What it's all about

This was originally posted to my blog, Diabetes Odyssey.

Since I have been getting back into my healthy eating habits, exercise routine, and blood sugar control I have been posting on my Facebook my progress. I have been doing very well, might I add. I don’t want to go into detail here about how this all got kick-started, so if you don’t already know and want to find out you can read these previous posts: Why So Fat, yo?, When Frustration Turns to Hope, When Everything Falls Into Place, I Told You So!!!.

Anyway, I have been losing weight like mad! In a little over 3 weeks I have dropped 14lbs! Actual fat loss!

Some of my friends have been curious as to how and what I am eating (even though it is not just what and how much I am eating but also my activity level, and other factors as well, that have made it possible for me to lose weight). Because they are intelligent, curious, and pay attention, they are aware that I am a type 1 diabetic (among other issues) and require a bit different diet than the average person. So I thought I’d give a little dietary lesson inspired both by general dietary needs and my own personal dietary needs.

That last sentence leads me into lesson 1: We are all human but we are all unique, each individual has different dietary requirements from the next. In order to be healthy (and at a ‘healthy’ weight) you need to figure out what your own personal body requires.

There are four nutritional measurements that are of top importance to keep track of. No matter who you are or what your dietary needs/measurements are, you absolutely should be keeping track of calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

What are these things and why are they important? Here is a very basic overview.

Calories: Calories are a unit of energy. Basically, the amount of calories in any food you eat is how much energy that food is going to give your body to be used to keep your body functioning so you can keep living and functioning properly, and to provide energy for all your physical activity. Ideally you want to eat just enough calories to be able to live and do what you need/want, but you don’t want to eat too many or else your body will store the extras as fat and you will chub up. And, of course, if you eat too few you will end up eating away at your own body (waste away) for energy which, after it eats through your fat and moves on to your muscles, etc., is just as terrible as it sounds.

So hopefully you can see how calorie amounts appropriate for each individual will vary, sometimes widely. A very active person is going to require many more calories than a person who is not physically active at all. Other factors include, but are not limited to, age, gender, illness, pregnancy, metabolism, etc…

Why do calories matter for weigh-loss? We need to keep track of our calorie intake, as well as our physical activity level, because we want to burn more calories than we take in in order to encourage fat burn (weight-loss). The first thing your body eats up for energy if we don’t eat enough food is all that fat we have stored.

Why do calories matter for blood-sugar control? Admittedly many diabetics don’t tend to pay too much attention to calorie content when taking their blood-sugar into account. Diabetics tend to put much more importance on carbohydrates, protein, and fat when reading nutrition labels. Calories do help quite a bit though, in my opinion, by helping to put portion size into perspective, which can, and does, help with estimating a foods effect on blood-sugar. Although carbs have the greatest effect on blood-sugar, calories effect blood-sugar as well and this is why it is yet another very good idea to count them and keep within a per meal and daily total budget.

FYI: I know it can be confusing but keep in mind that carbs, protein, and fat all have calories in them.

Carbohydrates: Carbs are a major source of energy. The body changes carbs from food into glucose (blood-sugar) to be used for energy. The amount of carbohydrates required for good health varies from person to person based on many factors.

Why are carbs important to weigh-loss? This is a debatable topic. Many people believe cutting carbs will help with weight-loss, yet many will claim it is not carbs as a whole but what type (and how many) of carbs you eat versus avoid. Since I am no scientist I will not claim one or the other. I leave it to each individual to experiment and make their own decision. I will point out, though, that carbs are the quickest source of energy and therefore are very important in diets of people who are highly physically active. If you do your research and experiment you will most definitely discover how many, and which kind, of carbs is best for your dietary needs.

Why are carbs so important to blood-sugar control? Macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) are the three things most needed for the body to function properly. If you don’t want to- or can not- eat much of one, then it is important to increase one or both of the others. And this is just what many diabetics do. Carbohydrates are the major source of blood-sugar, so, obviously, if you eat carbs your blood-sugar level is going to go up. But, hey, insulin solves the problem of high blood-sugar, right? Short answer, yes, but if you are a diabetic then you understand the issues that come with taking high amounts of insulin (there are a lot, both medical and monetary). The goal of most diabetics is to have tight blood-sugar control without needing tons of insulin. So many of us find it most effective to control blood-sugar (and lower insulin needs) by cutting as many carbs as we can. We manage this and still have plenty of energy and good health by making sure we get our normal dietary needed amounts of protein and by increasing our healthy fat intake. This gives us what we need without raising our blood-sugar too much or too fast. Following this type of diet is obviously totally optional; it’s not like being a diabetic requires you to eat low carb high fat. There is a lot more to say and involved in the whole topic of carbs, insulin, and diabetes, but this is the very basics of it.

Protein: Protein is very important in our diets because it provides us with essential amino acids we can’t make for ourselves. Also, our bodies don’t store protein the way it stores fats and carbohydrates, so we must eat protein in our daily diets. Protein is also an energy source, so if you don’t provide yourself enough carbs or fat, your body will next use protein as energy.

What does protein have to do with weight-loss? Protein satiates hunger really well. If you are trying to eat a healthy well-balanced diet geared toward weight-loss then it is important that you get the appropriate amount of protein for your body, no more, no less. An awesome result will be the fact that you won’t feel like you are starving. Also, eating the proper amount of protein will support your metabolism.

How is protein important for blood-sugar control? Diabetics keep track of protein amounts because protein does increase blood-sugar, however, to a much slower and less drastic degree than carbohydrates. Many diabetics have to take a small amount of insulin to cover the protein they eat. Because protein is a source of energy and it doesn’t raise blood-sugar as drastically as carbs do many diabetics follow a low carb diet and make sure to get their appropriate amount of protein per meal so as not to lack in energy.

Fat: Fat is yet another energy source. It also helps the body to absorb vitamins. There are different types of fats: saturated and trans fats should be avoided for the most part. Healthy fats are found in oils like olive, safflower, canola, sesame, sunflower, etc.

What part does fat play in weight-loss? If you are only eating healthy fats then that is a step in the right direction. The healthier your diet the easier it is to lose weight. It is important to get the proper amount of healthy fat for your body’s needs. Be careful not to go over your per meal and total daily needs because fat is calorie dense which means it has higher potential than protein and carbs to pack on the pounds.

What part does fat play in blood-sugar control? Many diabetics keep a close eye on how much fat they eat and in connection with the carbs they eat. The cool thing about fat and carbs together is that fat slows the absorption of carbs and therefore slows the blood-sugar rise caused from those carbs. If done right this can really help in maintaining a more stable blood-sugar and avoid drastic spikes. Also, since fat is a source of energy many diabetics follow a low carb diet and raise their fat intake to ensure they don’t lack in energy.

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