Does a Diabetic Diet Really Work?

diabetic diet (1).jpg

Ward Alper is a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than four years ago, he has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetes health. In this article, Ward shares his opinion on the effectiveness of a diabetic diet, as well as tips for managing diabetes with food.

First of all, this is a personal opinion piece. It comes from my experience as a chef, a type 2 diabetic, and a person who, for one reason or another, has been on a diet since before time. I want to be clear that I am not a medical person, mental health professional or a dietician – just a chef and under-control diabetic.

So does a diabetic diet really work? The simple answer is: Yes, no and sometimes.

Benefits of Moderation

Most important, I think, is balance. If the diet you have chosen is too extreme, staying with it long term may not be possible. The exception is an allergy. If you have experienced bad reactions to a food or food group, you probably will stay on a diet that avoids that food group. This is also applicable for substance abusers. Staying away from the alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc. is how they keep their physical and mental health. So for that group, the extreme total abstinence works.

To manage my diabetes, I have chosen a moderate- to low-carbohydrate diet. So many people I am in contact with cringe at the number of carbohydrates I eat every day (for the most part between 60 and 80 grams). Their blood sugars go wild if they have more than 10 or 20 grams a day. Could I do this? Perhaps. Do I want to do this? Not so much. My eating soul wants some carbohydrates in the diet. Eating 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrates does a great job of controlling my diabetes. More important, my soul and I can stick with it. The bottom line is a consistent A1C of 5.2 to 5.4 over the past four years.

When I was 27 (in order to look “hot”), I ate a “bad” diet of coffee, a sandwich or salad for lunch and a low-fat yogurt and Diet Pepsi for supper five days a week. I also did zillions of push-ups and sit-ups. Did I lose weight? You better believe it. Did I look good? Not if you asked my family. Did I stick to it? Yes, for seven months. And I have to admit I kept the weight off for about 10 years. Was it a good choice? You gotta be kidding.

Staying Motivated

Not unlike a super low-carbohydrate diet, the balance is out of whack. I stuck to the diet until I reached my goal. But dreams of Haagen Daz Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream invaded my sleeping and waking dreams. Clearly this was a bad idea – but it worked. Why did I stick with the diet? Motivation! I wanted to look a certain way, so I did what I thought was the best thing to achieve that vain goal. Motivation is there for people allergic to some foods, but also for those who have moral or religious reasons for the way they eat. Can you stay away from all carbohydrates? Sure you can. Is that a good choice? Perhaps for some it is. Can you stick with it? Your turn to answer.

For my friend, John (also a type 2 diabetic), the motivation is his family. He chooses to eat well to live longer for his pure enjoyment of them. He has lost over 50 pounds and has stopped using insulin. He looks and feels great. His “trick” to staying with it is a cookie after supper every night. It is what he needs to stick with it.

A diet for us diabetics is no different from any other diet. If you find one that works for you, great! Just keep trying. There is one out there for you. When you are motivated for any reason, the diet works as long as you stay motivated.

For those of you who are motivated but still want a treat from your childhood, I offer this recipe for one of my favorites: a grilled cheese sandwich. Four years ago, it was something I thought I could never have again. But this recipe – part grilled cheese “samich,” part Cuban sandwich– keeps the carbs down, the flavors up, and my soul – you already know the answer to that.

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.