Changing the course of prediabetes

Improving your diet can improve your health

When Dennis Christensen was diagnosed with prediabetes just over a year ago, he felt sluggish and tired all the time, and weighed 250 pounds. “It scared the heck out of me,” he says. “I know a lot of people with diabetes and I know what it can do to you.”

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates how much sugar is in your blood) or your body can’t use insulin properly. Sugar—glucose—builds up in your blood and can lead to serious complications that can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, and shorten your life.

Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and you’re at a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Christensen was determined not to let that happen. “I knew that dieting just doesn’t work,” he says. “I knew I had to change my lifestyle.”

Managing blood sugar levels can delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes. Christensen started seeing a registered dietitian, Karyn Tang, at the Mosaic Primary Care Network in Calgary, for help on changing his day-to-day life—getting more exercise, eating healthy foods and losing weight. He saw Tang every month for a year, started working out and changed what he ate.

“It’s so easy to pull into a drivethrough and grab a burger and fries in the middle of the day,” he says. “I totally stayed away from fast foods and started eating healthy.”

Instead of burgers for lunch, he has a salad with a protein and a carb, such as a boiled egg or grilled chicken breast, along with a whole grain bun.

Tang’s advice included eating three balanced meals a day with low-fat proteins, higher-fibre whole grains and plenty of vegetables. Within six months, Christensen lost 40 pounds. “Within the first 20 to 25 pounds, I was out of that pre-diabetic range,” he says.

Those results are common says registered nurse Lily Ma. “We often see improvements in blood sugar levels within three to six months,” says the primary healthcare team lead at Mosaic PCN. “Healthy eating, physical activity and losing five to 10 per cent of your body weight are all important factors for managing prediabetes.”

As for Christensen, he says “I’m feeling a thousand per cent better.”

This story appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Health Matters, the quarterly magazine produced by Calgary’s seven primary care networks.

Are you interested in getting advice from a registered dietitian in a group setting? Consider one of our Ask a Dietitan workshops.