Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, is a three-time author, speaker, TV commentator, blogger, and creator of Positive Nutrition. She is also the designer of Healthy Apparel and the mother of two.
Meal planning when you have diabetes is not about sugar-free, fat-free, and calorie-free foods, as many people think. Rather, it is about getting excited about eating real foods—just in managed, planned amounts.
If you’re not ready to count carbs yet, don’t worry. Plan to eat wholesome food that is satisfying and filling. Even sugar, fat, and calories are okay; the key is to plan! Here are three simple steps to help you get started and finally solve the diabetes meal-planning conundrum.
1. Decrease your meal size and eat more frequently
First, think how many meals you eat each day. If you are eating just one meal, try to eat two meals a day. Ideally, you’ll want to achieve a structure of eating three meals plus two to three snacks every day. Your goal is to eat small, frequent meals with intervals of three hours between each. Consuming smaller meals, with a consistent amount of carbs at each meal, is easier for the body to digest and less likely to raise your blood sugar to a harmful high.
For example, think of your grain as a side dish rather than the entrée and let it fill about a quarter of your plate at each meal.
2. Be your own food detective
Next, think about your overall daily consumption. Are you eating enough food throughout the day, or are you overeating? Recognize how certain foods or portions make you feel after you’ve completed your meal. Does the food give you sustained energy or does it cause you to feel hot and sweaty? Identify which types of foods fill you while also keeping your mood and energy balanced. These are the foods to eat more often.
If you have a glucometer, check your blood glucose before each meal and then check it again two hours after. Ideally, you want your blood sugar to register less than 140 mg/dl at the two-hour mark. Keep testing different food sources and food combos to see what works best for you.
Typically, you should eat higher-fiber carbs, like whole wheat bread, fibrous veggies like broccoli, and proteins and fats because these affect post-meal blood sugar levels the least. Think roasted chicken with Brussel sprouts and whole wheat couscous with pine nuts.
3. Identify the type of hunger you’re experiencing
Did you know there are three types of hunger? The three types are emotional, behavioral, and physical hunger. Emotional hunger is eating for reasons such as stress, happiness, or anger. Behavioral hunger is eating when your friend is eating or just because it has become a habit. Physical hunger is the belly brain telling you it needs nutrition. Start identifying why you are eating and then focus on eating for physical reasons only.
Use coping skills like journaling or self-talk to decrease eating for non-physical reasons.
Start implementing these three steps, and make sure to visit your physician every three months to monitor your average blood glucose (A1c). If you have a glucometer, be sure to test pre-meal and then again two hours post-meal—especially while you’re trying to find the foods and food combinations that least affect your blood sugar and provide the most satisfying taste.
How do you meal plan? What tips do you have? Share in the comments below.