Dr. Dennis Van Hoof, PhD, CLC
“Balance is about portions and proportions to support physical activity”
The balancing act of diabetes
- What is a well-balanced lifestyle?
- Why is balance so important for excellent diabetes management?
The answer to the second question is pretty straightforward: too much of anything will tip the balance over to one side. Too much sugary food will spike your blood glucose above the healthy upper range (hyperglycemia); too little and you can drop below the safe lower limit (hypoglycemia; see Blog post “Blood glucose“). The same holds true for insulin, but with the opposite effect: too much insulin results in hypoglycemia, whereas too little of this hormone will make you hyperglycemic (see Blog post “Insulin and Diabetes“).
Insulin is not a free ticket to limitless carb consumption.
For some, the answer to the first questions means “going low carb,” or taking it even one step further by completely omitting all forms of carbs from their diet as much as possible. Although reducing your carb intake may be a wise move in the right direction, going to extremes, like certain diets, will do you more harm than good (see Blog post “The bitter-sweet truth“).
Living The Diabetic Lifestyle means finding the right balance between food consumption on one side, to support your physical activity level on the other side. While watching food intake gets a lot of attention, physical activity is too often ignored, neglected or undervalued. Our bodies were not made to sit still; we were designed to move around a lot (see Blog post “Stuck with a 200,000-year-old blueprint“). Moving your body means putting your muscles to work, and they need fuel (food) to flex. Moving more requires more fuel; moving less (not recommended!) requires less fuel.
Being physically active has countless of benefits over a sedentary lifestyle; but even more so for diabetics, as it:
- Lowers blood glucose
- Increases insulin sensitivity
- Improves blood circulation to organs and limbs that are prone to diabetic complications
Physical health is the foundation for mental well-being. A truly balanced lifestyle harmonizes energy in with energy out; eating with moving; food with physical activity. The challenge is to choose the right type of (healthy) foods in the right amounts to meet your physical activity level. Since we are all unique individuals, living our own lifestyles with our personal preferences, there simply is no “one-size-fits-all” diet or exercise plan that suits every single one of us. You will have to design your own healthy and active lifestyle, by choosing the things that you like, as only an enjoyable lifestyle is sustainable in the long run. Fortunately, it is not difficult to find the right kind of lifestyle that suits your personality. It starts with following some basics that you can tailor to your specific needs and wishes.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet or exercise plan.
What many consider low carb may actually not be “low carb,” but rather “the-way-it-is-supposed-to-be carb.” The World Health Organization recommends 50%/25%/25%, which means that half your plate should be filled with vegetables (and fruit; but be considerate of the high carb content of fruits), a quarter with starchy or other low-glycemic carbs, and a quarter with lean (low-fat) meats or other sources of protein (see examples below). This is very different from the common food standard in western worlds, where fries, hamburgers and bucket-sized sodas with ice cream as dessert are the norm. A plate full of junk food does not have any room for vegetables (note that the 3 pickles and a shriveled leaf of lettuce do not even remotely qualify as a serving of veggies). If the 50%/25%/25% plate leaves you hungry, simply add more vegetables; the few carbs from veggies won’t add much to your total carb intake, and the extra fiber keeps you satiated. Veggies are practically the “all-you-can-eat” type of food. So indulge in greens!As mentioned above, the other component is physical activity. Do you already feel exhausted just by the idea of tying your running shoe laces? Well, the solution to that is to not go running! A physically active lifestyle does not mean running half a marathon every day. All you need to do is move your body for just 30 minutes per day. This can be anything you like to do. It should not be something you hate doing; it should be something fun. Walking the dog, gardening, dancing, or just about anything that gets you off the couch will do. There are tons of studies showing that exercising for a total of 150 minutes per week (that’s just half an hour on 5 days per week) is sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of obesity-related health issues. Take a moment to realize what such a small investment of your time could do to your quality of life. As a bonus: enjoyable activities not only help you to lose weight, they put you in a feel-good mood, too!
Keep an eye out for my next blog, and I hope to see you soon to get you started on the journey to your new life!
Dr. Dennis Van Hoof is a Certified Life Coach (CLC) with an academic PhD degree in Biochemical Physiology. By combining 20 years of first-hand personal diabetes experience with his in-depth scientific background, he developed a method to efficiently manage his own diabetes in a sustainable way. To learn how you can do this too, reach out for personal Diabetic Lifestyle Coaching or follow a group workshop that is specifically tailored to people with Type 1 or 2 Diabetes as well as pre-Diabetics and those at risk due to being overweight or obese. His clients thrive with their challenges and become an inspiration™ to others — with or without diabetes.