Step 1: Lose Weight
Getting down to your ideal weight is a sure-fire way to beat diabetes. But don’t think the benefits won’t start until you reach your goals. Even as you lose weight, you will see dramatic changes in your blood glucose levels and blood pressure — proof that you are fighting diabetes.
A few years ago, a landmark study known as the Diabetes Prevention Program looked at whether modest weight loss was as effective as using a diabetic preventative medication. The researchers’ purpose was to learn if even a 7 percent loss in body weight through diet and exercise would match the benefits of taking a medication to prevent diabetes.
What they found was that the weight loss was even more effective than medication, proving conclusively the power of diet and exercise when it comes to preventing diabetes.
More recently, a study presented at the International Congress of Endocrinology European Congress of Endocrinology proved that even severely obese patients with diabetes could potentially rid themselves of the disease.
This Swedish study compared 2,010 patients who underwent bariatric or weight loss surgery with 2,037 obese people who did not. They found that the rate of diabetes dropped considerably in those obese patients who had undergone the surgery and lost weight, and that the difference still held up after 10 years.
Step 2: Eat to Prevent Diabetes
Fortunately, you don’t have to undergo bariatric surgery to lose weight; you can do it yourself with just your knife and fork
You can do this the same way you can prevent and reverse heart disease — by following my recommendations to stick to a plant-based, whole foods diet. This means choosing your foods from around the perimeter of the supermarket, where the fruits, veggies, and dairy products are stocked, and avoiding the processed foods, which are located in the middle aisles.
Egg whites are also great, along with nuts, legumes, soy products such as tofu, and non-fat dairy products. I also recommend choosing organic foods whenever possible.
In addition, I believe that people respond better to small goals (at least at first). If you can eat this way five days a week, and allow yourself a little more leeway on weekends, you’ll still lose weight and lower your diabetes risk.
Another wise strategy if you have diabetes, or are seeking to prevent it, is to pay attention to the glycemic index. The glycemic index rates foods (from 1 to 100) according to their impact on blood glucose levels. By choosing foods low on the index, you will avoid unhealthy spikes, which overwork the pancreas and lead to insulin resistance.
Not surprisingly, these are also the foods that you would choose if you were eating a plantbased, whole foods diet — beans, most fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Those in the middle of the glycemic index (55-70), like sweet potatoes or baked potatoes, should be eaten more sparingly.
Avoid foods with a high glycemic index ranking, like refined white flour, corn flakes, and sweets.
Step 3: Exercise Diabetes Away
Do you still doubt the huge difference that exercise makes? If so, just ask Robert Huizenga, M.D., medical adviser to the popular TV show “Biggest Loser.” He recently reported on 17 men and 18 women who were contestants on the show. Seventeen of the participants had normal glucose levels, 12 had prediabetes, and six had diabetes. Their average age was 40, and they weighed an average of 315 pounds.
Within a few weeks of starting the show’s intense exercise program, the glucose levels of all of the diabetic and prediabetic contestants had improved so much that by week five, all signs of diabetes had disappeared.
“Biggest Loser” contestants, however, follow a grueling schedule that involves about four hours of daily exercise. After the show, contestants are told to exercise 90 minutes a day, which is an attainable goal, especially if you follow the recommendations that I advise.
I urge my patients to begin each day with a 60-minute walk. Once that is out of the way, you can do additional exercise, such strength training, aerobics, working out on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer.
How does exercise work on diabetes? When you exercise, your body uses insulin more efficiently. In fact, your body creates temporary insulin receptors, which can eventually result in helping you eliminate diabetes altogether.
Remember, diabetes is one of the most deadly diseases out there. But it’s also one of the most preventable. Whether you fall ill with diabetes or conquer it is entirely within your control. Losing weight, eating right, and exercising can make the difference between your being a victim and living a long, healthy life.
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