How to eat better and still eat well

If you have—or are at risk for—type 2 diabetes, you’ve probably read or heard that you should eat better and lose weight (if you’re overweight). Sounds simple. It’s not. If it was, you’d have done it long ago, right?

I teach people how to prevent diabetes and I can tell you for certain that diets don’t work. Learning how to eat better is hard work. But it is possible, by making many small but simple changes in your daily routines and habits.

Here is my “baker’s dozen” tips and tricks to eating healthily:

  1. Eat smaller portions. Our portions are larger than ever. Use a smaller plate for your meal. Leave any extra food and servings in the kitchen instead of placing it on the table. Eat only half of the meal at the restaurant; package the rest in a to-go container before you start eating.
  2. Eat more vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables (only a quarter with protein and the remaining quarter with starch).
  3. If you feel hungry, drink a full glass of water. We often think we’re hungry when our body is simply dehydrated.
  4. Routinely substitute water and sugar-free beverages for sodas and other high-calorie drinks.
  5. Buy and eat whole wheat and whole grain breads and pasta instead of white products. Whole grain products are more nutritious and contain more fiber, which stays in the stomach longer than other foods, giving you a feeling of fullness and helping you to eat less.
  6. Have fruit, vegetables or a small portion of nuts for a snack instead of reaching for chips or a cookie.
  7. Finish eating and snacking at least 2 hours before you go to sleep. A full stomach makes it difficult to sleep well, and studies show that skimping on shuteye impacts insulin, the sugar-regulating hormone, and increases your risk for type 2 diabetes.
  8. Eat a lean protein at every meal. Lean proteins include fish, skinless white-meat chicken and turkey, pork loins and chops, beans and lentils. Like fiber, protein stays with you longer and helps you feel satisfied.
  9. Try under-appreciated but delicious protein-rich grains. My favorite is farro; also try couscous, quinoa and bakery.
  10. Add rainbow colors to your plate. Fill your shopping cart with different colored vegetables and search online for recipes to try. Doing that will reduce the amount of prepared food you eat.
  11. Skip the add-on cheeses and sour cream; avoid cream-based sauces.
  12. Flavor foods with herbs and spices. My favorites are garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, cayenne (hot! Go easy), cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, and freshly ground pepper!
  13. Go natural. Eat foods with natural sugars and avoid those with added sugar. Nutrition labels always state the amount of sugar in grams; avoid those with high amounts of “added sugar.”

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, you can eat well and still feel satisfied at the same time. These healthy eating habits will also reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer.

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program can help you develop lifelong healthy habits. Eight YMCA locations in the state of New Hampshire – and 200 other Ys around the country – help thousands of people reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This small-group program helps people with prediabetes to eat healthier, increase their physical activity, and lose weight, which can delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Call 603.232.8668 or visit our website for more info and to sign up for a program where you live.

As The Granite YMCA’s Association Director of Healthy Living Initiatives, Cindy Lafond helps individuals reach their wellness potential with diabetes prevention and other programs. She works with many people, ages and organizations throughout Manchester and the state of NH. Cindy has more than 30 years of wellness experience and holds certifications in diabetes prevention, group exercise, LIVESTRONG at the Y, Cancer Exercise, and Fitness Specialist, and 500-hour Yoga Instructor.