Diabetes is at record levels in the U.S.—nearly 34 million Americans, or 10.5% of the population, is affected. The condition occurs when the body is unable to adequately process blood sugar. That can damage blood vessels throughout the body, potentially leading to heart disease, stroke, blindness, and amputation. But diabetes generally doesn’t develop overnight. Little things you do regularly, without thinking, may be seriously raising your risk. Here is what doctors who treat diabetes say are the everyday habits that lead to diabetes. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
“One of the common unhealthy habits is having soda to quench your thirst, when what you need is water,” says Thomas Horowitz, DO, a family medicine specialist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. “The sugar content of items commonly consumed can be very high—a Super Gulp soft drink consists of a handful of sugar; a can of soda or a sweet cereal is far more that your body may be able to handle.” Kathleen Wyne, MD, Ph.D., an endocrinologist who treats patients with diabetes at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, agrees: “For many people, stopping sugared soda leads to rapid 20-pound weight loss.”
“Diabetes is when your body cannot provide enough insulin to allow glucose (sugar) into the hungry cells of your body,” says Horowitz. “The best way to avoid it is to be on a diet that does not task your insulin supply.” He recommends choosing foods that break down slowly or have limited sugar—for example, protein, whole grains and vegetables instead of refined grains or sweets.”
A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for diabetes. The good news: “Any activity can improve insulin sensitivity and slow the progression to diabetes,” says Wyne. Her suggestions to sneak some extra walking into your day: Park at the back of parking lots instead of the front; wake up early to go for a stroll instead of sleeping in; take a walk instead of eating dessert; or get a dog that needs to be walked a few times a day.
Wyne offers these tips to avoid the overeating that can lead to diabetes and other health problems:
- Don’t buy snacks. “If it’s not in your house, you will not eat it,” she says.
- Practice portion control by buying smaller plates to use at home.
- At mealtime, eat vegetables and salad first.
- Consider meat a side dish, and portion it similarly to vegetables.
- Use spices to enhance food’s flavor, instead of rich or sweet sauces.
Even if you’re exercising regularly, long periods of sitting can create metabolic changes which increase blood sugar, weaken muscles and imperil your heart health, says Sarah Rettinger, MD, an endocrinologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. She recommends setting a timer reminding you to get up and move every hour for at least five to ten minutes. “If you can’t take a short walk outside, walk up and down stairs, take a few laps around the house or apartment, do a few jumping jacks—anything to get your heart rate up a bit, or to make you a little out of breath,” says Rettinger. “Over the course of a day, these mini-breaks really add up.”
“Everyone knows he or she has to eat healthfully. I would add that eating mindfully can be helpful,” says Rettinger. “If you find yourself standing near the fridge over-eating, take a pause and ask, ‘Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Or am I bored, stressed or do I need soothing?’ Some patients find it helpful to limit themselves to eating only at mealtimes or before a specific time of night.” In Rettinger’s home, the kitchen is closed after 8 pm.
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“Have ‘scaffolding’—make sure that everyone in your household is on the same page about your health,” says Rettinger. “It’s hard enough to eat healthfully sometimes. You don’t want a family member bringing in doughnuts or making late-night ice-cream runs. It’s easier to stick with healthy habits when others around you are as well.” Likewise, if you’re confused, struggling or frustrated about how to stick to a healthy lifestyle, ask your healthcare provider for help. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.