The Challenges of Eating Well

Last updated: March 2022

One of the most challenging aspects of living with type 2 diabetes is eating healthy. The food you eat directly impacts your blood sugar levels, as well as supporting your body’s nutritional needs. In Health Union’s Type 2 Diabetes Lifestyle Survey, the majority (73%) of the 406 respondents reported that they use a specific meal plan or diet. The specific meal plans and strategies varied among survey respondents, including carbohydrate counting, low sugar, low carbohydrate/high protein diet, and keeping a food diary, among others. While a majority of survey participants noted that they have a high level of knowledge of how to eat properly, they also ranked "lack of knowledge" as one of the primary challenges to eating healthy. This inconsistency in the survey results shows that while many people living with type 2 diabetes understand the importance of healthy eating in managing their diabetes, there are challenges to understanding exactly how that relates to their unique lives.

Meal Planning in a Busy World

Like many people living with type 2 diabetes, Tom Mitchell finds meal planning challenging to fit in to his already busy schedule. Mitchell was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago at age 64 when he went in for a procedure on his heart. His doctor told him he had to make changes to live a more healthy life, and Mitchell took the advice seriously and began to make different choices. When asked how he handles meal planning, Mitchell says, “not very well: we have a crazy schedule.” Both Mitchell and his wife work, and due to their schedules, the bulk of cooking and planning have generally fallen to him. Many people living with diabetes find meal planning and cooking to be their responsibility. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in the survey state they are responsible for the meal planning and 78% are responsible for cooking. A large number of survey participants (45%) responded that they need assistance from family or friends to help them with meal planning, and a majority (58%) said they need family and friends to help them eat healthy. Like many people with diabetes, Mitchell also has other health conditions he’s dealing with, and he has had to turn over many of the cooking duties to his wife.

Eating During Times of Stress

"I like to eat, and I have always lived to eat instead of eat to live," Mitchell explains. Food is a pleasurable experience for many, especially during the holidays, as it becomes a centerpiece for gatherings and celebrating. "When I go through my process for meal planning, it helps," Mitchell admits, "but life, holidays, and events make it more difficult." When life gets more stressful, many get triggered and turn to food for comfort, and of the 18% of survey respondents that indicated they binge eat, 34% of those said they binge several times a week. Mitchell confesses he has sometimes turned to food during times of stress. “When things get difficult, I tend to put the wrong things in my mouth.” Mitchell has learned healthy ways of dealing with stress that work for him, including enjoying his time off from work, immersing himself in his passion for college football and professional baseball, and engaging in his hobbies, including writing, reading, and music.

Finding Middle Ground

Although Mitchell admits he could do better with eating healthily, he is currently off medications for diabetes with his A1C under control. When asked what he attributes his successful management to, he reports cutting back on carbs and foods high in sugar, as well as generally “eating as healthily as I’m able.” And he’s changed his perspective on life. Following a workshop for personal growth, he says he shifted his focus from “things to do” to a life that puts relationships at the forefront. “And I now eat to live,” Mitchell says, knowing that the choices he makes help him be healthier and present for those relationships that mean so much to him.

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