11 Nutrition Tips to Help You Lose Weight with Diabetes
When it comes to losing weight, it’s the little things that add up. Little decisions we make each day. Little habits. Little changes.
Here, Melissa Herrmann Dierks, an RDN, LDN and CDCES, shares 11 detailed tips for losing weight with diabetes. As a diabetes educator for over 25 years, she’s helped people of all ages living with diabetes lose weight. Learn more about Dierks through her nutrition consulting company, Eat Smart Nutrition Co. Based in Huntersville, NC, Dierks offers one-to-one coaching for people with diabetes living in North Carolina.
You can learn more about finding a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES) living in your area here.
1. Stop skipping meals.
When you’re too darn hungry, you’re much more likely to overeat at your next meal. The bigger the meal, the trickier your blood sugars will be to manage, too.
“Aim for three even-sized meals per day,” suggests Dierks. “Try to eat breakfast within an hour of getting up in the morning, then space your meals out accordingly.”
While intermittent fasting is trendy these days, it isn’t a great fit for everyone—especially if it leads to frequent binge-eating. Intermittent fasting can cause you to ignore important hunger and fullness cues that help regulate intake. Take a look at your current food schedule habits. How often do you binge and then try to resist eating for most of the following day, only to binge again because you’re so hungry?
Instead, fuel your metabolism with smaller, more frequent meals.
2. Balance that plate, baby!
Your body is smarter than you might be giving it credit for. It knows when you’re not getting enough of one of these three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, protein.
Dierks recommends dividing your plate into four parts: lean protein, complex carbohydrates, non-starchy veggies and healthy fats.
Of course, if you’re making room in your diet for dessert—whether it’s fruit or homemade cookies—some might find it helpful to lessen the carbohydrates at dinner to compensate for the carbs in your dessert to stay within your carb target for the meal. (Yup, including a managed treat like dessert is important even when you’re trying to lose weight! Preventing deprivation means preventing binge-eating that food item.)
Even if you’re choosing to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough non-starchy veggies and fiber. It’s also important to get enough healthy fat and protein on a low-carb diet to meet your basic calorie needs.
How balanced is your plate these days? Use this free meal planning chart to get started.
3. Focus on what you’re adding to your diet.
Remember, focus on adding more whole foods and fewer processed products!
“People often think of cutting foods out or restriction when it comes to weight loss,” says Dierks, “when in fact a meal plan for weight loss is more about what you are adding in.”
For example, if you’re adding more vegetables to your meals (even breakfast!) then you’ll be less hungry for those heavily processed snack foods.
Instead of following a restrictive “cut all of ____ from your diet,” what if you focused instead on simply trying to eat more vegetables and fruit in your meals? Filling your stomach with more quality high-fiber foods and satisfying your sweet tooth with the healthiest options Mother Nature has to offer!
4. Try a handful of nuts with fruit for a daily snack…
“Nuts can help keep blood sugar stable and help you to feel full longer between meals,” says Dierks. When you combine a thoughtful serving of your favorite nuts with a serving of fruit, you’ll get plenty of slow-digesting healthy fats and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time.
Just remember that it doesn’t take too many nuts to add up to about 200 calories and nearly 20 grams of fat. Yes, it’s high-quality fat, but we still need to mind our portions. Using a measuring cup (¼ cup) is a great way to make sure you’re not going too nutty!
5. Take a dietary fiber reality check…
How much fiber are you really getting? We should all be aiming for anywhere from 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day. If your diet contains a lot of highly processed snacks and products, you may not be hitting your goal.
“Fiber can help your blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion of food, and it keeps you feeling full longer,” reminds Dierks. “When you shop for crackers, tortillas, breads, cereals and so on, try to choose those that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.”
Today, there are dozens of options for high-fiber pastas made from/with beans or you can slice veggies up in a pasta-like shape and replace it altogether! (Try thinly sliced bell peppers, onions and mung bean sprouts sautéed!)
“Adding avocado to your meal or snack is another great way to boost fiber intake and get healthy fats!” says Dierks, who recommends the site LoveOneToday.com for avocado tips and recipes.
6. Take a closer look at what you’re ordering in a restaurant/drive-thru.
It’s frighteningly easy to consume an entire day’s worth of calories in one meal when you’re eating at a restaurant or grabbing fast food from the drive-thru. But small adjustments in your order can improve the health of your order without taking away from the overall experience of the meal!
“Start by looking up what you often order in the 2022 Calorie King app,” says Melissa. “You can look up nearly every chain restaurant.”
Melissa’s top ordering tips include:
- Ask for sauces, gravy, dressings and dip “on the side”
- Choose marinara over a cream-based sauce
- Split an entrée with your dining partner
- Take half home for another meal
- Swap fries out for salad, veggies, or coleslaw
- Get a “small” instead of a “large”
- Order the 6-piece instead of the 10-piece, etc.
- Order the kid-sized ice cream instead of the big cone
- Skip the appetizers—it’s an entire meal before your meal
- Limit the bread basket—save your calories for the real meal
It’s about making simple swaps while still enjoying the overall experience of dining out, and spending your calories on the details of the meal that you value that most.
7. Yes: include your favorite treats in your weight-loss plan.
“It doesn’t work to never eat your favorite foods,” says Dierks.
Too often, we try to eliminate an entire food group or food item that we love, hoping the desire or cravings or enjoyment of that food will just go away. But weight-loss nutrition doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.
Eating that indulgent treat once a day or once every few days can lessen its impact on your weight-loss goals while still preventing you from feeling deprived and obsessing about it!
“All foods can be worked into a meal plan for diabetes and weight loss,” says Dierks. “The basis of the eating pattern includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein, but your favorites can be included too, and help to keep your meal plan sustainable for the long term.”
It’s about making room in your day’s worth of food for that more indulgent food you value by making plenty of high-quality smart choices at other mealtimes.
8. Weight-loss medications are worth considering, for some people.
“Some people truly struggle to control their appetite and weight on their own,” says Dierks. Insulin isn’t the only hormone impacted by diabetes; amylin—which control’s your brain’s ability to feel full—is also impacted.
“There are several weight loss medications on the market that can help you to control your appetite and be more successful with your weight loss efforts.”
Dierks recommends visiting a bariatric doctor (who specializes in treating people who are obese) if your current healthcare team does not regularly work with weight-loss medications.
“Bariatric offices have physicians who specialize in medical management of obesity, as well as those who specialize in bariatric surgery,” explains Dierks.
“Choosing to take a weight loss drug is a personal choice, and many people find that partnering a medication with working with a dietitian gives them the boost they need to be successful with weight management. It’s always good to know your options.”
Learn more about which diabetes medications tend to also help people lose weight.
9. Track your meals for at least a week—or long-term.
If you’ve never really tracked what you currently eat, a week’s worth of tracking can be an eye-opener. It’s easy to assume that we’re eating an appropriate amount of calories in a day, but tracking could reveal that you’re getting 1,000 more daily calories than your body truly needs.
Tracking long-term is also a great way to create new habits and a new rhythm with food.
“Tracking your meals helps to keep you mindful of what you are eating throughout the day. Whether you use a paper food diary, or a free app like My Fitness Pal to record your intake, it will help you lose weight,” says Dierks.
“Look at your intake at the end of each day and ask yourself if you have missed any meals, did you meet your goal for fruit and veggie intake, were there times of the day when you were hungry, and if your meals were balanced. Take what you learn, and set a new goal for the next day.”
10. Thoughtfully create your grocery list for the week.
“Take at least 20 minutes each week to plan your grocery needs,” says Dierks. “Think about what foods you need for a quick breakfast, what you can pack for lunch and some quick and easy dinner ideas.”
The more you write down, the less likely you’ll be tempted by something not-so-helpful on the shelves. Remember, your body needs calories! So the more healthy whole-food options you have at home, the more easily you can choose those options.
“Don’t forget to include healthy snacks!” reminds Dierks. “A registered dietitian nutritionist can also take you on a supermarket tour appointment to help teach you about how to shop for quick and easy healthy meals and snacks, and can show you new foods to try! Look up local dietitians in your area.”
11. Work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).
If you think a dietitian will just give you a boring diet plan and send you on your way—think again! Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help you create a nutrition plan that includes the foods you love while making healthful improvements in other areas to help you lose weight.
“A credentialed dietitian can help you by creating customized meal plans based on your weight and health goals, and your preferences,” says Dierks.
Most insurance plans cover nutrition counseling, many at 100 percent with zero co-pay. To find an RDN near you, visit EatRight.org.
Educational content related to type 2 diabetes is made possible with support from Lilly Diabetes. Beyond Type 2 maintains full editorial control of all content published on our platforms.