How to Find Joy in Food if You Have Type 2 Diabetes


Whether or not you have type 2 diabetes, you must eat. You must also pay attention to what and how you eat. But if you have type 2 diabetes, how can you enjoy food? In addition, how can one create a healthy eating plan? Everybody is different, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” eating plan.

So, what do we do?

To get a better understanding of how to find joy in food, Beyond Type 2 spoke with two experts in the area of type 2 diabetes and nutrition.

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES, FADCES, is co-author of “The Complete Diabetes Organizer and Diabetes: 365 Tips for Living Well.” She is the owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition PLLC and is the Endocrine Today Diabetes in Real Life column editor. She is also a regular contributor to Healio. 

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RDN, CDCES, CDN, is an award-winning national speaker, diabetes care and education specialist, registered dietitian, and author of several nutrition books for people with diabetes—two of which received Hermès Gold Creative Awards: “Living Well with Diabetes 14 Day Devotional” and “The Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World.”

We spoke with Weiner and Brown-Riggs about type 2 diabetes and nutrition—particularly:

  • Essential tips people with type 2 diabetes should know when developing an eating plan.
  • The role of carbohydrates in maintaining their health?
  • Why portion management is so important.
  • Strategies people with type 2 diabetes can use to manage cravings.
  • Cookbooks, recipe websites, or other resources.

When creating a personalized eating plan, what are some essential tips people with type 2 diabetes should know?

Constance:  Each person is unique, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” eating plan. Meal plans should be tailored to the individual’s lifestyle, food preferences, and nutritional needs. The fundamental principles of healthy eating involve balancing nutrients and portion control. The goal is to maintain a diet rich in nutrients, low in fat, and moderate in calories. This typically includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Susan: Anytime there is a pre-printed copy of an “eating plan” pattern, it typically does not support long-term positive change because everybody has different thoughts, preferences, schedules, financial constraints, backgrounds, and cultural preferences.

Active listening is essential for clinicians in order to effectively collaborate with a person living with diabetes. Once a person feels comfortable, I ask open-ended questions to learn more about their current nutritional intake, health goals, and whatever else they feel is important to share.  Rather than setting a rigid agenda prior to a meeting, it’s vital to allow the person with diabetes to share information pertinent to the discussion—including voicing their questions and concerns.

In addition to living with diabetes, a person may also be living with heart disease, kidney disease, or weight-management issues. Medications, laboratory values, and nutrition assessment tools are all considered when we discuss a nutritional care plan.

In terms of very specific changes, that’s when we consider their schedule and food preferences, as well as their physical-activity level and sleep patterns.  Do they live with others? Do they work from home or outside the home? Are they in school, et cetera? How do these factors affect their eating habits?

Understanding what carbs are, what foods contain carbs, and perhaps discussing a lower-carb eating pattern. Maybe it’s about increasing fiber in their diet, adding variety, or looking at different sources of protein. We look at various nutritional components of one’s diet, including sodium, fluid intake, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. We explore all those different options, including lower-carbohydrate resources for people living with diabetes.

What should people with type 2 diabetes know about the role of carbohydrates in maintaining their health?

Constance: Carbohydrates play a crucial role in our diet as they’re the body’s primary energy source. However, they can also impact blood-sugar levels. So, managing carbohydrate intake is essential.

It’s necessary for clients to understand that all carbohydrates are not created equal. I teach them about “carb counting,” and balancing their carb intake with insulin or other diabetes medications.

Susan: It’s difficult to discuss an eating plan without them seeing the data. If people—through their insurance— are eligible for a continuous glucose monitor, I will talk about them getting a CGM. Whereas blood-glucose monitors offer a snapshot of your blood-sugar levels, CGMs offer the whole movie.

Food has to be enjoyable. That being said, people may be eating a lot of carbohydrates, which will affect blood-glucose levels. Also, they may be getting their carbohydrates from foods where the carbs are not high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. CGMs can be a useful part of the journey.

Why is portion management so important, and how can people with type 2 diabetes find balance—especially without needing to measure every bit of food?

Constance: Portion control and meal timing are vital for managing blood-sugar levels. Eating large portions—or skipping meals—can lead to spikes—or drops—in blood glucose. I advise my clients to eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day. Tools like the Diabetes Plate Method can simplify portion control and ensure a well-balanced meal without counting or measuring.

As they learn to find joy in food, what are some strategies people can use to manage cravings?

Constance:  I encourage my clients with type 2 diabetes to include protein, fiber, and fat in their meals—as they can help provide a feeling of fullness and curb cravings. Learning the difference between physical and emotional hunger is also helpful.

How can people with type 2 diabetes remove guilt about indulging in certain foods?

Susan: Information about food and what to eat when you have diabetes can be overwhelming. Sometimes, when  meeting with a physician, dietitian, or certified diabetes care and education specialist, a person with type 2 diabetes hears about what to—and not to—eat.

I think allowing yourself a little grace is important. If you like to eat out, give a person the option of making the same dish at home—perhaps in a lower-carbohydrate version. Not only might it be healthier than the way the restaurant makes it, but it also might be less expensive.

Other times they might want to eat something, but their internal monologue says, “I’m going to feel bad if I eat all of it.”  It’s important to discuss this issue and talk about portion management.

Are there any particular cultural or dietary preferences that can be accommodated within a diabetes-friendly eating plan, and how can these be balanced with nutritional needs?

Constance: Absolutely! A diabetes-friendly eating plan can—and should—accommodate cultural and dietary preferences. It’s all about balance and moderation.

For example, if someone follows a vegetarian diet, they can get protein from plant-based sources.

Similarly, those who prefer ethnic cuisines can modify recipes to be more diabetes-friendly by adding more vegetables, reducing sodium, and opting for whole grains.

And, in many cases, it may simply be a matter of portion control. No one should have to give up their cultural foods because they have diabetes.

Do you have any favorite cookbooks, recipe websites, or other resources you’d recommend?

Constance: For books, of course, I recommend my book “The Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World,” which can help people with diabetes enjoy all the flavors of the world while still following a healthy meal plan. It provides practical tips and guidance for 11 different cuisines.

My other book, “Living Well with Diabetes 14 Day Devotional,” is ideal for someone struggling with a new diabetes diagnosis, someone who is going through diabetes burnout, or someone seeking spiritual guidance. Both books are available on Amazon.

Susan: Outside of the library or a magazine, I’m a fan of Mila Clarke’s The Hangry Woman website and Shelby Kinnaid’s Diabetic Foodie.

Weiner and Brown were not compensated for their contributions to the article. 

This content was made possible by Lilly, a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 2.

Beyond Type 2 maintains editorial control over its content.

WRITTEN BY T'ara Smith , POSTED 05/03/24, UPDATED 05/03/24

T’ara was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July 2017 at the age of 25. Since her diagnosis, she focused her academic studies and career on diabetes awareness and living a full life with it. She’s excited to have joined the Beyond Type 1 team to continue her work. Two years later, T'ara discovered she'd been misdiagnosed with type 2 and actually has latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). Outside the office, T’ara enjoys going to the movies, visiting parks with her dog, listening to BTS and cooking awesome healthy meals. T’ara holds an MS in Nutrition Education from American University.