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Ask the Dietitian: How Can I Keep Up with Healthy Eating Habits for Diabetes?

Diet and Nutrition

October 13, 2022

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by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD


Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, RDN, CDCES


by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD


Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, RDN, CDCES


Dear Jillian,

Trying to eat healthy when you have diabetes can be overwhelming! Do you have any tips to make it easier?

— Bezzy Type 2 Diabetes Member

When you have type 2 diabetes, following a diet that promotes healthy blood sugar regulation is essential, but it’s not always easy to find an eating plan that doesn’t feel like a chore.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to create an eating plan that’s easy to follow and doesn’t make you feel like you’re following a set diet.

In this article, I’ll share simple ways to stick to a nutritious eating plan when you have type 2 diabetes so that you can create a healthy diet that works for you.

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Move away from the ‘diet’ mentality

There’s a lot of pressure to follow specific diets meant to promote healthy blood sugar control. From keto to vegan, it seems like everyone in the health and wellness world has a different opinion on what diet is best for people with diabetes.

But the truth is, even though some diets can be effective for controlling diabetes and improving diabetes-related health issues, there isn’t one best diet for blood sugar management.

This is because diets for people with diabetes are not one-size-fits-all. They depend on so many factors, including food preferences, blood sugar levels and management, other existing health conditions, activity levels, and more.

Even though some people with diabetes thrive on more structured diets, most people with diabetes don’t need to follow a specific diet.

Be more flexible and allow yourself to follow an eating pattern that’s tailored to your specific needs rather than trying to follow a set diet. This is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll stick to a healthy way of eating that best manages your blood sugar.

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Finding a way of eating that works for you

Paying attention to your food choices is important because your blood sugar and insulin levels are impacted by the foods you eat.

By using a glucose monitor to check blood glucose after eating certain foods, meals, snacks, and beverages, you can discover how these specific foods affect your glucose levels. This is a great way to see the direct results of certain foods and make decisions on what to eat based on your body’s own response.

Even though diets for diabetes should be individualized, there are a few diet recommendations that everyone with diabetes — and most people without diabetes — should stick to:

  • Be aware of your total carbohydrate intake. Since blood sugar is primarily impacted by carbs, it’s important to keep an eye on your total carb intake, including carb-rich foods like bread, pasta, and grains. Your ideal carb intake depends on factors like your blood sugar management and activity levels and should be decided by your healthcare team, including your endocrinologist and registered dietitian.
  • Stick to mostly nutrient-dense, whole foods. People with and without diabetes should follow diets made up of mostly whole, nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Significantly limit or avoid ultra-processed foods and high sugar products. Ultra-processed foods, like fast food and sugary foods and drinks like candy and soda, should be kept to a minimum in any healthy diet. But it’s especially important for those with diabetes to significantly limit their added sugar intake to promote healthy blood sugar management.
  • Make meals and snacks filling and balanced. Protein, fiber, and fat help keep you feeling satisfied between meals. Adding proteins to meals and snacks is especially important because it’s the most filling macronutrient and can help you better manage your blood sugar.

In addition to the recommendations above, it’s best to choose a way of eating that can be followed long-term, no matter if you’re out to dinner, on vacation, or at work.

Although strict diets that have tons of rules and little flexibility are likely to work for a short time period, they can be extremely difficult — and unnecessary — to stick to long-term.

This is why choosing a flexible, well-rounded diet is the best choice for long-term diabetes control.

So, how do you stick to a long-term diabetes-friendly diet?

If you’ve struggled to stay on top of healthy eating and feel like you’re constantly hopping on and off of the dieting hamster wheel, there are likely a few reasons why.

Here are a few tips to help you stick to a healthy way of eating for good.

Say no to super strict diets

Perhaps the most important factor in sticking to a diabetes-friendly diet is choosing a diet that’s not difficult to follow. This means saying no to diets with unnecessarily restrictive food rules and instead working with your healthcare team to come up with a diet that works best for your preferences and health needs.

Keep in mind that changing your diet isn’t always a walk in the park. It’s likely that you’ll have some setbacks and struggles, especially at first, as you transition to a healthier way of eating. But in general, a sustainable way of eating shouldn’t feel like a daily struggle.

One simpler way to eat a nutritious diet is known as the Diabetes Plate Method. You fill half of a 9-inch plate with nonstarchy vegetables, one-quarter of the plate with protein-rich foods, and one-quarter with carbs. This helps you have balanced portions without having to count and measure.

Know your ‘why’

In addition to choosing diet plans that are too restrictive, research shows that there are other barriers preventing people with diabetes from sticking to a healthy diet, including lack of motivation and social support, setting impractical goals, and a lack of understanding of the importance of dietary control for type 2 diabetes.

Understanding these boundaries and finding ways to overcome them can help you stick to a healthy eating plan.

For example, if you’re only changing your diet because your doctor told you to, try to come up with some personal reasons to motivate you to change your diet for the better. Maybe you want to have more energy, gain more self-confidence, or decrease your risk of conditions linked to type 2 diabetes like heart disease.

Knowing your “whys” may help you stay motivated to eat better.

Overcome all-or-nothing thinking

While it’s always best to fuel your body with nutritious, whole foods, it’s not realistic to declare all of your favorite foods completely off limits. In fact, doing so can make you feel overly restricted, which can lead you to throw in the towel on healthy eating.

Simply knowing that you can enjoy your favorite foods from time to time and not viewing it as “indulging” or “cheating” can help you gain a new perspective on what a healthy and well-rounded diet means. Plus, it can help you maintain a healthy way of eating without feeling deprived. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared!

Get the right support

Lack of understanding and social support from friends, partners, and family is a common reason why people with diabetes find it difficult to stick to a healthy eating plan.

If you live with family members or friends, it’s a good idea to educate them on how important diet is when it comes to diabetes management. Help them understand that following a healthy eating plan is necessary in order for you to manage your diabetes.

You can also join local or virtual diabetes support groups to communicate with others with diabetes who are motivated to follow a nutritious diet and live a healthier lifestyle.

Lastly, having support from medical professionals is another way to improve your chances of sticking to a healthy eating pattern. A registered dietitian can not only help you come up with a nutritious diabetes-friendly eating pattern, but they can also help you stay motivated by providing evidence-based diet and lifestyle tips and celebrating your accomplishments.

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The bottom line

If sticking to a diabetes eating plan seems impossible, it’s probably because your current diet isn’t working for you.

Instead of trying out restrictive diets that can only be followed for short time periods, take the time to develop a sustainable and flexible eating pattern that you can follow for life.

Make sure you have the right support from friends, family, and your healthcare team, and understand your motivations for eating healthy, too.

Medically reviewed on October 13, 2022

7 Sources

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About the author

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Jillian Kubala is a registered dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. She runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

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