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80% of Diabetics Can Reverse Their Disease – Here’s How

When people get a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, they may think they’ve been handed a life sentence. What you may not know is that as many as 80 percent of people with diabetes have the ability to reverse their disease.

Michael Dansinger, MD, who is known for his role as the nutrition doctor for NBC’s The Biggest Loser and serves as Director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center says most patients can reverse their diabetes by following seven simple tips that don’t require you to spend your days toiling in the gym or trying to attain a Hollywood physique.

Interested? Here are the tips you need to get started.

  1. Believe it’s possible.
    Weight loss can reverse not only mildly elevated blood sugar, which doctors call “prediabetes,” but also put full-blown diabetes into remission. Remission is defined as having near normal blood sugar without having to take diabetes medication. While it’s not considered a cure, patients can essentially put their disease on hold as long as they’re able to maintain a lower body weight.
    Diabetes occurs when your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to allow your body to turn food into energy. This strain of the pancreas happens when you are overweight  but when your weight drops, the amount of insulin it’s able to produce is often just enough to keep you healthy.
  2. Eat your Medicine.
    Food may be the best medicine to change your health. By making changes to your diet, you can put yourself on the road to permanent weight loss. Excess body fat is fuel for Type 2 diabetes, so a lower calorie, nutritionally balanced, healthy eating plan can help you put the disease into remission.
  3. Choose Your Weapon.
    There are a million different diets out there today. “The spectrum ranges from very low fat plans that are high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to very high fat plans that are very low in sugar and starch, and every variation between these two extremes,” said Dansinger. There is no single best eating strategy for diabetes reversal. Different plans may work for different people. Talk with your doctor to help choose the one that’s best for your particular needs. The only caveat is that you need to stick with whatever plan you choose to get results. “Most patients need to stick to the plan at around 90 percent strictness to achieve diabetes remission,” he said.
  4. Start a Diary.
    Good eating strategies only work when you stick to them. Logging your food using a notebook or smart phone application (like LoseIt! or My Fitness Pal) is almost always absolutely mandatory for long-term success. Nutrition coaches know that their successful clients are the ones that are diligent about writing down everything that they eat each day.
  5. Find a Coach.
    Some people can make lifestyle changes on their own, but others need a little more support. Many people with diabetes find success by hiring a lifestyle coach or joining a structured program, said Dansinger. “For example, it is much easier to stick to the food logging when there is someone that you respect who will be reviewing your food log entries,” he said. Having this additional support when life goes off track may be the only thing that keeps your weight loss efforts from going with it. “I suspect that having a good coach can quadruple the odds of long-term success compared to going it alone. It is just too hard to police yourself without help,” said Dansinger.
  6. Get Moving.
    While changing your eating habits will get you about 80 percent of the way to your weight goal—don’t forget the exercise, which takes care of the other 20 percent. “Most of my patients achieve somewhere between three to seven hours per week of exercise,” said Dansinger. “The more they exercise the better, and almost every patient who has achieved diabetes remission has taken the exercise component seriously.”
  7. Optimize your environment.
    Temptation is everywhere from the doughnut shop on the corner to that birthday cake lurking in the kitchen at your office. To help boost your chances of success, you’ve got to change your world to support your goals. “Individuals who have maintained lifestyle changes have each found ways to influence their personal environments for the better. Most people can make gradual shifts in the way they socialize, work, schedule their time, fill their pantries, etc. Some have even changed the mindset and habits of those around them by serving as good role models and inspiring others to follow their positive steps,” said Dansinger. Remember, you can’t expect to find new success while sticking with your tired old patterns.

Ultimately when it comes to diabetes reversal it’s also important to remember that even modest losses can result in big gains, he said.  “Most patients can get into remission with a weight loss in the 15 to 20 percent rate. It’s easier if you’re newly diagnosed with the disease, but even long-term diabetes patients can see success if they’re committed. “You’re never at a point where you’ve entirely missed the opportunity,” he said. “But when it comes to making lifestyle changes, the sooner the better.”

The Tufts Medical Center Lifestyle Coaching for Diabetes Reversal Program is available to Tufts MC Primary Care patients. Find your primary care physician today