Summer is a good time to make quick and easy adjustments to your current eating and exercise habits. Changing into shorts and bathing suits may be a motivating factor for many people, but your number one priority should be improved blood glucose control. Summertime is supposed to be fun, with less pressures and distractions, so let’s examine how you can work in some simple lifestyle changes.
- Dilute unhealthy foods – If you can’t avoid eating pre-sweetened cereals, try to “dilute them” with cheerios, Kashi or a whole grain bran cereal. Each time add less sweet cereal to the bowl until you are able to eat and enjoy the plain whole grain cereal. Add cinnamon and fresh fruit for sweetness. Try this when you are eating salted nuts, regular BBQ sauce, mayonnaise or ketchup. Buy the low-fat/sugar-free versions and dilute the regular food products. Often you are attracted to the sugary/salty taste from long standing eating habits, and find it difficult to make the transition in one easy step. Many times adding healthy choices gradually makes the transition permanent. Always remember – it is more about the portion size than the actual food choice, and a sweet treat now and then is not off limits.
- Increase metabolism – Most studies show that there are no real foods that speed up metabolism. There is solid evidence that the best way of building muscle mass to speed metabolism is through a weight training / resistance program. It does not require lifting heavy weights, but it should consist of 30 minutes of training 3 times a week with sufficient repetitions. You can also use resistance bands for increased muscle mass. Consult with a certified trainer prior to lifting weights to prevent injuries. Check with your physician to rule out cardiac issues prior to starting weights.
- Stay satiated – With all the fresh and abundant summer produce, you can easily fill up and feel satiated. Many summer fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of water which can keep you full longer. Melons, cucumber and celery have high water contents. The high fiber content in fruits and vegetables help maintain better blood sugars and keep you feeling full longer.
- Stay hydrated – Summer heat and humidity can make you dehydrate quickly and often you can confuse thirst and hunger. Low calorie drinks should be readily available and kept icy cold. Drink even when you are not thirsty since thirst comes late in the process of needing sufficient fluids. Drinking a glass of water prior to your meal may take the edge off your hunger.
- Resist trigger foods – Try not to buy trigger foods to eat at home. Summertime is the best time to go to the local ice cream stand and grab a cup or cone of your favorite flavor. You should limit and choose these trigger foods only on special occasions. Going out for ice cream prevents you from opening the freezer a dozen times and attacking the container with a spoon. If you live with someone who enjoys the same trigger foods, come up with a plan to reduce temptation – even though they are kept in the house.
- Eat mostly at home – Many people avoid the kitchen in the summer months. By preparing food at home you have better control over fresh ingredients and portion size. Lazy hot summer evenings may require smaller dinners and lighter choices. A big salad with lean protein, garbanzo beans and croutons (carbohydrates) may be perfect for a dinner meal. Summer heat often reduces your appetite, and staying out of a hot kitchen is a preferred choice. Try the outdoor grill. Grilling is a great way to prepare your summer meals without a lot of added fat or calories. Try Walden Farms sugar free BBQ sauce and marinades. Marinades keep your food moist and reduce the risk of carcinogens from the grilled meats. Try not to over-cook, burn or deeply sear your meats. Use apple cider vinegar and olive oil to add great taste and soften the meat. Add fresh herbs and spices to the marinade for low-calorie flavor. Grill eggplant, tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, peppers and summer squash for a side dish. Grill peaches, pineapple and bananas for a sweet and easy dessert.
- Plan summer meals ahead of time – Do most of your cooking on the weekends so it gives you more free time during the summer evenings and keeps the kitchen cool. Being prepared with meals will help you from making poor food choices or skipping a meal. Keep the meals individually wrapped and heat quickly in the microwave.
- Use apps for summer meal ideas and calorie / carbohydrate content. Try Calorie King or My Fitness Pal. Get a pedometer to measure steps. Find healthy take-out choices.
- Always include aerobics – A 30-minute walk after dinner is even easier during the summer months. Studies show walking after dinner is excellent for maintaining good blood sugar control in those who have diabetes. For those who can’t walk for an entire 30 minutes because of peripheral vascular disease, orthopedic problems or other circulatory issues, divide it into smaller 5-10 minute increments. Certain health problems may prevent any amount of walking. Try using a pool, which is more accessible during the summer months. Bicycle riding can be done around the park or neighborhood. These options may also work for those who have balance problems, arthritis or fibromyalgia.
- Add interval training – People tend to find it easier to work out during the summer months due to the weather and added hours of sunlight. Even with a low fitness level, you can mix up your existing program. Interval training speeds up your metabolism and helps with blood sugar control. If you are a walker, try to increase the speed for one minute and then go back to a slower pace. Keep adding two or three faster minutes to build more endurance – it will become easier over time. When riding a bicycle, turn up the resistance for a few minutes and then put it back down. Increase the speed and resistance on any exercise to begin interval training which will rev up your metabolism.
- Watch fat intake – Cravings come at any time – even during the hot months – and most people usually crave fats or carbohydrates. Cravings can be biological or psychological and often occur during times of boredom, frustration or stress. People usually crave a creamy, buttery or sweet food. Remember that fat is more fattening at 9 calories compared to 4 calories for proteins or carbohydrates. That is why even good and healthy fats need to be limited. Guacamole is delicious as a creamy summer dip – but watch portion sizes. Cooking with olive oil is perfect, but measure a tablespoon, not a quarter of a cup. Nuts are a perfect snack but eat just a handful.
- Summer festive plastic plates and tableware and fresh flowers – Look for bright small plastic salad plates to make the meal look attractive and accommodate smaller portions. Use chopsticks or put your fork down between bites to slow your eating. Chew each bite 10 times slowly. Use your non-dominant hand. Eating fast leads to over-eating. Make the meal pretty and linger instead of rushing.
- Summer or winter – Avoid low blood sugars. When you get low blood sugars from skipping meals, not eating carbohydrates, taking too much medicine or exercising too much, you end up making poor food choices and over-eating. A common symptom of hypoglycemia is not thinking straight, which can turn to over-eating and over-treating. Always carry glucose tablets and reasonable snacks. Treat hypoglycemia at the first symptom.
Summer time is almost here and a wonderful time to bring on simple changes to your lifestyle. Enjoy!
NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.