If you have type 2 diabetes, one of the first things your doctor probably did was write you a prescription for metformin. The current trend in medicine is to prescribe drugs earlier and to treat more aggressively. But if, like many people with diabetes, you’ve been doing your own research, you might be wondering: Can you control type 2 diabetes with just exercise and diet?
The short answer is yes. You absolutely can. In fact, many people with type 2 diabetes have actually reversed the disease through diet alone.
The long answer is while you can control type 2 diabetes through diet, it’s not a magic bullet. No matter what the internet may tell you, it’s not a matter of “eat these 10 superfoods and your diabetes will be cured” or “take this magic supplement and you blood sugar will return to normal.” It requires real commitment to getting well. And if you eat the typical American diet, with its emphasis on carbs and warnings to restrict fat, it means radically changing the way you eat.
To control your blood sugar with diet, first you have to ignore the rules
Standard advice to type 2 diabetics is to get 45% to 60% of your total calories from carbohydrates. That’s a lot of carbohydrates. Specifically, 225 to 300 grams for someone eating a 2,000 calorie per day diet. That means a lot of sugar floating around in your blood–sugar which you then need to take medication to help your body deal with.
That’s the thing about carbohydrates: your body turns them directly into sugar, which then enters your bloodstream and raises your blood sugar. So basing your diet on carbohydrates is practically guaranteed to keep your blood sugar at less-than-ideal levels.
Standard practice is to adjust your medication to counteract the blood sugar spikes that come with eating carbs. In some cases, you may even be advised to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar from going too low due to your medications.
In other words, type 2 diabetics are routinely advised to eat the very thing which causes their high blood sugar then given medication to treat the problem. Then they’re advised to eat even more of the problem foods so that the medication doesn’t work too well and make them even sicker.
If this leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. As obesity and diabetes doctor Sarah Hallberg says, “That’s just crazy. We’re essentially recommending that they [people with type 2 diabetes] eat exactly what’s causing their problem.”
If carbohydrates were essential to our health, this might be slightly more understandable. But the reality is that they’re not. We don’t need 200 to 300 grams of carbs per day to be healthy. In fact, we really don’t need carbs at all. Carbohydrates are the one macronutrient that our bodies can absolutely do without.
Without protein, our muscles waste away and our bodies are unable to perform many vital functions. Without protein, eventually we will die. The same applies to fat. Our bodies use fat for countless things from making hormones to building cell walls. Without fat in our diets, we will eventually die.
But carbohydrates are another story. The only thing our bodies use carbs for is energy. Carbs, once again, are converted into blood sugar which our bodies then burn for fuel (or, when we eat them in excess, store as fat). So what happens if we don’t eat carbs? Do we become sick? Do we become too weak to move? Do we lose vital functions? Will we die, like we will without protein or fat?
Not at all. If we don’t have access to carbs, our bodies simply burn fat.
Cut the carbs, reduce your blood sugar and insulin levels
While sugar (from carbohydrates) is the body’s preferred form of fuel, we are equally well-equipped to burn fat—both dietary fat and stored body fat—for fuel. And when we decrease carbohydrate intake, that’s exactly what happens.
Here’s how the carbohydrate/blood sugar connection works: when we eat carbs, our bodies rapidly convert them into sugar, which can hit the bloodstream in as little as 15 minutes if they are simple carbs like sugars and starches. This causes blood sugar to spike. Once blood sugar gets to a certain level our bodies produce insulin, which signals our muscles to take in more glucose to clear it out of our blood, our kidneys to eliminate excess sugar through urine, and more. It also tells our bodies to store excess blood sugar as fat, and we gain weight.
The more sugar in our blood, the more insulin our bodies must produce to counteract it. When we consistently eat a high-carb diet, as most Americans do, our bodies must produce more and more insulin to keep blood sugar stable. Eventually this leads to insulin resistance, which means that the signal gets lost in translation somewhere and our bodies lose the ability to clear all that excess sugar from our blood. And as we all know, consistently high blood sugar levels are the definition of type 2 diabetes.
It’s quite a different scenario when we remove the bulk of the carbohydrates from our diets. Without this carb overload, we simply don’t have the blood sugar spikes (protein raises blood sugar only half as much as carbs and takes twice as long to do it, while fat has practically no effect on blood sugar). Our bodies produce far less insulin (or, in the case of fat, none—because fat doesn’t provoke the insulin response) and insulin resistance is not a problem.
However, results aren’t necessarily instantaneous. Depending on how long you have been diabetic, it may take as little as three or four months or as long as a year to eighteen months to see real results.
What about programs that claim they can reverse type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise?
Although it may sound too good to be true, a growing number of scientific studies show that type 2 diabetes can indeed be reversed through diet. In light of this, a variety of books and programs claiming they can reverse type 2 diabetes have appeared on the market.
These books and programs usually fall into one of two categories: low-carb diet programs and very-low-calorie diet programs. Both have been clinically proven to have the potential to reverse type 2 diabetes–in the case of very-low-calorie programs in as little as eight weeks. They don’t work for everyone, but they do for an astounding number of people. In studies, 50% to 80% of participants were able to reverse their diabetes, depending on how long they’d had the disease. Those who had been diagnosed within the past four years were most likely to achieve a reversal, but there were successes even among those who’d been diabetic for 15+ years.
However, all diabetes reversal programs are not created equal. Reversing type 2 diabetes and keeping it in remission long-term means radically altering your diet and fundamentally changing the way you think about food. The best programs, such as the “DWD Lifestyle Blueprint” program by Vynleads, combine a step-by-step diet with education—or re-education—on food and eating.
A good program will offer you more than a diet plan that you follow only to go back to eating the way you did before, and instead help you break away from the standard American diet. It will not only help you control or even reverse your diabetes, but guide you into forming new eating habits that support healthy blood sugar levels long-term.
- Yes, you can control type 2 diabetes through exercise and diet, or even through diet alone.
- How long it takes to get results depends both on what type of dietary changes you’re willing to make and how long you have had the disease.
- It takes real commitment.
- It’s not a matter of “going on a diet” and then stopping, it’s a question of reshaping the way you eat from the ground up.
- The first and most important step you can take is to cut the amount of carbs in your diet.
- Diabetes reversal programs based on diet can and do work for many people.
- The sooner you start making changes, the more likely you are to succeed.