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Why I Don’t Tell My Clients What to Eat with Diabetes

By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E

Why I dont tell my clients what to eat with diabetesDay after day I see people newly diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes and all they want to know is “What do I eat?” (the third decision point in the Mindful Eating Cycle). As I listen to how my clients are eating, it’s easy to see that mindful eating would be a powerful tool to help them make sustainable, lifelong changes in their eating.

Many of my clients are initially skeptical about whether mindful eating could “work” for them. Most think they should follow a rigid diabetes meal plan but eventually recognize that that is no different from the dozens of other restrictive eating programs, aka diets, that they have tried over the years, with the same predictable results.

Fear and Fantasy

There is both a fear and a fantasy that food and eating choices can be simplified into a single list.  Thankfully, they can’t, and knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior anyway. Rigid plans and programs that preach perfection and focus on weight loss instead of balanced eating do more harm than good. Popular food plans that eliminate carbohydrates, or even just sweets, nourish the seeds of food guilt and body shame which only make changing one’s diet and managing one’s health more difficult.

Unfortunately, the fear and guilt that often come with a diagnosis of prediabetes and diabetes is so great that it’s hard for many people to even consider using a mindful eating approach. They insist on focusing on questions like, “What am I allowed to eat?” or “Tell me which foods are good and which ones are bad.” But after a few weeks of fear-based eating, my clients are more confused than before. They explain, “I am really trying!” and I know they are. After years of practice, I also know that rigid food rules and unrealistic thinking founded in fear nourish a sense of guilt with each bite, making it impossible to create a sensible meal plan. Diet after diet, attempt after attempt brings each client to the same place: frustration, confusion, and resentment at eating a balanced diet.

Mindful Eating for Diabetes

The Mindful Eating Cycle is an amazing tool to help you unravel thought, feelings, and beliefs around food and eating that may have gotten tangled up from dieting. It is the basis of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Diabetes Program – in fact, all of the Am I Hungry? mindful eating programs and our book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes. While we don’t give you a list of what to eat, the nutrition information is based on scientific recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and other nationally recognized organizations to help you start discovering an “all foods fit” approach to eating.

If you’ve been diagnosed with either prediabetes or diabetes and want a simple understanding of nutrition that will not leave you feeling frustrated, confused, or resentful about eating a balanced diet, consider mindful eating. It is our experience that it can unlock the prison of restrictive eating and open the door to a life-changing approach to prediabetes and diabetes care.

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About the author

Megrette Fletcher is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. Megrette is the 2013-2014 president of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit, organization to assist health professionals to explore the concepts of mindful eating. She has written articles for and has been quoted about mindful eating in Diabetes Self Management, Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Social Worker, Bariatric Times, Glamour, Family Circle, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Women’s Day, and Oxygen Magazine. Megrette currently works as a diabetes educator in Dover, New Hampshire.

2 Comments

  1. I understand that it is difficult to determine what a person needs to eat if they have diabetes. If someone that has just recently been diagnosed with diabetes were curious of what they should be eating, would you recommend that they visit their doctor about it, search online, or meet with a nutritionist, or any other potential options? Thanks!!

    • Jessie Russo says:

      Hi Andrew! Here is Megrette’s reply….

      Mindful eating is about learning and getting curious regarding your direct experience with food and eating. So, drop the dogma and start exploring. There are a growing number of health care professionals that can guide you in this journey of self-exploration. If it is possible to learn if they support HAES (Health At Every Size). If you can’t learn this before your appointment, explain what you want! You might share – “I am very interested in Mindful Eating and the work done at Am I Hungry.com. Are you familiar with Dr. Michelle May’s Mindful Eating Cycle?” If they are, wonderful, you are way ahead. If they are not, this is your chance to educate and explain your interest in mindful eating and non-dieting! Am I Hungry.com also has a growing network of trainers for you to meet with. Many of these professionals provide on-line support. Thanks for your question – let us know how you did!

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