Diabetes: Intro

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Recently, we received a series of questions from a client (who we will herein refer to as ‘N’) that has recently been diagnosed with Type-II diabetes, and who is struggling to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Over several upcoming posts, we will elaborate on some of the questions posed, and provide some insight into both the mechanisms of this complicated and dreaded disease, as well as some advice on better controlling nutrition and exercise. This may be relevant to many of you visiting the page, as diabetes is set to become the biggest killer worldwide in the looming decades, and an alarming percentage of the population is in a ‘pre-diabetic’ state (no outright symptoms have set in yet, however there are major imbalances in sugar and insulin metabolism). This is a particular problem because 25% of newly diagnosed patients have already developed cardiovascular complications.

Firstly, type-II diabetes is a complex, multifaceted disease which develops over months and years of incorrect lifestyle choices, and not overnight. Correspondingly, addressing it can take almost as much time. HOWEVER, there is hope! If diagnosed early, robust lifestyle modification can inhibit the progression of symptoms, and even reverse the associated insulin resistance that has built-up.

There are about 2 million people living with diabetes in South Africa, and a further 1.5 million who are believed to be undiagnosed. Thus, simply being diagnosed can be considered almost a ‘luxury’, as it bestows upon you the power to make a change.

Making such changes requires dedication and consistency. Your body has acclimatised to a sedentary lifestyle for a long period of time, and the way it utilises nutrients for energy needs to be gradually altered.

There could be several probable reasons for N’s 4kg weight gain, even though she has begun a rigorous exercise regimen. Firstly, the increased energy expenditure may up appetite, and make it more likely to snack on unhealthy, sugar-laden treats. Because sugar can produce so much energy, it may lead to increased fat deposition, despite your body using more energy in total. The best way to prevent this from happening, is not buying such treats in the first place. If your cupboard doesn’t have chocolates in it, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get in your car and drive to the shops just to buy some. The most important nutritional decision happens in the shop! Try and replace chocolate or chips with fruits. These can be either fresh, or dried. Fruits are also high in sugar, however they have a lower GI, meaning that they’ll cause a much more gradual increase in blood glucose levels. Timing is also critical: eat energy-dense foods 25 minutes before exercise, or up to an hour afterwards. It is a bad idea to munch away into the night, as your body will not use this extra energy while you’re sleeping, and will thus store it as fat.

Secondly, your body is beginning a switch in metabolism. As exercise improves your response to insulin, your body’s cells will start to use more and more glucose instead of the fat they’ve been used to until now. This switch may initially delay the weight loss, but consistency will allow energy usage to stabilise.

Ensure that you’re drinking plenty water, as diabetes leads to the loss of above-normal amounts of water.

Most importantly, DIET!! Eating correctly is even more important than exercise, and cannot be over stressed. Our next post will explore some modifications you can make to your diet which will enhance weight loss. It may be important to consult a dietician, who can assess you, and tailor a ketogenic (Atkin’s-type) diet to you. This diet, while unhealthy to maintain on a day-to-day basis, is greatly effective at losing weight quickly. Once a target weight has been reached, carbohydrates can be slowly reintroduced in higher quantities.

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