Dealing with Diabetes: How Slimming World can help

Many people contact us to ask if Food Optimising will fit in with their diabetes – the answer is a resounding YES! Not only will it fit around the condition – many members tell us that it has helped control it.

At my heaviest  I’d been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the condition was worsening. After losing 6 stones with Slimming World my confidence and physical health have improved dramatically. My GP has reduced my diabetes medication – she told me I’m the only person in her clinic to have their medication reduced. I’m hoping it can stop altogether eventually!

Susan Shore, Glasgow

How can Food Optimising help?

Because Food Optimising is extremely generous and flexible, and puts you in control of the foods you eat and when you eat them, it fits in with any personal advice on diet that your diabetes care team gives you. Taking insulin or other medication need not be a barrier to losing weight; our research shows that Slimming World members with diabetes lose weight as successfully as other members.

I’d been controlling my type 2 diabetes for years using tablets. When I went to a routine appointment at my local diabetes clinic however, my doctor was blunt. He told me if I didn’t change my lifestyle, in a few months time I would need to start injecting insulin.

Part of my condition meant that I experienced diabetic lows, where I’d feel light headed and would start sweating. After joining Slimming World and losing 6 stones, I experienced my last low nearly a year ago and took my last tablet – my diabetes is now controlled by diet alone! My doctor is amazed. He’d never heard of someone with diabetes at my level changing their condition so drastically purely through diet.

John Ritchie, Eyemouth

Diabetes UK, the leading charity working for people with diabetes, recommends a number of steps to healthy eating, which can help control your blood glucose levels and blood fats as well as regulate your weight. Here's how Food Optimising helps you take those steps easily and enjoyably to achieve your goals:

Eat regular meals every day

Aiming not to skip meals and eating a regular breakfast, lunch, evening meal (and healthy snacks when you need them) spread out evenly over the day helps control your blood glucose level and appetite. The flexibility of Food Optimising means you can choose when and what you want to eat, making it easy to meet your individual needs.

Enjoy some carbohydrate-rich food

Enjoying some carbohydrate-rich food every day is easy when you’re Food Optimising. Carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels so it can be important to keep an eye on how much you eat. Wholegrain starchy foods, such as wholegrain pasta and brown rice, fruit and vegetables, pulses, and some dairy foods are good choices.

Depending on your treatment for diabetes you may be advised to monitor the amounts of carbohydrates you’re eating, reduce the amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods or spread your intake throughout the day. Regardless of the advice you’re following, the flexibility of Food Optimising means this can easily be incorporated.

Easy ways to eat less fat 

It’s important to have some fat in your diet for good health, but not to have too much and to reduce your intake of saturated fats. When you're Food Optimising you automatically reduce your fat intake: 

  • High-fat foods are counted as Syns, so they are limited, while oily fish, which are rich in ‘good’ fats, are Free.
  • You're encouraged to choose low-fat and fat-free versions of dairy produce, such as milk, yogurt and cheese
  • We advise you to trim off fat from meat, bacon etc. and remove skin (the high-fat bit) from poultry.
  • We recommend you cook using healthy, fat-free methods such as grilling, steaming or baking instead of frying.

Fill up on fruit and veg 

NHS Choices recommends that we eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day; with Food Optimising you can eat as much as you wish*. This is because fruit and vegetables are super healthy, low energy-dense foods to fill up on. Nearly all fruit and vegetables, fresh or frozen, are Free Food so you can keep the fruit bowl full and pile your plate with vegetables at every meal.

*NB: Some people with diabetes may be given specific advice on the amount of carbohydrate-rich foods or fruit to eat. If you’ve received this advice, it’s important to bear it in mind when choosing your Free Food.

Include more beans, peas and lentils

Following Food Optimising means it’s easy to include more pulses in your meals. Foods such as butter beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are all Free and rich in both fibre and protein so they help you satisfy your appetite and feel full for longer. They can be added to make satisfying casseroles, stews, soups or salads.

Include more oily fish

It's recommended that you aim to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week, such as mackerel, pilchards, salmon and sardines. Rich in healthy polyunsaturated fats, oily fish are Protein-rich Free Food. 

Easy ways to eat less sugar

Like high-fat foods, sugary foods count as Syns and so are automatically limited when you're Food Optimising. There’s no need to go without sweet tea or fizzy drinks: artificial sweeteners* are Free Food and can be used in drinks and in cooking; diet and sugar-free versions of fizzy drinks are also Free.

Keep an eye on salt

It’s easy to monitor your salt intake when you’re Food Optimising because you’re encouraged to prepare meals using fresh foods, rather than eating a lot of ready-made and convenience dishes. Herbs, spices and garlic are all Free Food. 

Keep hydrated 

It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, with 8-10 glasses of fluid recommended each day. Water, tea (including herbal teas), coffee, no-added-sugar cordials and diet fizzy drinks all contribute (and are Free!).

All alcohol counts as Syns, so is limited when you're Food Optimising. A medium glass of reduced-alcohol wine is 4 Syns or half-pint of reduced-alcohol lager is 3 Syns, so with a typical daily allowance of 10 to 15 Syns, you can enjoy one or two drinks a day, if that's how you like to use them. Drinking on an empty stomach, which is not recommended if you have diabetes, need never be a problem as there are always Free Food snacks to fill up on.

Questions and answers 

Does it matter which type of diabetes I have?

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you can follow Food Optimising to support your treatment plan – make sure you let your health care team know that you’re planning to make changes to your diet and lose weight. It’s important to have regular reviews regarding your treatment plan, especially if you are taking medications, as doses may need adjusting once you start making these lifestyle changes.

Do I need to eat special ‘diabetic’ foods?

No, there is no need to at all. Instead, enjoy ordinary chocolate, biscuits and reduced-sugar jam as part of an overall balanced diet. Your diabetes nurse may advise you to have a sugary snack if you have a ‘hypo’.

Will this affect my weight loss?

‘Hypos’ (when blood glucose falls to a very low level) can be caused by too much diabetes medication, missing meals or intense activity: including regular high-fibre, carbohydrate-rich Free Food should help prevent them. Treatment for an occasional hypo shouldn’t affect your weight loss, but if you are having them regularly, discuss your overall diet and medication with your care team.

I follow a special diet as well as having diabetes. Can I still Food Optimise?

Yes, Food Optimising is flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of dietary needs, whether you have another medical condition such as a food allergy, are a vegetarian or a vegan, or follow a particular diet for religious reasons. Talk to your Slimming World Consultant about how to make Food Optimising work for you.

What is the Glycaemic Index and how does it fit in with Food Optimising?

The Glycaemic Index (GI) is used to group carbohydrate-rich foods according to their ability to raise the level of sugars in the blood. Choosing more slowly absorbed (low GI) carbohydrates – eg, fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses – can help you control your blood glucose levels. Wholegrain bread, pasta and breakfast cereals, sweet potato and basmati rice are also good choices. It’s easy to make low GI choices when Food Optimising, plus it ensures your overall diet is healthy and balanced too.

NB: The dietary advice for those with diabetes can be very specific to each individual. Diabetes UK recommends everyone with diabetes should see a registered dietitian at diagnosis and have regular reviews. Discuss being referred to a dietitian with your GP. It’s important to always follow the advice from your healthcare team and any advice can then easily be incorporated into Food Optimising.

For more information on all aspects of diabetes check out

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