a one-page dietary handout and a prescription and sent her on her way. She had so many questions but nobody to answer them for her.
She told me about standing in the kitchen the next morning feeling paralyzed while making breakfast. Food was suddenly terrifying – she felt like she was one bite away from cardiac arrest.
Like most of my patients diagnosed with diabetes or insulin resistance, she felt like she was to blame, that she had brought this upon herself. The shame was amplified by the fact that she lives in a larger body. Even though she had spent most of her life on one diet or another, none of them ever stuck.
Maybe you can relate.
There are three things that she needed to know before anyone gave her a diet to follow. I’ll bet you need them, too.
- It’s not your fault. That’s not to say that lifestyle choices don’t impact it; they just didn’t cause it.
- You can’t hate yourself healthy.
- Eliminating the foods you love isn’t necessary to address your new diagnosis.
Let’s expand on each of these.
You Did Not Cause Your Diabetes Diagnosis
I know that you have read, likely ad nauseam, about how weight, diet and exercise are associated with almost every medical condition out there. I’m not here to dispute that.
What I really want you to understand is that there is a key distinction between our lifestyle causing insulin resistance and diabetes vs our lifestyle influencing the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.
While we know about many different associations, we don’t know what causes diabetes, PCOS or fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Did you know that the genetic link to Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) is stronger than that for Type 1 Diabetes? This is important to know because there’s a dangerous narrative out there that getting or preventing a diabetes diagnosis is entirely within our control. It’s not.
If you have a genetic predisposition or family history of insulin resistance, then your stress, sleep, nutrition and activity level will have a greater impact on the development of diabetes than someone without the genetic predisposition or family history.
Interestingly, weight-cyclingi or yo-yo dieting, is also a risk factor for developing diabetes. Yep. All those years of trying to keep your weight down to prevent diabetes may have contributed to the diagnosis you now face.
Other factors includingii:
- Alcohol intake
- Level of activity
- Micronutrient deficiencies
- Socio-economic status
have all been implicated in the development of T2DM.
Bottom line: while your lifestyle can definitely play a part in developing and managing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, it wasn’t the underlying cause of it.
Treatment, therefore, must address so much more than just how you eat and move your body.
You Can’t Hate Yourself Healthy
Most of my patients come to me believing that they caused their condition. They also come to me with a loud and persistent inner critic.
But here’s the thing: even if you did cause your diagnosis (which you didn’t – see #1 above), beating yourself up about it isn’t going to change the reality that you have this condition.
When I talk about self-compassion, I typically get one of two responses:
- Yeah, I know, Kerri, I’m so hard on myself, but I just can’t help it.
- If I’m not hard on myself, nothing will change. I’ll never eat right or move more. It’s tough love.
Fun fact: We know that people who practice self-compassion have better glycemic controliii. Possibly because mindful self-compassion is a key strategy to restoring your relationship with your body and food, which leads to improved nutrition and a more consistent exercise pattern.
Change is hard, and you won’t do it perfectly. When things don’t go as planned, when you eat in a way that doesn’t help your sugar, or when you miss an exercise opportunity, instead of the barrage of criticism coming from within, you meet yourself with compassion and understanding.
So no, being kinder to yourself isn’t the same as ‘letting yourself go.’ In fact, it’s a key step in managing your sugars and following a plan long-term.
Cutting Out Your Favourite Foods Isn’t Necessary to Manage Your Sugars.
Diets don’t work. You know that. You’ve probably tried them all.
But then life happened, and you couldn’t keep following it. Maybe you got sick or hungry. You went on a holiday or decided to enjoy that celebration dinner.
The only way for a dietary intervention to have a positive influence on your health is for you to be able to implement that intervention most of the time for a long time.
The same is true for exercise.
A boot camp or cleanse isn’t going to change anything in the long run.
This is why learning to listen to your body instead of the influencers and gurus is so important. They don’t know you, your likes and dislikes, or your obligations.
You need to learn how to eat healthfully, not make your life about healthy eating.
Intuitive eating is the way to do this.
You’ll have heard that intuitive eating isn’t for diabetics. I mean, you can’t just eat whatever you want, can you?
That’s partly true. If you believe that intuitive eating is about following every impulse you have around food then yes, that would not be good for your blood sugar management.
But intuitive eating isn’t about just saying eff it to the food rules. It’s about learning to listen to what your body needs and then honouring that, most of the time.
This isn’t easy in our current culture full of body loathing and food fear. You only have to go to the grocery store to see headlines about a new superfood that’ll cure you or a food that’s going to kill you.
It takes time and patience, but I promise you, it’s worth it.
In summary, before you embark on a diet overhaul or sign yourself up for a boot camp, take a step back.
- This is not your fault. Many things have to come together for a diabetes diagnosis to happen.
- Self-compassion is a skill that is learned, just like you learned how to be your own worst critic. It is a key strategy for making lifestyle changes stick.
- Restriction leads to intrusive food thoughts and overeating. Intuitive eating is an approach that allows you to prioritize your health goals without compromising your enjoyment of food or social gatherings.
We live in a world that tells us that food is both the cause and cure of all that ails us. It’s no wonder we have such a complicated relationship with food and our bodies.
The only solution that’s ever on offer is a list of foods to avoid alongside a list of superfoods and supplements to take.
We’re either “on plan” or “off the wagon.”
You don’t need another meal plan. You need to restore a healthy relationship with food and your body. When you stop fighting with your body and seeing it as a DIY project and choose instead to work together and find a way of eating and moving that’s satisfying and sustainable, you find freedom.
I’m here to help you along the way.
Until next time,