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How do you use MyPlate when you have diabetes?

By Michelle May, M.D.

For those already familiar with the concepts of mindful eating and intuitive eating, you understand the challenges of applying these non-restrictive approaches when someone has specific dietary needs or a chronic condition that is impacted by what you eat (as if there are any conditions that aren’t impacted by what you eat!). In fact, it’s one of the most common questions I get from audience members and other health professionals when I present on mindful eating: “But what do you do when you can’t eat what you love because you have diabetes?” they ask. My answer: People will eat what they love anyway so you might as well figure out how to balance eating for enjoyment with eating for nourishment – and in this case, for optimal blood glucose management.

All Foods Can Fit

We know (as you do) that rigidity just doesn’t work long term so we simply aren’t interested in giving people a bunch of unsustainable rules to follow. Instead, like many other health professionals, we fully embrace the “all foods can fit” philosophy using the principles of balance, variety, and moderation. Mindful eating is perfect for learning how to eat what you love in moderation while eating a varied and balanced diet. (Our recent series of posts on the debate about butter vs. margarine is a good example of how mindful eating is applied to complex nutrition questions.) As you can imagine, while we were writing Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, we had many long conversations about how to balance our non-restrictive approach with the goal of achieving target blood glucose levels. We were nearly finished with the first draft of the manuscript when the launch of MyPlate was announced. First it was “Argggghhhh!” then it was “Aha!” We quickly agreed that this simple visual icon of a balanced meal was a practical way to convey complex nutrition information for a healthy diet. So we went back to the drawing board – literally!

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes Plate

Unfortunately, MyPlate doesn’t yet have a version for people with diabetes (or allow significant modification of the original graphic), so we designed a new Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes Plate to help people with diabetes apply MyPlate tools. As you can see, the key difference is that we put the foods that contain a significant amount of carbohydrate (grains and starchy vegetables, fruit, and dairy, sweets and desserts) in the upper right quadrant of the graphic. (Each serving is approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate.) This helps readers adjust the total amount of carbohydrate they eat at each meal or snack so their carbohydrate intake doesn’t exceed their body’s ability to process the glucose.

Mindful Meal Planning

As we say in chapter 7 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Mindful Meal Planning, “Our goal is to teach you what you need to know about nutrition to manage your blood glucose and keep yourself healthy. Simultaneously, we want to give you a flexible approach to eating that is enjoyable and sustainable.” Since people eat food, not macronutrients, we like the plate planning method.

Here’s a brief summary of some of the key concepts for mindful meal planning that we explain throughout the Nourish chapters in the book. (PLEASE, don’t take this out of context; WHAT you eat is only one part of the Mindful Eating Cycle!)

EWYL LWYE Diabetes Plate

  1. Start by picturing your meal and visually dividing your plate in half.
  2. Fill the left half of your plate with salad and other low-carbohydrate vegetables.
  3. Divide the other half of your plate in half again and put lean protein in the bottom section.
  4. Your carbohydrate choices – grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and dairy, sweets/dairy – go in the top right.
  5. A carbohydrate choice contains approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate. Adjust the number of servings for your carbohydrate goal.
  6. Add healthy fats in moderation for flavor, satiety, and more stable blood glucose levels.
  7. If you are having dessert, replace one or more of your carbohydrate choices with the desired sweets.

From this foundation, we build a mindful all foods can fit approach. And yes, that does include sweets and desserts! (Watch for a blog post about that coming soon.) With awareness of nutrition and meal planning techniques, you can design flexible meals and snacks that are nourishing and satisfying and that help you keep your blood glucose in the target range.

Download Eat What You Love Love What You Eat with Diabetes Plate with Tips.


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Linda Block says:

    Michelle and Megrette,
    I found your diabetes focused MyPlate to be a wonderful resource, as do my collegues in diabetes education. We would like to either buy copies, have your permission to copy it or whatever it takes to get them out to our patients. Can you advise?
    Wonderful work!

  2. Thank you Linda! I’m glad you’ve find this useful. I added a downloadable handout to the Resources page that you can share with your patients and clients: http://www.diabetesandmindfuleating.com/resources.html. Please let us know how your patients use this information!
    Michelle and Megrette

  3. Juegode Barbie

    How do you use MyPlate when you have diabetes? – Diabetes and Mindful Eating

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