14 July 2021

Relieving diabetes stigma with diet tips and lifestyle changes

Living with diabetes presents daily challenges leading to an additional 180 decisions every day ranging from managing insulin levels and other self-care needs to choosing a healthy diet and navigating a complex healthcare system.

Stigma for people with diabetes can exist anywhere – in the family, at school, in the workplace and even in healthcare settings – with four out of five people with diabetes experiencing exclusion, rejection, prejudice or blame for having diabetes.

Diabetes-related stigma inevitably has negative psychological, behavioural and physical consequences for people with diabetes. It can often stop people seeking out appropriate care and properly managing their own physical and mental health.

The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes has recently published new insights into diabetes stigma, with the aim of understanding the potential impact and factors that may protect against it. They found a combination of factors can lead to stigma for people living with diabetes and identifying and controlling these causes is important for good physical and psychological health.

What is diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition where a person has high blood glucose levels (sometimes called blood sugar) in their blood. For our bodies to function properly, we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. When you don’t have enough insulin to convert food into energy, the glucose stays in the blood.

Around 1.8 million Australians currently have diabetes and an estimated 3 million people will have diabetes by 2030, making it our nation’s fastest growing chronic disease. Around 80 per cent of people with diabetes will die from a heart attack or stroke.

One common source of stress and potential social isolation for people with diabetes comes at multiple points throughout the day when selecting the right meals and snacks to manage diabetes well and prevent spikes in blood glucose levels.

How a low GI lifestyle can help

When it comes to GI and diabetes, we know that certain foods are better for helping control diabetes in both the short term and the long term. A low GI diet improves glucose levels, reduces insulin resistance and improves blood cholesterol which is important for managing diabetes and reducing the risk of long-term complications.

A low GI diet have been shown to:

  • Reduce insulin resistance
  • Improve blood glucose levels by reducing blood glucose spikes
  • Increase feelings of fullness after eating and reduce hunger between meals
  • Help prevent weight regain over time
  • Help reduce HbA1c by 0.5 per cent
  • Improve blood cholesterol levels
  • Increase the rate of weight loss
  • Reduce waist circumference
  • Help decrease the risk of common diabetic complications by ~20 per cent
  • Reduce the risk of vascular disease

Seeking out different foods for a diabetes-friendly low GI meal plan may lead to exclusion and stigma, but it’s not necessary to worry about preparing separate meals or buying special foods for a low GI diet. It’s all about simple low GI swaps, smart lifestyle choices and self-care to help maintain a healthy weight.

Tips for a low GI lifestyle

Lifestyle changes are important when managing diabetes. Enjoying healthy foods and being active are the best first steps to implement change:

  • Switch to low GI foods and reduce the overall GI and GL (glycemic load) of your meals
  • Keep carbohydrate to a minimum at each meal and aim for an ‘ideal plate’. Half the plate should be vegetables, a quarter should be low GI carbohydrates, and the final quarter should be lean protein
  • Spread the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods evenly across the day
  • Have small regular meals to maintain energy levels, manage appetite, and stop blood glucose levels from spiking
  • Exercise regularly for at least 30-60 minutes a day
  • Try losing 5-10 per cent of your body weight to help manage blood glucose control

While these tips will help many people with diabetes, it’s important to recognise that everyone has different needs. Please consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian in conjunction with your diabetes management team for individual advice before embarking on any diet or lifestyle changes.





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