By 2020, one in two Americans could have diabetes or prediabetes (borderline diabetes) and 75% of Americans could be overweight or obese by 2020. These staggering predictions could be the unhealthy reality for many of us if we don’t take action, according to two reports released last year.
This epidemic of diabetes and obesity occurring together is being called “diabesity.” When I wrote about diabesity in a recent issue of EatingWell Magazine (where I’m the associate nutrition editor), I explained why obesity is considered a risk factor for diabetes: it makes cells less able to use insulin to bring sugar in from the bloodstream (what’s known as insulin resistance—the first step toward diabetes). What’s equally fascinating to me, as a registered dietitian, is the fact that some experts think insulin resistance may also lead to weight gain. That’s right—when you’re already insulin resistant (that is, diabetic or prediabetic), then it can be even harder to lose weight. (Try this 28-Day Meal Plan for Diabetes to help you slim down and keep your blood sugar in check.)
It sounds grim, but there’s good news. Lifestyle choices that we make every day can lower our risk for diabesity, aid weight loss and help slow the progression of diabetes. Don't be part of a statistic by following these tips for a healthy lifestyle:
1) Aim for or maintain a healthy weight. Stepping on the scale is the first step to seeing where you are in terms of weight and where you want to go. Not only that, research shows that regular weigh-ins can help people maintain their weight. A healthy weight is defined as having a body mass index of 18.5 – 25. (Use this BMI calculator to figure out your BMI.)
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2) Exercise often. You should aim to be active at least 2.5 hours each week (although it sounds more do-able as one lump sum—you could fit it in with just one hike a week—the current recommendation is usually stated as “30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 times a week”). If you’re not currently exercising, start small. Taking a 10-minute walk each day is a good start—build up the minutes or take 3 walks to meet your exercise quota. If you are already getting those 150 minutes in, either up the intensity or the minutes. Recent research found that women who did 40 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts 5 days a week (or who exercised harder for less time) throughout their twenties and thirties were able to ward off weight gain in their forties better than those who exercised less. Think it can’t be done? Try incorporating these 6 ways to exercise without even knowing it into your day. Find out how one nutrition editor from EatingWell managed to squeeze in an extra 10 minutes of exercise a day.
3) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. The new USDA MyPlate tool/icon shows that half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Filling half your plate with vegetables and some fruits is a great way to meet your daily recommended intake. For a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be aiming to eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day (that’s the equivalent of an apple, a cup of sliced cucumber, half of a baked sweet potato, a cup of grapes and a cup of lettuce—since lettuce is leafy, 1 cup counts as a ½-cup serving). Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, tend to be low in calories and are linked with a lower risk of several diseases, including diabetes.
4) Fill up on fiber. Foods that are high in fiber—such as fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains—deliver a lot of benefits. They’re more filling than low-fiber foods, so you can eat fewer calories and still feel satisfied. Fiber also helps to keep your blood sugar stable, which is why high-fiber foods are recommended for diabetics. Men should aim for 38 grams of fiber per day; women should get 25 grams. By choosing whole grains over refined (white bread, white rice) and eating vegetables and fruits with meals and snacks, it’s easy to get that amount of fiber each day.
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