Eating well is the first step in your journey to living well without diabetes. To lose weight and keep it off, you need to make the right choices about the food you eat — what you eat, how much you eat and how often.
But everyone has their own definition of healthy eating, so we’ve pulled together some rules of thumb to get you started down the right path.
Do’s and Don’ts for Healthy Eating
Do choose foods that are low in calories, fat, sodium and sugar, and high in fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and proteins. You can use nutrition labels to see how much of these ingredients are in the item of food you have selected, or use a smartphone app like MyFitnessPal when a nutrition label isn’t available.
“MyFitnessPal will help you track protein, fat, sodium and things of that nature,” says Stephanie, a Diabetes Prevention Program participant. “It’s nice because it will remind you when you’ve had too much or too little of something.”
And don’t think you can never eat a brownie again – just don’t eat one every day. Healthy eating is about moderation.
“Don’t give up what you really love, prioritize what’s important,” says one Diabetes Prevention Program participant. “I’ve embraced what is me. I love to have a muffin in the morning, so I make allowances for it. If I eat one, I watch my calories for the rest of the day.”
Portion Size is Everything
When you select foods, pay attention to serving size. Facts on a food label are based on a single serving. If you plan to eat the entire package, you could be doubling or tripling your intake. You can use measuring cups or spoons, a kitchen scale, or even your hands (your fist is about one cup) to measure out appropriate serving sizes. It also helps not to eat out of the container the food comes in; take out a serving and put the rest away.
The rules about portioning your plate have also changed. Gone are the days of the food pyramid. Now, portioning your plate is about choosing nutrient-dense foods, and filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with protein and the last quarter with grains.
“I play tricks with myself,” says one Diabetes Prevention Program participant. “If I order a whole sandwich at lunch, I’ll eat half and put half away. I know it’s there if I get hungry, which is a comfort, but I often end up throwing it away. I don’t succeed every time, but the fact that I’m consciously planning ahead more is still a win.”
Track what you eat
Often, people who are struggling with losing weight find that what they think they ate, and what they actually ate, are very different. Tracking makes it apparent.
Start by tracking what you eat and when. Then track how much you’re eating. Be specific if you can to determine if your portion sizes are what they should be. For example, a “bowl of cereal and milk” isn’t as accurate as “1 ½ cups of cereal with 8 ounces of milk.”
You can use a notebook, record your voice, take photos at meals, or use mobile apps like MyFitnessPal or WeightWatchers. The key is to make sure that you compile everything into a single food log so you can see trends and opportunities over time. It’s also important to make sure that whatever method you use works for your lifestyle.
“Some people like to track every detail,” says Danielle Repko, an ACE-certified health coach at OhioHealth Group. “But if tracking your food feels like work, you won’t do it. Track in a way that is best for you.”
“I started by just tracking breakfast and lunch,” says Stephanie. “But once I saw how easy it was, I started tracking all three meals. MyFitnessPal lets you save ‘quick meals’ and that saves me time because all I have to do is just click one button to track my meal instead of entering it in every time.”
If you’re overwhelmed by tracking everything, dietitians at OhioHealth Group recommend trying to track only your unhealthy choices or trigger meals to identify change opportunities. For example, if you notice that you are eating a doughnut at every staff meeting, you can plan to bring a heathy breakfast option to staff meetings.
Don’t forget to track what you are drinking, too. Sweetened coffee and tea, soda and other sugary drinks contribute toward your overall calorie intake.
Take it One Step at a Time
Get started by updating your action plan with steps you can take to eat healthier. And remember, this isn’t a diet. It’s a lifelong journey. It may take time to make permanent changes, but you can do it. Just keep your eye on the prize – preventing Type 2 diabetes.
If you need extra help, try our recommendations for coping with common challenges. Or, join an official Diabetes Prevention Program. Check with your employer (OhioHealth offers a program for associates), your local YMCA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of recognized locations to find a program near you.