Scripps endocrinologist Dr. Matthew Levine knows that the key to helping his patients improve their health is by setting realistic goals. From the first consultation with someone who has Type 2 diabetes, he starts each patient off with a roadmap of baby steps toward a healthier future.
“I try to give them small things they can do immediately that will yield results,” he says. “Small wins can be very encouraging. The patient can see progress, which motivates them to take the next step.”
To encourage these small wins, Dr. Levine starts with an attainable weight loss goal. “If I can get patients to commit to losing 5 percent of their body weight and succeed — that’s great,” he says. “They see weight come off and blood sugar levels decrease. Some can reduce their medication.”
A 5-10 percent reduction of body weight can also lower a person’s risk for heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure) and other adverse health conditions that go hand-in-hand with obesity. Studies indicate that that amount of weight loss may be enough to keep people with prediabetes from developing overt diabetes. That’s because slimming down makes the body better at using insulin and processing glucose — and so does working out.
In fact, The Diabetes Prevention Program — a large, federally-funded research study — found that people who followed a diet plan and exercised were able to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes.
The biggest obstacle for many people with diabetes is motivation. To get started on an exercise program, Dr. Levine encourages his patients to take daily 10-minute walks. If they are able to stick to that regimen, they can increase the duration. A bump to 30-minutes of exercise, five times per week is a great goal.
When it comes to making dietary changes, old habits can be hard to break. So Dr. Levine, again, focuses on setting realistic objectives. “Try reducing your starch servings to only one or two portions per day or reduce your fat intake to 30 grams per day,” he says. “The important thing is to make small, measurable changes that can be achieved.”
Dr. Levine says that people with diabetes initially have a lot of questions about managing the disease: they’re not sure how to make nutritional changes, how to start exercising, or how and when to check their blood sugar levels. They’re also somewhat fearful of taking medications. Doctors and clinical experts can help.
Scripps offers supervised programs in diabetes and weight management, which include elements of nutrition, exercise, medical management of disease, surgery and more.
“The important thing is to try to catch prediabetes and diabetes early,” says Dr. Levine. “The sooner you make positive lifestyle changes that result in weight loss, the better results you have managing diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health challenges.”
If you have diabetes, lifestyle changes, such as modifications to diet and physical activity, are best when monitored by clinical professionals with special training. It’s important that care plans are tailored to each individual patient’s needs and overall health profile.