Avoiding the “Metabolic Cliff”: 5 Secrets to Outsmart Type 2 Diabetes

With all the talk of the impending fiscal cliff that Congress is facing, a new report from the CDC reveals that Americans are racing towards another “cliff” with alarming speed, one which health professionals have long been warning about: A metabolic cliff that has huge implications for our health, as well as our quality of life. We’re talking about a national type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Chances are you know someone who currently has or is at risk for type 2 diabetes. And if you by some miracle don’t, you will soon: According to the CDC studyover the past 15 years the number of diagnosed type 2 diabetes cases has grown by 50% or more in 42 states, and by a whopping 100% or more in 18 states. If current trends continue, this means that 1 out of 3 Americans could by diabetic by 2050.

While the numbers are certainly shocking, here’s the good news: Type 2 diabetes – which accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes cases in the US – is largely preventable through the lifestyle choices you make every day. Here are 5 steps you can take to move safely away from the “cliff,” and firmly on the path toward your best health and your best self.

Secret #1: Rise and Shine With a Breakfast of 100% Whole Grains

A whole grain breakfast (a whole grain is defined as having the nutritious bran and germ still intact) not only kickstarts your energy and helps keep your digestive system regular, it is strongly associated with a healthy body weight and a lower risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome – two conditions associated with type 2 diabetes. If you’re like over 95% of Americans, you probably fall short of getting enough whole grain into your day (at least half of your grains each day should be whole grains), so try these tips:

  • Enjoy a slice of 100% whole grain sprouted bread slathered with a tablespoon of all-natural nut butter.
  • If you like the speed and ease of ready-to-eat cereal, choose one that has a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, packs at least 4 grams of fiber per serving, and has less than 10 grams of sugar.
  • Crave comfort? Try 100% oatmeal or 100% whole grain hot cereal blends. They are delicious, creamy breakfast options rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you’re in a hurry, use the microwave to prepare them in record time.

Secret #2: Get Physical at Least 30 Minutes a Day

Yes, we’ve all heard we should be exercising more, but just why is it so important when it comes to type 2 diabetes? Exercise helps keep our cells highly attuned to the insulin that our bodies release in response to eating carbohydrates – a response that gets dulled when we carry excess body weight and are inactive. This is known as insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. A single bout of exercise can enhance your cells’ insulin sensitivity for up to 2 days, and several studies have found that it’s possible to reverse insulin resistance altogether by including regular physical activity into your day.

Here’s the key to making this one happen: It is absolutely essential that you find something that truly sparks a passion, a deep desire in you to want to stick with it.

  • For the holidays, maybe ask for that kickboxing class you’ve secretly been wanting to try?
  • Connect with a friend for weekly walking sessions and a soul-satisfying chat?
  • Even if you can’t find a 30-minute chunk (which I often can’t), you can use short bouts of exercise – 10-minute “mini workouts” – to great effect. Grab a brisk 10 minute walk at lunchtime, take the stairs as often as you can, get off a subway stop early and walk the rest of the way to work.

The good news is that whatever you love can work, as all types of exercise are beneficial.

Secret #3: Love Your Legumes

What’s the term for a food that’s gone beyond a “superfood” status? Whatever it is, that’s what beans should be called.

Beans and legumes (which include garbanzo beans, chickpeas, lentils, edamame, black eyed peas and yellow lentils) are low in calories, boast a low glycemic index, and have one of nature’s perfect combos for staying full longer: protein and fiber. And a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating more beans significantly improved blood sugar control and slashed heart disease for patients with type 2 diabetes.

The other reason this is such a smart addition your diet? Few things are more affordable than adding beans to your shopping list. So savor 1 cup of beans each day – it is a powerful food for hunger-free weight loss.

  • Try black beans with avocado and salsa in a small whole wheat tortilla for breakfast.
  • Add a scoop of green pea powder to your post-workout smoothie.
  • Order a cup of three-bean chili or white bean and kale soup at lunch.
  • Serve a mix of whole wheat couscous and red or yellow lentils alongside grilled fish and vegetables at dinner.

Secret #4: Sip on Sparkling Water Instead of Sugary Beverages

Liquid calories have a lot going for them: They go down fast. They taste great. And they’ve completely infiltrated our lives – from coffee confections to energy drinks to smoothies.

Unfortunately, they are also one of the biggest culprits responsible for our expanding waistlines, as they don’t register a sense of “fullness” with our brains – so you’ll still eat the same amount of food even if you’ve already loaded up on liquids.

Drinking sugary beverages is also linked with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes; a recent study which tracked men and women for 22 years found that those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages were 23% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t.

So swap your liquid calories for sparkling water (or black coffee or herbal tea); add frozen berries, a splash of 100% grape, cherry or pomegranate juice (for taste and antioxidants), or float slices of citrus or cucumber for fun and flavor.

Secret #5: Lose 10% of Your Body Weight

Even if you aspire to lose a larger number than what you see during your weigh-ins, remember that just a 5 to 10% weight loss is all it takes to prevent (or delay) type 2 diabetes, especially among high-risk adults.

If you currently suffer from type 2 diabetes, a 5-10% weight loss can be the difference between better control of your blood pressure, blood glucose, and lipids. I often encourage clients to take a “1-2” approach: Aim to cut out 500 calories of food a day, and to burn 500 more calories in exercise every day to make the weight come off easily and without any hunger or deprivation.

Have any secrets of your own that have helped you outsmart type 2 diabetes? I hope you’ll leave a comment, as I’d love to hear them!