How to resist junk food (when you’re living with diabetes)


How to resist junk food (when you’re living with diabetes)


None of us should be eating junk food - we all know that. But if you’re living with diabetes, the stakes are a little higher. Bridget McNulty outlines a few ways to resist junk food as we head into the warmer months.


It’s so easy to form a bad habit, but so much harder to break one! That’s one of the reasons junk food cravings can easily become a problem for all of us. When you’re living with diabetes, though, snacking on fatty or sugary treats can be more of an issue. Here are some questions to answer that will help you break the craving.


Why are you craving junk food?


If you can understand what leads to junk food cravings, you can more easily resist the temptation. Are you eating when you’re bored? Feeling emotional? Out of habit? Or because you’re triggered by seeing or smelling something delicious and unhealthy?


Why is it more of an issue for people with diabetes to eat junk food?


The goal - when living with diabetes - is balanced blood sugar. The best way to achieve this is by eating a balanced diet, with lots of green, leafy vegetables, lean protein, not too many carbohydrates and a small amount of good fats. The carbohydrates should be wholegrain and as close to natural as possible. Does any of this sound like junk food? The trouble with excessively sugary or fatty foods is not only the health effects (that apply to all of us) but that refined carbohydrates spike blood glucose dramatically. All junk food contains refined carbohydrates.


Is your blood glucose balanced?


Nobody living with diabetes - Type 1 or Type 2 - has perfectly balanced blood glucose. But if your blood glucose is relatively stable, rather than spiking and then crashing, you’ll minimise cravings. Similarly, if you have enough protein in your diet you’re less likely to crave deep-fried or sweetened fast foods. It’s a sad truth that lots of refined carbohydrates make you hungry for more refined carbohydrates.


Are you thirsty?


Have you ever felt like eating something sweet, then drank a glass of water and the temptation passed? That’s because dehydration can sometimes be masked as hunger or cravings. If in doubt, drink a glass of water! We should all be drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, and many of us could do with some reminding.


Are you being tempted?


One of the simplest and most effective ways to eat healthier is to stop buying food that tempts you. If you’re at home and desperate for something sweet, but the only options you have are fresh fruit, guess what you’re going to choose? Similarly, if you keep looking at a bag of chips every time you open the cupboard, it won’t be long before you find yourself craving them. If you’re in charge of the shopping for your household, simply stop buying treats and junk food. If you can’t get away with that, keep them out of sight - either at the back of the cupboard, on a lower shelf of the fridge, or packed away. 


Are you stressed?


Emotional eating and comfort food are concepts that are very familiar to most of us - but we also know they don’t actually help. All they do is mess up our blood glucose and make us feel worse after we’ve eaten something that makes us feel unwell. If you find yourself reaching for something unhealthy when you’re feeling stressed, try to stop and take a moment to make a conscious choice. Perhaps you could go for a quick walk instead? Do a few minutes of meditation? Call a friend and vent? Food is not the only solution.


Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. Even a simple breathing exercise can help to reduce stress. Try 4-6-8 breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 6, breathe out for 8. Or box breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat as many times as you need to until you feel calmer. 


Are you sleeping enough?


Sleep deprivation can lead to intense cravings for junk food and refined carbohydrates. While it’s easier said than done to get a good night’s sleep, if you make it a priority and follow a few good sleep practices, you can improve the quality of your sleep. Don’t look at devices for 2 hours before bed, keep your room dark and quiet, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine 3 hours before bed, and try to sleep in a slightly cool bedroom. When your body is rested, it’s less likely to crave unhealthy food.


Do you have support?


Craving junk food is a habit that’s hard to break. It takes time, and a lot of effort. But it is possible to change your tastebuds - to train them to appreciate less sweet food and drink. At first, two teaspoons of sugar in tea tastes normal. Then you can reduce it to one and a half teaspoons, then one, then half, and finally no sugar in your tea tastes normal. It’s the same thing with junk food. What used to taste delicious can taste too sweet or too oily once you start eating fresher, healthier food.


The key to all of this, of course, is support. It’s very difficult just to change the way you eat without changing the way your family eats. And you can’t change the way your family eats unless they are on board and willing to support you. If you tell all your friends you’re on a health kick, they’ll be happy to meet you for a walk rather than coffee and cake. Community support can also make a huge difference - knowing that you’re not the only one struggling with this kind of thing, and getting ideas from others on how they deal with it can be such a relief. We are all in this together, although it sometimes feels very lonely.


Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook to feel part of a diabetes community, or get more info on how to live well with diabetes (including meal plans, food, exercise and weight loss tips) at

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