by Margaret Jasinska, Naturopath
Did you know that one Australian is diagnosed with diabetes every 5 minutes? Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease and it’s hard to comprehend how quickly the problem is growing. It is estimated there are 2.4 million Australians with pre-diabetes. In a few years they will probably develop type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes is also known as Syndrome X, insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
The Australian Diabetes Council will tell you that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly will help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. That is true, but the problem is they don’t tell you how to lose weight, other than telling you to eat less. Losing weight if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes is usually extremely difficult. Elevated insulin, fatty liver, vitamin D deficiency, elevated cortisol and elevated androgens in women are metabolic disorders found much more commonly in diabetics and pre-diabetics than the general population. Weight loss can be almost impossible unless these metabolic problems are addressed.
Diabetes costs an enormous amount of tax dollars and the government is trying to stem the tide of this impending health catastrophe by telling everyone to eat less fat, eat less calories, eat plenty of whole grains and exercise.
This advice simply doesn’t work for most people and we can see evidence of that staring us in the face. Australians continue to get more and more overweight. A recent news article titled “Obese numbers at staggering proportions” highlighted this crisis. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council just released its fourth report on the National Healthcare Agreement. Between 2011 and 2012, 63 per cent of Australians were either overweight or obese. This figure has risen 2 per cent in the past four years. According to the report, seven in every 10 men and more than half of all women are above a healthy body weight. So, predictably the council has warned the government that more must be done to address the obesity epidemic.
I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting around for the government to come up with a solution for obesity and diabetes. It wants to appear to be working towards a solution, but really it’s all too difficult and there are too many conflicts of interest. Have a read of this news article in the Los Angeles Times titled “Michelle Obama’s Nutrition campaign comes with political pitfalls”.
Basically attempting to reduce the advertising of junk food to children, and improve the health properties of packaged junk foods is futile because it’s so politically problematic. The junk food giants are mostly major multinational companies that have far too much financial power and control over governments. In Australia the details differ but the theme is the same.
Time and again, attempts to clean up the junk food industry have come to a grinding halt. The solution? Just eat smaller portions of junk food and do more exercise. Have you noticed that attempts to improve the nation’s health usually end up focusing on exercise? Just eat a range of foods in moderation and exercise regularly so that you’ll burn off the calories. Exercise is the escape clause that keeps the government and the junk food multinationals happy. They don’t have to stop marketing junk food to children; they’ll just encourage children to exercise instead.
You may be surprised to hear that exercise really isn’t that effective at burning calories, unless you make it your occupation, and it is definitely not required in order to stay slim. Not every blind person is overweight. Not every person in a wheelchair is overweight. Not every person who has suffered an injury such as a broken bone gains a significant amount of weight. There are many people who never exercise yet remain slim.
Exercise really doesn’t burn as many calories as most people think, and you definitely can’t out-exercise an unhealthy diet. Exercise certainly has many health benefits, and it would be great if you did some regularly; my point is I don’t want you to feel upset and defeated if you cannot exercise because of a bad knee, or hip, or other reason. You can still achieve a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
So how can we achieve a healthy weight and reduce our chances of developing diabetes?
It’s all about the foods you choose to eat and those you choose to avoid. Lip service is all you’ll get from the government. It’s up to us as individuals to make our choice with our wallet. Junk food exists because there is a market for it. If no one wanted to purchase those foods, they would no longer be offered for sale.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, many overweight people are struggling with several hormonal and metabolic conditions that make weight loss very difficult and slow. Trying to lose weight without fixing these problems is an uphill battle. I prefer to work on improving my patients’ hormonal, metabolic and liver health so that weight loss becomes a pleasant side effect of improved health. Many doctors will tell you to lose weight, and then you’ll be healthy. I prefer to say, get healthy, and then you’ll lose weight.
So what does work for weight loss and type 2 diabetes prevention?
- I’m sure you know there are several possible ways to lose weight. There’s no shortage of diet books on the market. I believe that a low carbohydrate diet is the healthiest and easiest way to lose weight. Protein and healthy fats do not significantly raise blood sugar, therefore they are healthy for anyone with diabetes and pre-diabetes. These foods also help to keep you feeling full and satisfied, thus making it much easier to stick to a healthy diet. Many people do not eat enough fat; therefore they are left feeling hungry and craving carbohydrate. It’s possible to put up with hunger for a little while in order to lose weight, but no one wants to spend the rest of their life hungry. Therefore they go back to their former diet and regain all their weight. The eating plans in the books Diabetes Type 2: You Can Reverse It, Fatty Liver: You Can Reverse It and Can’t Lose Weight? You Could Have Syndrome X all contain low carbohydrate eating plans.
- Ensure your liver is healthy. Your liver plays a key role in your metabolic rate because it is a fat burning organ. Your liver also helps to keep your blood sugar stable. People with an unhealthy liver are more prone to hypoglycaemia and sugar cravings.
- Get your thyroid gland tested. Thyroid gland disorders are incredibly common and many people spend years of their life undiagnosed.
- Try to get at least 7 hours of good quality sleep each night. Magnesium helps lots of people sleep better because it relaxes the muscles and nervous system. All sorts of things can interfere with sleep quality, such as adrenal gland disorders, immune disorders and liver problems.
- Get some movement each day. You don’t have to run or do an aerobics class, but please move your body in some way. Exercise increases energy, improves mood and increases self esteem. All of those factors help a person maintain a healthy weight.
Margaret Jasinska is available for consultations. Call (02) 4655 8855 for information or email us.