Discussions about weight loss and diabetes seem to go hand-in-hand but are a common source of confusion, guilt, and most important, distraction from what it really takes to manage diabetes long-term.
If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, it’s likely that one of the first recommendations was to lose weight. As if you hadn’t tried losing weight countless times before, only to gain the weight back plus some!
If you are someone who wants to stop weight cycling AND prevent or manage diabetes, the advice to lose weight probably left you feeling guilty and confused. Let’s explore a non-diet, weight-neutral solution for someone with diabetes who doesn’t want to yo-yo diet anymore: mindful eating.
Is the goal of diabetes self-management to lose weight?
As hard as it may be to understand given the constant drum to “lose weight,” losing weight is not the goal of diabetes self-management. (Even if you’ve been told to lose weight to control your diabetes repeatedly by your healthcare team.)
The goal of diabetes self-management is to manage your blood sugars to allow you to live a full and vibrant life.
The fact is, weight is not a behavior.
What do I mean by that? If weight was a behavior, you’d be able to change it right now while reading this post. Weight change is a possible outcome or result of many specific behaviors and many factors that are beyond your conscious control!
So instead of focusing on a number on a scale, I encourage my clients to start focusing on behaviors that help you manage your diabetes.
But won’t weight loss will help me manage my blood sugars?
Weight is often mistaken as a reliable marker of health. But another truth is that you cannot know someone’s health (or behaviors!) by knowing how much they weigh.
If you’re thinking, “But this is different; it’s diabetes!” pause for a moment…
You want to make changes to your behaviors because you understand that diabetes is a serious, chronic condition. So this desire to take care of yourself is wonderful and something I want to support and nourish. Not just for a week or two, but for the rest of your life!
The rest of your life is a long time!
But diet culture is fueled by a sense of urgency. The constant “do-it-now!” marketing makes you think that trying another diet is going to be different than the five, ten, or fifty diets you’ve already tried. In the excitement and hope that “maybe this one will work,” it’s easy to forget that the goal isn’t another eat-repent-repeat cycle; the goal is lifelong diabetes management!
What to do instead of weight cycling?
Mindfulness and mindful eating can help you counter this urge to rush to “fix your diabetes” – a myth that distracts you from practicing behaviors for long-term diabetes management.
Let’s explore six mindfulness principles (from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes).
Mindfulness is about awareness of the present moment. It guides you to check in and listen to your inner wisdom to discover a sustainable way to change your eating and heal your relationship to food.
In place of restrictive rules, cultivate curiosity. Asking yourself questions such as, “Am I hungry?” or “What am I really hungry for?” may help you let go of giving yourself commands like, “You’re not allowed to eat that!” or “That’s what you have to eat because you have diabetes.”
Diet culture teaches you that there are “good” and “bad” behaviors. Mindfulness encourages nonjudgment, which allows us to learn from our choices and solve problems. And for every single problem there are many solutions, so be creative and open to new ideas.
Focusing on weight loss forces you to focus on the future. Become present by asking yourself, “What behavior can I try right now that will help me experience a more full and vibrant life?”
Instead of the rigidity required to follow strict rules about eating, mindful eating is powerful and effective because you can practice flexibility as you explore new solutions to food and eating challenges.
Having a chronic condition can be challenging, but resisting your diagnosis keeps you stuck in regret. Instead, take small steps toward managing your diabetes mindfully.
Set your intention to try mindful eating
Experiment with some of these mindful eating practices during your next meal or snack.
- Check in and assess your current level of hunger.
- Create the intention to nourish your body.
- Be mindful of fullness by eating food to comfortably satisfy your hunger.
- Slow down, pause, and check in by asking yourself, “Am I still hungry?” Continue to check in while eating.
- Track your physical sensations and blood sugars before and after mindfully eating meals and snacks. Notice any changes.
This article was updated from a previous version.
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