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How to Decrease Your Risk of Diabetes
By Shellie Yeung, MS, RD, CDE

Shellie Yeung, MS, RD, CDE

National diabetes statistics are not pretty. It is estimated that nearly 26 million Americans now have the disease, and that roughly seven million of those don’t even realize it.

Approximately 79 million more Americans — a quarter of the population — have what is called “prediabetes.” That means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Unfortunately, experts estimate that as many as 50 to 70 percent of people with prediabetes will one day develop type 2 diabetes. (The other two most common types are type 1 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that prevents the body from producing insulin, which is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. This is normally found in children or young adults. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy.)

So the question is: What can you do to reduce your risk? As it turns out - plenty.

First, the facts: Diabetes is a chronic condition that compromises your body’s ability to use sugar (glucose), your main energy source. Specifically, your body either resists insulin, (a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells) or you don’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. When left untreated, diabetes can be life-threatening. It also increases your risk of blindness, kidney damage, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, nerve damage, and several other maladies.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Being overweight: Excess fatty tissue increase insulin-resistant and elevate bold glucose level.
  • Inactivity: The less active you are, the greater your risk.
  • Family history: Your risk is higher if a parent or sibling has the disease.
  • Race: African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans have a higher risk
  • Age: Risk goes up as you age, especially after age 45.

It should be no surprise that with diabetes, as with so many other diseases, the three most important things you can do to lower your diabetes risk are:

  1. Keep your weight in the normal range. That is, maintain a body mass index (or BMI) of less than 25.
  2. Get regular physical activity. Try to have 150 minutes of moderate to high intensity activities each week.
  3. Eat healthfully. For instance, eat small meals at regular intervals, with more vegetables, fresh fruits and lean protein sources.

Have you heard this one before?
I know what you’re thinking. You have heard this kind of thing many times and none of it has ever been any help to you in changing your behavior. Well, perhaps that was because you failed to set realistic goals for yourself.

Here’s a way to become more realistic and to achieve results:

Lose weight one pound at a time: It’s important to set realistic expectations for weight loss. Begin by weighing yourself once a week, and whatever changes you make, give yourself 2-3 months to see results.

In other words, you need to take a longer-term, lifestyle approach to weight loss. Your goal is to make positive changes that are sustainable, and that fit in with your daily routine.

One change you could make that affects weight loss is to eat slowly and to always be mindful about what you’re eating. For example, when you’re eating something that tastes good and you get to that point when your last bite doesn’t taste as good as the one before, that’s when it’s time to stop.

Get active 10 minutes at a time: As with any behavior change, it’s important to start small. Begin with just 10 minutes of activity a day with something you enjoy, even if it’s only five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Make that a habit and then increase gradually from there.

Planning ahead can help you anticipate and remove barriers that can keep you from exercising. For instance, if you know you’re going to have an earlier-than-usual meeting at work, or if you want to watch a favorite TV show in the evening, you can plan around those sorts of things and still have time to get in your exercise.

Eat better one meal at a time: Poor eating habits have a way of creeping up on you. Sometimes it’s a case of not having time to pack a nutritious lunch or dinner. So you stop for fast food instead, or you grab something out of the vending machine. Pretty soon, this becomes how you eat. As an alternative, why not try preparing extra food on the weekends so it’s ready for lunches and dinners during the week?

Always have a nutritious “plan B” meal in mind if your nutritious “plan A” falls through: For example, if you forget your lunch or don’t have time to pack it, keep healthy snacks at your desk to hold you over. Or, always know where healthy lunch food is near your work, and make that your go-to place.

Shellie Yeung, UPMC Health Plan, Diabetes Educator Health Coach, can be reached at yeungs@upmc.edu.

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