Finding the motivation to deal with diabetes

November 19, 2019

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Melanie Henry wants to help you with your diabetes. Whether your goal is to walk back a prediabetes diagnosis or to get healthier while managing your type 2 diabetes, she's here to help.

Melanie is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial. Helping people tackle their diabetes is a big part of her life.

But if you go to see her, she's not going to just throw a bunch of lifestyle changes at you and send you on your way. She is going to take the time to get to know you.

"I'm all about helping someone find what they like to do," Melanie says. "If someone says, 'I hate running but I love yoga,' I'm not going to tell them to run a marathon. I would want to know what kind of yoga they are into, how often they do it, how long would they be willing to do it.

"It can be very discouraging to have someone tell you to do a bunch of stuff that you don't like. It doesn't feel like they're hearing you. So I just listen to hear what they enjoy. Because it's all about sustaining healthy changes."

Finding your motivation

If you have prediabetes and don’t want to progress to type 2 diabetes, there are certain common steps you'll have to take. Eating healthier is a big one. So is getting more exercise and losing weight. But Henry wants to help her patients customize these steps to fit their individual life.

“My recommendations are always based off what my patients are telling me,” she says. “I could shoot off recommendations all day, but at the end of the day they're very individualized. They're based on what they are willing to eat, what they're not willing to eat, what kind of exercises they like to do, and their ability to take off weight.”

When it comes to losing weight, "we generally like to see a 5 to 10 percent weight loss. That can prevent someone from moving from prediabetes to diabetes."

But to achieve the weight loss, people need an individualized plan. "It usually takes baby steps. People think they're going to come in and change everything at once, but that rarely happens. So it takes a lot of talking about motivation and helping them figure out what changes they can commit to.”

What kind of motivation does it take? Again, it depends on the individual.

"They have to find the motivation within themselves," Melanie says. "It could be that they just want to feel better. Or they want to be able to move more. They've got kids they want to go on vacation with, or grandchildren they want to see grow up."

Nutrition's major role

Nutrition is one of the first things Melanie brings up to new patients.

"We go through a history of what they typically eat in a day. Often they say they had a cup of soda in the morning and later in the day, a frappuccino. Those are unnecessary calories. They're not benefitting from that food.

"What you eat every day matters, so if you're consuming a lot of these daily, that's going to have an impact on you in the long run."

The four most important steps to eating healthy for weight loss are:

  • Eat smaller portions than you currently eat of foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar.
  • Eat healthier foods in place of less-healthy choices. (Like learning how to snack smarter.)
  • Choose foods with less trans fat, saturated fat and added sugars.
  • Drink water instead of drinks with sugar such as soda, sports drinks and fruit juice.

Don't forget exercise

"When someone thinks about exercise, it's like, 'Oh gosh, I have to dedicate an hour and a half of my day to vigorous activity.' And that's not true at all.

"Almost anything can count as exercise. For example, for someone who has been sedentary a long time, just standing at your desk is exercise,” Melanie says. "If it's above and beyond what you have been doing, that's exercise to your body."

Diabetes means your body isn't processing insulin like it should. Insulin helps your cells store sugar for energy, Melanie says. The great thing about exercise is that it acts like insulin.

"Exercise on its own makes your cells more sensitive to sugar," she says. "For diabetes, every minute of moderate activity can lower your blood sugar 1 point. That can be the difference between managing your blood sugar on your own or starting insulin."

Her recommendations:

  • Go for a walk for 10 to 15 minutes after every meal. Do it four or five days a week until it becomes a habit.
  • Go for a walk on your 15-minute work break.
  • Park a little farther in the lot at the mall.
  • Don't take the escalator—take the stairs.

"Try to incorporate little ways to make your life just a little bit more challenging," she says.

If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, ask your doctor to refer you to a nutritionist and a diabetes educator. Call your insurance first to find out what services are covered.

And be patient with yourself.

"It takes a long time to develop a chronic disease," says Melanie. "It's going to take a long time to fix it."