Judith Williams, 55, had ‘every risk factor and all the major symptoms’ of diabetes when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. ‘I was shocked,’ she admits, ‘but I ate my way into this problem.’ Judith responded in the most positive way possible. ‘I was super motivated to lose weight, so I cut out all junk food and gave up adding sugar to anything. I ate more vegetables, salads and fruit. ‘I found excellent low-fat, low-carb recipes and I started walking. I worked my way up to being able to walk for 30 minutes, which I now do five days a week.’ As a result, she lost 30 kilos in 20 weeks and her fasting blood glucose level (BGL) has gone from 18 to a healthy six. ‘I still have sleep apnoea but I am nowhere near as tired as I used to be. I have energy now,’ she says.
Being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, extreme stress, and a lack of sleep are all common factors that can lead to insulin resistance, the underlying problem in type 2 diabetes. In someone with insulin resistance, the muscles and cells are ‘resistant’ to insulin, so the body has to make more and more of it to overcome this and keep blood glucose normal. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so having insulin resistance means that it can be easy to put on weight and hard to lose it. Like Judith, you can improve your sensitivity to insulin, which may then allow you to reduce your insulin or meds. The pay-off? A slimmer, healthier you! Here's how to get started...
1. Eat to beat kilo creep:
As your weight increases, so does insulin resistance. The good news? ‘If you’re overweight (a woman with a waistline of 80cm or more, or a man with a waistline of 94cm or above) then losing just five to 10 per cent of your body weight can greatly improve your sensitivity to insulin,’ says endocrinologist Dr John Wentworth from The Royal Melbourne Hospital. The best way to start trimming your waistline is to work on what and how you eat.
● Up the fibre, lower the GI: High-fibre foods, such as vegetables and whole grains, are great because they provide a slow, sustained release of energy. Low-GI foods produce a gradual rise in your insulin levels and BGLs, so keep you feeling fuller for longer. Good choices include basmati rice, quinoa, oats, beans and lentils, and vegies such as carrots, zucchini and green beans. Team them with lean protein for a satisfying meal.
● Switch to healthy fats: ‘Recently, there has been so much focus on sugar and carbohydrates that people often forget that high fat levels can also increase insulin levels and insulin output,’ says Associate Professor Neale Cohen from Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute. ‘This is because the beta cells – which produce insulin in the pancreas – also have fat receptors.’ Try to minimise your intake of fats – particularly saturated fats from foods such as butter and red meat – and instead choose healthier fats from olive oil or avocado.
● Rethink your habits: While there’s nothing wrong with treats, consistently overindulging makes it harder to build insulin sensitivity. Try cutting down on the number of takeaway meals you order and resist mindless munching in front of the TV or computer. ‘Socialise with friends over home-cooked meals instead of restaurant fare, which is higher in fat, salt, sugar and kilojoules,’ suggests Cohen.
2. Ease your stress
Stress can send your blood glucose sky-high. ‘Your body releases stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, which impair the action of insulin and may also lead you to store more fat around the abdomen,’ says Cohen. Diabetes educator Helen Edwards says practising mindfulness can help you achieve a sense of calm. To become more mindful, she suggests daily meditation, rhythmic breathing and listening to soothing music to help you slow down and recharge. Aiming to ‘live in the moment’ can also help. ‘Avoid unhelpful thinking styles, such as black-and-white thinking or catastrophising,’ she adds. ‘This will help you keep events in perspective, so they seem less overwhelming.
3. Make a date to exercise
‘Exercise makes every cell more sensitive to insulin so glucose more easily enters your cells,’ says Diabetic Living exercise physiologist Christine Armarego. ‘Your pancreas then doesn’t need to send out as much insulin to manage your blood glucose levels. ‘Your insulin sensitivity peaks 24 hours after you work out. Within 48 hours, it has returned to what it was. That’s why daily exercise is best to keep insulin sensitivity at its highest,’ she says. To keep your body challenged and your interest levels high, vary your routine and work out with friends.
4. Get some shut-eye
In a US study, after four nights of reducing sleep from 8.5 to 4.5 hours a night, the fat cells in healthy, lean adults became 30 per cent less responsive to insulin, indicating the start of insulin resistance. There’s no better reason than that to aim for at least seven hours of good-quality kip each night! For better rest, follow these tips by Dr Siobhan Banks, sleep researcher at The University of Western Australia…
● Build a sleep routine: ‘Aim to rise and retire at the same time of day. This keeps your body clock synchronised.’
● Cut back on caffeine and alcohol: Stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks and chocolate can delay your sleep onset. ‘Alcohol can interrupt your sleep cycle or wake you up later with thirst.’
● Minimise light: ‘Bright lights and computer screens can suppress levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.’ So switch off and get some shut-eye!
By Stephanie Osfield