If you're wondering where to start in your prediabetes journey, pull up a chair—this dietitian has some recommendations that you can start implementing today.

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After getting a prediabetes diagnosis, you may experience a combination of shock, fear, sadness, loss of control or disbelief. While these emotions are normal, there is no need to worry; a prediabetes diagnosis does not automatically mean you will develop type 2 diabetes. There are still some things you can do that'll make a world of difference.

Step 1: Know Your Risk Factors

Let me start by saying that prediabetes is a marathon, not a sprint. An intricate knowledge of prediabetes is what properly prepares you for the journey. Knowledge also empowers you to know exactly what you can and cannot control. For example, while it is impossible to control your genetics and age, you can control many other contributing factors. Making healthy choices about what you eat, how you manage stress and whether you get regular exercise is the perfect trifecta for helping manage your health. What's even better is that diet, stress management, and exercise are modifiable fators, which means they can be customized and tailored to suit different lifestyles and needs. Making a few changes in these areas really can minimize your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Step 2: Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

A well-balanced diet is one of the chief cornerstones of a well-balanced you—and better blood sugar mangement. A well-balanced diet includes a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbs provide the body with energy and can be found in such foods as bread, rice, pasta, cereal and fruit. Pro tip: limit carb foods that are highly processed and provide little nutritional value such as donuts, cakes, cookies, chips and other dessert and snack items.

Next is protein. Protein builds and repairs muscle. It's found in a variety of meats and plants. As a best practice, consume protein in the form of lean meats, fish, beans, legumes, and tofu. When choosing animal protein specifically, opt for foods that are lower in saturated fat, and trim away any visible fat.

Finally, let's address fat. While fat does help to protect our internal organs, too much fat is not a good thing, and some types of fat are healthier than others. Opting to eat more plant-based fats (such as those in avocados, nuts, and olive and canola oils) and fewer animal-based fats (such as those in red meat, lard and heavy cream) will give you an edge when it comes to managing your health.

Girl holding plate with hands visible, top view.
Credit: Getty Images / Kseniya Ovchinnikova

Step 3: Exercise

Exercise has many benefits. It may promote heart health and aid in weight management. For people with prediabetes, this is important. When exercise is paired with healthy eating habits, it may improve blood sugar levels. Dancing around the house, going on long scenic walks, and playing outdoor games like frisbee are all forms of exercise that can be fun and engaging. Exercise is what you make it. It doesn't have to be boring and dull. For some motivation, get a workout buddy, create a playlist with your favorite music, or simply get involved in an energetic activity you enjoy. Check out these 5 Best Exercises for Your Health to get you started.

Step 4: Manage Stress

Experiencing some stress is normal, and can actually be good for you. For example, getting the jitters before a big presentation or job interview may improve your performance. This type of stress usually has a clear end, and it passes once the stressful event is over. However, it's also possible to experience ongoing stress that doesn't have a clear end, and it's this type of stress that can be bad for your health over time. What's more, this ongoing stress can also affect your blood sugar levels. If you're constantly under stress, it can cause your hormones to kick into gear, which may send your blood sugar levels soaring. For this reason, it's important to learn how to properly manage stress. Finding a hobby you enjoy is a great start: gardening, jogging, knitting, and coloring can all help relieve the feelings of stress and help you reset.

Step 5: Know Your Treatment Options

There are a few treatment options for someone diagnosed with prediabetes. Your doctor may prescribe medications that can help lower your blood sugar levels. This medication may be temporary or ongoing, depending on your unique health situation. There are also treatment options that do not involve medications. Your doctor or dietitian may encourage you to lose some weight. Losing even a small amount of weight has been shown to help manage blood sugar levels. Focusing on eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise can also help with blood sugar management. Whether you and your health care team decide the best treatment option is pharmaceutical, lifestyle oriented, or a combination of both, the main goal is to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The Bottom Line

Remember that prediabetes is a journey. There is no one single thing you can do to help your health, but there are a series of small steps that can help over time. Living with prediabetes does not have to be overwhelming or challenging. Focus on one step at a time instead of trying to tackle them all at once. Small changes here and there can add up and help immensely. Remember, it's a marathon and not a sprint. Always honor your process, be kind to yourself and know that where you and prediabetes go from here is greatly determined by your choices. The right choices are within your reach.