THE PURSUIT OF DIABETIC PERFECTION: CREATING REALISTIC GOALS YOU WILL ACHIEVE! BY GINGER VIEIRA
Your A1C results just came back at 8.6—at least 1.6 points higher than you’re hoping for. Your fasting blood sugar was 11.1 mmol/L, and the number on the scale was nearly 25 pounds more than your goal weight (and 2 pounds higher than the last time you stepped on a scale).
But this time, you’re feeling motivated as you leave your doctor’s office—motivated to make changes, to eat healthier foods, to get more exercise, to check your blood sugar more often and take your insulin more carefully. You have goals. You’re tired of being where you are and you know you deserve to take care of yourself and feel better.
So you’ve started your whole-foods, clean-eating diet. Everything you eat is 100% healthy, no desserts or processed snacks. You’re waking up at 5 a.m. so you can get to the gym before work, and you’ve even stopped at the gym on your way home from work a couple times for extra cardio, too.
You’re also checking your blood sugar before every meal, and before bed, and sometimes in the middle of the afternoon just to ensure that you’re in your goal range. You’re doing everything “right,” and you’re on your way.
Except…by the time Saturday comes after your first week (or maybe your second or third), you’re exhausted. You’re feeling totally deprived and hungry, and you end up eating half a pan of cookie batter (it didn’t even make it to the oven), an entire loaf of bread, and several chocolate croissants from the bakery three blocks from your apartment.
The lethargy and higher blood sugars that inevitably result from binge-eating junk food means you have zero energy for the gym. Even if you were able to convince yourself to go, you’re feeling so discouraged that going to the gym almost feels pointless, leaving you overwhelmed with the feeling of: “I can’t do it.”
This is what happens when good intentions and ambitious motivation meet unrealistic goals.
Creating Goals You Can Achieve in Nutrition and Exercise with Diabetes
The first part of creating a goal isn’t actually about deciding what you’d like to achieve, it’s about looking closely at where you currently are in that part of your life.
It may sound painfully obvious, but think about when you get in your car to drive to a new place. When you think about how you’re going to get to that new destination, you aren’t just planning your route based on the destination itself but also from where you’re beginning your drive!
In changing any part of your life with diabetes, especially when it comes to making healthy eating and exercise a bigger priority, it’s crucial to base your plan and your goal on where you are today.
Let’s take a closer look at the two big parts of living well with diabetes: nutrition and exercise.
Nutrition: The Delicate Balance Between Deprivation and Discipline
What’s the first thing most of us do when we realize our diet is full of junk and processed food and carbs and too much chocolate (Gasp! Is that even possible?)? We suddenly decide we are not going to eat those foods again. Ever! Ever!
And we already know what this usually leads to: binge-eating, discouragement, and giving up.
Instead, look at where you are now. In other words: how much of your diet needs improvement? If the majority of your diet is junk and processed foods versus whole foods that you prepared yourself, then trying to revamp your entire diet is probably biting off more than you can chew.
You don’t have to do something at 100 percent right away (or ever) in order to make progress and reap the benefits. Here are 3 tips for creating realistic goals around improving your nutrition:
- Choose one meal to focus on, first. Then, spend at least two weeks, if not three or four, learning and practicing eating healthier things at that meal and that meal only! Without forcing it, you’ll probably find that you’re suddenly wanting to start improving the next meal when it’s time. Certainly there are other ways you could simplify your approach to improved nutrition but the overall point is to not expect 100% change overnight. Step into it gradually and give your habits a chance to catch up to your ever-evolving education around how you want to feed your body. Sometimes it takes months or a year of reading about something before it clicks in our own head and we figure out how to apply it to real life.
- Don’t forget to make your new nutrition plan your own. It can be really helpful to read about what other people eat but there is no one design of eating that is going to help you feel better or lose weight. In fact, there are zillions of ways you could go about it. What’s important is that it works for you—and I’m not just talking about weight-loss. Your personal nutrition design needs to work for you based on your budget, your schedule, your taste-buds, your health concerns, and listening to your own body. For example, I don’t feel good (at least at this point in my life) eating a diet that is lower than 20 grams of carbohydrates where I also have to avoid fruit. Within a couple weeks, my insulin needs start rising and I feel very stressed out and anxious. Instead, I know I feel really good when I eat about 50 grams total of carbohydrates, including veggies like red bell peppers and broccoli…and one really big, delicious apple every day! I know that including 1 large apple and maybe a handful of blueberries or strawberries a day helps me feel balanced, calm, and I can still get the benefits of eating a whole foods diet that supports my blood sugar goals. And heck, if I want to have a real dessert a couple times I week, I can! It’s not about 100 percent perfection. Figure out what works for you!
- Expect setbacks and keep moving forward. Just because temptation won and you ate two donuts for breakfast doesn’t mean you’ve gotta throw in the towel. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you’ve ruined all your progress. It just means you ate two donuts. Period. So take a deep breath, brush yourself off, drink a tall glass of water to help curb those future cravings, and put effort into making sure your next meal is wholesome and within your goals. If you need to plan a cheat-meal once a week or even once a day in order to ensure that most of what you eat is wholesome and healthy, that’s great! In fact, it’s wise! There will be times in your life where eating dessert once a week is plenty, and times in your life where that might feel too restrictive. Listen to your body and think about what is right for you at this time in your life.
Exercise: Whoa! Take it easy.
Do you think the fastest racehorses in the world race at their fastest speed every single day? No way. And when they’re young little foals, they certainly aren’t pushing themselves to the max, either. Building your body takes dedication and hard work, sure, but it also requires balance and rest. (Muscle, by the way, actually grows when you’re resting on the days between your workouts, not when you’re actually working out! Lifting weights like a maniac every day isn’t going to get results, it’s going to run you down.)
Here are 3 tips for your ambitious “sweat-betes” plans:
- Don’t go from 0 to 60. If you’re currently exercising zero days per week, then a realistic starting point for you would be to begin simply walking 3 days a week for 30 minutes. Give your body at least a week or two to adjust to that and then you could increase 30 minutes to 45 or you could increase 3 days a week of 30 minutes to 5 days a week of 30 minutes. Make it your own. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t walk into the gym on his first day and bench-press 500 pounds—he built his way there, bit by bit, brick by brick. When your walking routine is intact, then you could begin adding strength-training or yoga or whatever interests you. The important part is to start slowly so you don’t get injured and so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Try everything and anything! Okay, so maybe the idea of walking for 30 minutes sounds painfully boring (although, you never know, you might like it!). The important thing is to try a variety of things and see what feels best for your bones, your muscles, and your mind. Swimming, for example, bores me to tears, and I loathe the smell of chlorine soaked into my skin for hours afterwards. Walking on the other hand, I love. It feels good, it works well for my fibromyalgia symptoms, and I feel good when I’m done, too. Tai-chi? Ugh, so boring, please don’t make me do it ever again—but at least I tried it once, right? Step out of your comfort zone and try new things to find what you like best (and what you dislike most).
- Study your blood sugars and learn. The most frustrating part of managing diabetes for most people with diabetes is keeping your blood sugar where you’d like it to be during your workout. Not all exercise lowers blood sugar—in fact, many types of exercise can raise your blood sugars. Instead of getting frustrated and deciding it’s impossible, take a deep breath, take some good notes and figure out what’s going on. Does your blood sugar always drop in the first 30 minutes of your workout? You could cut-back on the meal bolus you took for the meal before you workout or you could pop 10 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate right before you exercise to prevent that low. Does your workout always end with a high blood sugar? This clearly means you’re not getting enough insulin and that your workout is likely anaerobic instead of aerobic, which simply means it’s burning more body fat for fuel instead of glucose from your bloodstream! When I used to lift weights, I knew I could actually take a ½ unit of insulin before my workout and that would keep my blood sugar from spiking. Look at the details and adjust your plan based on the results! You are a science experiment!
Last, but not least: give yourself time but be specific.
Expecting too much too soon (like losing 10 pounds in one month and weighing yourself every single day) is obviously problematic, but setting no deadlines or checkpoints can be just as discouraging.
The trick is to make sure those checkpoints are logical and clear.
“I want to lose 10 pounds by July” isn’t very helpful because it offers no checkpoints to help you mark your progress and assess whether your plan is working or not.
“I want to lose 5 pounds per month for the next 3 months” gives you not only a monthly checkpoint, but weekly checkpoints as well. If you get to week 3 and you still haven’t lost a single pound, it’s pretty clear that your plan isn’t designed properly for your goals of losing 5 pounds per month. Back to the drawing board!
Be realistic. Be honest with you are today. And above all else, remember that improving our habits is a non-stop evolution. What you learn this year about nutrition and what you choose to eat for a healthy breakfast might be completely different than what you learn three years from now and what feels like the right healthy breakfast for you then. This isn’t a race, it’s an everlasting journey of learning more about yourself, your diabetes, and your health.
About Ginger Vieira
Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999, and fibromyalgia since 2014. She is the author of Dealing with Diabetes Burnout & Emotional Eating with Diabetes & Your Diabetes Science Experiment. Her upcoming book, available in early 2017, is Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes: Your Month-to-Month Guide to Blood Sugar Management. Ginger is also the Editorial Director at DiabetesDaily, with a B.S. in Professional Writing and background in cognitive coaching, video blogging, record-setting competitive powerlifting, personal training, Ashtanga yoga, and motivational speaking.