Whether you've been trying to slim down for a while, or your doctor has recently urged you to do so to help control your diabetes, you understand that the stakes are high.
Not only will losing weight help you look and feel better, but it can improve your blood sugar levels and, in some cases, you may not even need medication anymore.
About 80% of weight loss is due to dietary changes, and the other 20% comes from activity. -- Michael Dansinger, MD
Mistake #1: Making all carbs the enemy.
Carbohydrates turn into sugar, so they're bad for people with diabetes, right? Not exactly. While too many carbs can cause problems, a certain amount is essential.
"Almost every process in your body requires carbohydrates,” says Constance Brown-Riggs, RD, certified diabetes educator and author of The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes. For instance, your brain needs carbs, she says, and not getting enough can mess with your memory.
"Even if you have diabetes, nearly half of your calories should come from carbohydrates," says Jaclyn London, senior dietitian at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Going too low-carb can lower blood sugar to dangerous levels in people who take medications that increase insulin levels, such as sulfonylureas (Diabinese, Amaryl) or meglitinides (Starlix, Prandin), London says.
Ask your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a certified diabetes educator if the diet you want to try gives you the right mix of carbs, protein, fat, and all the nutrients you need.
Mistake #2: Going too long without eating.
"It's important to eat every 3 to 4 hours," says Carolyn Brown, RD, a New York nutritionist.
Aside from keeping your metabolism fired up, eating regularly prevents your blood sugar from spiking too high or dropping too low, she says.
Letting hours pass without eating can lead to low blood sugar, which in turn, may contribute to overeating.
Going too long without food could also affect how your body processes certain diabetes medications, London says. And
However, it’s important to remember, to keep your portions and calories in check with every meal and snack so you don’t go over your total calorie budget for the day.
Mistake #3: Counting too much on 'diet' food.
Drinking shakes or eating bars instead of meals as part of a diet strategy may help you lose weight. But you aren't going to use them forever. So do you have a plan for what comes next?
"You're not eating whole foods, and it's not sustainable," London says.
Another issue is that many "diet" foods are packed with a long list of artificial ingredients. "The goal for anyone -- whether they have diabetes or not -- is to eat mostly foods that are minimally processed," Brown-Riggs says. In general, you're better off eating whole foods that are as close as possible to how they're found in nature (for example, an apple instead of apple-flavored chips).
If you have a fierce sweet tooth, you may want to address everything that’s contributing to it, whether it's in a "diet" package or not.
Mistake #4: It promises speedy weight loss.
If it sounds too good to be true, you know it probably is, so forget the "cleanses" and crash diets.
"Cleanses aren’t a good way to lose weight, but they are a good way to become dehydrated," says Brown-Riggs, who notes that any weight you lose is likely to be from water, not fat.
Shedding weight slowly, at a rate of about 1 or 2 pounds per week, is your best bet if you want to keep it off. "Gradual weight loss is better, since you're learning how to eat well in the real world," she says. "Don't look for a quick fix. You need to make changes you can stick with forever."
Mistake #5: Counting on supplements.
Be wary of products that claim to help you lose a lot of weight very quickly, as well as those that say they're herbal "alternatives" to FDA-approved medications.
It's true that not all supplements are dangerous. Chromium, for example, may help promote weight loss as well as blood sugar control -- but the research is mixed. What's more, it can cause low blood sugar in people who take certain diabetes medications that increase the release of insulin, like Glucotrol, Amaryl, and Prandin, Brown-Riggs says.
The bottom line: Don't try any supplement without first running it by your doctor, even if it's "natural" or "herbal."
Mistake #6: Not including exercise.
Although what you eat matters most when it comes to losing weight, physical activity also is crucial. "Almost all of my patients who achieve remission from type 2 diabetes take exercise seriously," says Michael Dansinger, MD, director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center.
He estimates that about 80% of weight loss is due to dietary changes, and the other 20% comes from activity.
"Exercise is important for weight loss and maintenance; plus, people who get regular exercise have lower blood sugar levels," London says. "Also, getting enough exercise can help you avoid diabetes-related complications."