Good Nutrition vs Dieting


What is a diet?

For many, the word “diet” conjures up images of denying ourselves the food we actually want to eat, for a short period of time until we get healthy, lose weight or give up out of sheer frustration. This view of diet, however, not only sets us up for failure but entirely overlooks the basic definition of the word: our diet is merely the food that we consume. Along with its negative connotations, dieting has proved to offer limited effectiveness for many people and is usually not an approach to eating that can be sustained long term. Therefore, when confronting a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, perhaps the best way to think of the changes that need to be made is not in terms of “dieting” but of changing one’s diet to focus on good nutrition and sustainable food choices.

Changing our mentality

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes comes with the almost immediate realization that the way we are comfortable eating must change. Next come two even harder steps, discovering what those changes must be and then implementing them. Some people may start by sorting through the latest diet books, maybe even going back to a diet they tried in the past. When dieting, it may seem realistic to choose plans that require extreme deprivation by cutting out all the foods we once loved or substituting those foods with the fat free or low carb version. We may choose a diet plan that rids our plates of carbs or fat, meat, or even solid foods entirely. And when we first begin to completely change the way we eat, our newfound plan may even seem tenable. While this kind of dieting may bring temporary results in terms of weight loss, many generic diets are not at all what one needs in response to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, and unfortunately, many diet plans are just not feasible as lifelong replacements for the way we once ate.

So what is the alternative to a dieting mentality? What other options are there to managing a type 2 diagnosis? Well, instead of thinking of being “on a diet,” perhaps instead we can think of changing our diet. We are not depriving ourselves of the things we love to eat; we are choosing what to eat based on different guidelines as before, based on good nutrition. This may seem like quibbling over language, but the words we use to understand ourselves and our world quickly congeal into our perceptions, which in turn inform the way we move about in our bodies and in our surroundings. Understanding what we eat as “our diet” is the first step to maintaining a way of eating that we can carry with us for a lifetime.

Smart eating

Good nutrition, unlike many diet plans, can include a plethora of ways of eating, but there are some basic tenets for those living with type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels, so foods like grains, bread, pasta, milk, sweets, fruit and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn and peas) should be limited. Vegetables and lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish, or even tofu should be embraced. Proteins make us feel full, so basing meals around them keeps us from feeling as though we are depriving ourselves of food. Proteins full of fat such as red meat are not inherently bad for diabetics, but they can lead to weight gain, which in turn leads to further insulin resistance, so until weight is under control it may be best to avoid them as much as possible.  And limiting the aforementioned foods doesn’t mean cutting them out entirely. It means eating them in moderation, choosing whole grain bread and pasta when possible, fat free or low fat dairy, filling most of the shopping cart with foods that come from the perimeter of the grocery store and avoiding the center aisles as much as possible.

A life without snacks doesn’t seem much of a life at all, but many diets prohibit or severely limit snacking. Good nutrition, on the other hand, doesn’t limit snacking at all. Changing our perceptions of snacks is important. The chip, cookie and cracker aisles—those center aisles of the grocery mentioned above—provide little to no nutrition, despite the deceiving packaging that promises healthy alternatives and even vegetables in our oil-laced bags of chips. Again, these limitations do not mean that we can never eat chips again, but simply that they should be consumed in moderation and not every day. So for those of us who really enjoy snacks, let’s think about other foods to take the place of processed foods high in sugar and salt. “If the blood glucose is less than 100 mg/dL, a 15- to 30-g carbohydrate snack should be consumed.” Here are a few snacks that give us the most bang for our buck: Nuts are a great alternative to chips, as are low-fat string cheese, hummus with veggies, low fat Greek yogurt with raisins, edamame (found with the frozen vegetables) sprinkled with a little salt, or air popped popcorn (air popping avoids the oils that are bad for us; for added flavor try a drizzling of coconut oil and some nutritional yeast, which provides a salty, rich flavor—and if you really just need that processed crunchy fix, choose whole grain crackers instead of white ones. Fruit, too, is a good snack in moderation, but be wary of the high sugar content.

Though all of these snacks are just fine to eat on a daily basis, portion control is still important. A handful of almonds is great, but they are high in calories and should not be eaten thoughtlessly. Popcorn is high in carbs, and a suggested serving size is five cups. Just like all the food we consume, our snacks should be portioned out so that we do not overindulge.

Striking a balance

Finding the right diet is no small task for any of us, and for many of us it is a lifelong exploration of the way to best indulge in and utilize food for our pleasure and our health. Even when living with type 2 diabetes, dieting is not necessary in order to have a good diet, and there’s no reason to ever be hungry when following a nutritionally sound diet. Managing a type 2 diagnosis involves many moving parts, and discovering a personalized diet is just one of those.