Within 5 minutes of reading any diabetes blog or perusing through any Diabetes Facebook group, you will probably find more biased, scientifically unsupported diet advice than a poorly thought out midnight infomercial.
“Keto is best!”
“No, plant-based is best!”
“Wrong, apple cider vinegar and intermittent dieting is best!”
With so many opinions and biases, how, as people with type 1 diabetes, can we decide on the “right” diet?
Let’s get this out of the way quickly—there is no one golden way of easy results for everyone. Why? Because everyone is different with different goals and value sets and needs to achieve their individualized quality of life.
So when you are searching for the “right” way, just make sure that you are considering what is right for you in the sense of being able to adhere to it for a long period of time, making sure that it doesn’t make you miserable, and assessing the effectiveness toward your goals. The right way will accomplish those three things for you as long as you continue to put in the work.
The “Right” Blood Sugars
As people with diabetes, we can probably all agree that there are effective and ineffective blood sugars. We can’t be hypoglycemic before an activity as that will likely put us in danger and being hyperglycemic can reduce performance, affect function, and become dangerous as well. So, when it comes to fat loss, is there a “right” blood sugar?
Yes and no.
Of the hundreds of people with diabetes I’ve helped to lose thousands of pounds total, blood sugar management comes first.
If you are chasing blood sugars constantly, your diet will reflect that and your training will likely suffer, resulting in a negative cascading effect, leading away from progress.
I’ve found that we can tend to brush off the importance of getting better with our blood sugars (I’m also talking to myself here), because we want to lose fat and show people how hard dieting is, and prove our dedication to other people. But by skipping blood sugar management, we essentially toss all our hard work into the wind and hope for the best.
If you truly want to progress your physique and performance, you have to start asking the right questions:
- How is this activity going to impact my insulin sensitivity?
- Am I checking my sugar enough, especially when I start a new diet or exercise program?
- Am I taking into account how much insulin on board I have before I exercise?
- Am I talking with my diabetes management team to make sure that my insulin needs are adjusted with my diet and activity levels?
When things change, things need to change yet we tend to fall into the same rut of diabetes management.
Make sure you take into account your new level of intensity and duration and exercise as well as your caloric intake and specific nutrient intake to make sure that your insulin needs are optimized toward the new stimulus you are giving your body by starting a new exercise or diet program.
Here is a chart from JDRF PEAK showing the different blood sugar trends around varying types of exercise. This can help you plan your management accordingly.
The “Right” Nutrition Plan
All successful diets in terms of fat loss share one pivotal concept—burning more calories than you consume. For you to optimally lose body fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit regardless of whether you are eating keto, vegan, Whole30, or the “broke college kid diet”. It’s not opinion either, it is just the law of thermodynamics.
In abundance, you gain. In deficit, you lose.
So, the right nutrition plan puts you in a moderate caloric deficit where you aren’t starving or medically unsafe but you are also not eating enough to maintain your current weight (after all, what would be the point of that?).
Now, the right plan also has to account for adherence and not making you miserable.
If you truly enjoy carbs and you can manage your sugars well on a moderate- or high-carb diet while still in a caloric deficit, most likely a keto diet will make you miserable and will not be the right fit for you. While both a high-carb diet and a keto diet could be equally effective at losing body fat when equated for calories, we also must consider the real-life implications of quality of life during dieting.
The right diet is something that you can adhere to while also managing your blood sugars and at the same time putting you in a moderate caloric deficit so that you can continue to progress.
You can individualize your nutrition so that you can adhere to whatever kind of eating preferences you like, as long as you can maintain your blood sugars simultaneously.
Some people prefer low-carb, so that it minimizes blood sugar fluctuations.
Some people prefer high-carb and can still manage blood sugar fluctuations.
Regardless of what you choose, the fact remains that you have to stick with it consistently and you have to follow the rules above.
The “Right” Workouts
Personally, I love lifting heavy weights. Also personally, I hate when a coach tells a client that they have to work out the same way that they do.
There are many successful ways I have helped people with diabetes incorporate new workout programs:
- Walking and progressing to walking with weights
- Sprinting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts
- Bodyweight and resistance band training
- Water aerobics
- Olympic weight lifting and bodybuilding
- Walking your dog and doing 10 Squats every 5 minutes during that walk
- Working out does not have to mean going to a gym. You can work out exactly where you are, even if you’re in an office just by standing up and sitting down a few times, despite maybe looking a little awkward.
There are three aspects of working out that are considered important and I try to encourage every person to incorporate each of these aspects into their program to have a more well-rounded approach:
- Resistance training (added weight or bodyweight exercise)
- Cardiorespiratory training (walking, jogging)
- Flexibility (stretching yoga, etc.)
So whether you go to the gym and lift weights, or pick up a gallon of water and press it over your head, walk your dog every day and finish up with some stretching, if you use these three concepts and incorporate movements or activities that you like, you’ll find yourself doing the “right” workouts.
Now, extremely successful workouts involve a concept called progressive overload— that simply means that whatever you’re doing will eventually stop working if you keep doing the same thing over and over without any change or progression.
So my advice? Progress. If you walk 20 minutes every day maybe next week walk 25 minutes one of those days or even add five minutes to every day. If you constantly do the same exercises maybe change up the exercise or add weight or change how many repetitions that you do.
Change requires change.
Progression requires progression.
A Free Solution That Might Be Just “Right”
Over the last four years, I have worked with hundreds of people with diabetes and I found a creative way to build a community for free of just people with type 1 diabetes all working together towards a four-week fitness challenge called the Fit Me T1D challenge.
I provide our hundreds of members a modifiable exercise plan with an easily individualized and adaptable nutrition guide as well as a bunch of extremely helpful tips and tricks around diabetes management.
All of this happens in a private Facebook group and your fellow T1D members help you every step of the way.
And hey—it’s free.
I feel like it’s my duty to give back to my fellow type 1s so if you’re interested in joining, we have our next challenge starting March 22nd. Feel free to sign up for free on FitMeT1D (more info at the link as well).