Controlling the symptoms of diabetes and managing the condition well, whether you are taking medication or not, means eating carefully and healthily. Some people said they only had to 'fine-tune' their diets to achieve lower blood glucose levels; others had gone to great lengths to change their eating habits. It took time for people to find out what worked for them; some relied on their wives/partners to cook the right kind of meals; others had worked out their own routines.
People found that even small adjustments to diet and eating habits - such as eating smaller portions, sitting down at the table to eat, avoiding snacks - could help.
Several people we talked to were controlling their diabetes by diet and exercise and didn't take any medication (see 'Exercise and Weight control'). Others were taking anti-diabetic tablets such as metformin. Some of those who had transferred from tablets to insulin said they liked having more flexibility about what and when they ate.
Some people held strong opinions about the best ways to tackle weight loss and control blood glucose levels. Specific dietary regimes (e.g. the GI diet) had worked for some people; others said that cutting out fatty foods and takeaways and eating more vegetables worked for them. Several people said they now used different ingredients in their cooking and tried to find ways round dietary limitations. (See 'Resources' section for recommended cookery books and websites.)
Not everyone wanted to stop eating the food they loved. Several people said they felt unhappy about having to restrict themselves because the enjoyment of good food was one of 'life's pleasures'.
Eating healthily was seen by most people as a good idea, but some people found that food cooked without salt, sugar or fats tasted 'bland', 'boring' and even 'disgusting'. Several people said they rewarded themselves with 'treats' every so often, which included takeaways and chocolate. Spices are not on their own bad for you but spicy food often contains lots of salt, sugar and fat.
Eating less and giving up what were described by many people as 'comfort' foods was said to be hard when they felt low.
It helped if partners and family members changed their attitudes to food and went along with the new diet and eating patterns. (see 'Home and Social Life').
Eating properly during working hours could be difficult, and several people said that they struggled to resist biscuits at work. Others found it especially hard to resist food and alcohol at weddings and parties.
Dietitians and dietary advice
Most of the advice people were given about food, drink and exercise came from dietitians and diabetes nurses based at the GP surgery. Almost everyone acknowledged that the advice was sensible and said that the nurse helped them keep on track. But a few other people said they wanted more specific advice tailored to their needs or wanted more structure to help them and found most dietary advice too general. Some had seen or said they would consider seeing a nutritionist privately. Several people wondered what the difference was between nutritionists and dietitians. Registered dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be statutorily regulated, and governed by an ethical code. The title dietitian can only be used by those appropriately trained and who have registered with the Health Professions Council. The title nutritionist can be used by anyone, qualified or not, giving nutritional advice.
Local support groups or clubs for people with diabetes had helped some people to alter their diet, but younger people said that they felt out of place at these clubs (see Darren above).
Not everyone felt they understood the rationale for certain dietary advice; for example some people wondered how replacing meat and cheese (i.e. protein) with carbohydrates and so eating more pasta, breakfast cereals and also oatmeal biscuits (e.g. Hobnobs) could possibly help with weight loss. One woman said that pasta and oatmeal actually raised her blood glucose levels. (See Diabetes UK information about carbohydrates.)
A few people with co-morbidities said they had been given conflicting advice about what to/not to eat and felt that dietary advice could be given more thought.
Diabetes UK have useful information on ‘Eating well with Type 2 diabetes’. For general information on food and diet see NHS Choices.
Last reviewed November 2012.
Last updated September 2010.