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Your 9-Step Action Plan to Handling a Prediabetes Diagnosis

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Among those few ominous "D" words that you never want to hear, diabetes probably ranks pretty high on the list. It can seem like a scary life sentence, synonymous with endless doctor visits, blood tests and elevated risks for heart disease, stroke and a laundry list of symptoms and side effects.
 
Until now, diabetes has probably been something you've witnessed from afar, maybe through a cousin or co-worker. Perhaps it's been in the back of your mind as you indulge in a nightly bowl of ice cream, but you never thought it would actually happen to you.
 
Then, in just one appointment, all of that changes. After a test or two, the "D" word—or at least the warning sign that precedes it—weasels its way into your life when your doctor informs you of your prediabetes diagnosis.
 

What Is a Prediabetes Diagnosis?

 
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) describes prediabetes as "a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes." Depending on the test used to diagnose it, the condition may also be called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or impaired fasting glucose (IFG).
 
There are four ways your doctor may diagnose prediabetes:
  • A hemoglobin A1C test result of 5.7-6.4 percent
  • A fasting blood glucose reading of 100-125 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter)
  • An oral glucose tolerance test result of 140-199 mg/dl
  • A random blood sugar check resulting in 200 mg/dl or greater
In addition to being overweight or obese, there are many risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing prediabetes, such as having a family history, high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome, previous cardiovascular disease and more. (You can visit the American Diabetes Association website to take a Type 2 diabetes risk test.) Even without the added risk factors, the NIDDK recommends getting tested starting at age 45, every three years.
 

How to Handle a Prediabetes Diagnosis

 
According to certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian nutritionist Toby Smithson, a prediabetes diagnosis is an important warning that should not go unheeded. "It is a red flag to hunker down on lifestyle changes to help your body with blood sugar control and prevent the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes," she says.
 
Although those with prediabetes are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes within 10 years, there are precautions you can take to prevent that from happening.
 
The NIDDK conducted an intensive research study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), to determine whether modest weight loss, increased physical activity and dietary changes can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. All of the study participants were overweight and had been diagnosed with prediabetes. The results showed that those who received individual support and guidance in adopting a healthy lifestyle reduced their diabetes risk by 58 percent.
 

9-Step Action Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

 
You're not powerless against prediabetes. The following action plan, based on guidelines from the NIDDK and the NIH-sponsored Diabetes Prevention Program research study, outlines small steps you can take to prevent or slow the onset of Type 2 diabetes, regardless of your level of risk.
 
1. Set a weight loss goal.
 
Smithson points out that the weight loss doesn't have to be dramatic to have a significant impact. "Losing seven percent of your body weight can help your body better control your blood sugar levels," she says. However, if you are very overweight or obese, the NIDDK recommends trying to lose five to 10 percent of your body weight—so, for a 300-pound person, that would be anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds.
 
Keep in mind these nine things to consider before setting your goal weight.
 
2. Start tracking everything you eat.
 
Following a healthy, reduced-calorie meal plan is an essential ingredient in any weight loss plan. The first step in evaluating the quality and quantity of your food intake is to start tracking everything you eat, from meals and snacks to beverages and quick bites. After just a few days, you'll be able to start recognizing bad habits and worrisome patterns.
 
3. Start making smarter food choices.
 
A prediabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to mean eliminating entire food groups or feeling hungry all day. To forfeit extra pounds without feeling deprived, start by making one small change every time you have a meal or snack. For example, Smithson suggests swapping sugar-sweetened beverages for unsweetened drinks, or adding a serving of vegetables to your lunch or dinner plate.
 
The NIDDK recommends these as the four most important steps for healthy eating for weight loss:
  • Eat smaller portions of foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar.
  • Eat healthier foods in place of less-healthy choices.
  • Choose foods that are lower in trans-fat, saturated fat and added sugars.
  • Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, juice and energy drinks, choose water or tea. 
4. Learn to measure healthy portions.
 
In our world of super-sized meals, it's easy to get afflicted with portion distortion. The NIDDK recommends using the "plate method" to help ensure sensible portion sizes. For each meal, try to fill half the plate with fruit and veggies, a quarter with a lean protein and the remaining quarter with a whole grain.
 
Not sure what a portion should look like? Use our portion distortion guide to determine healthy serving sizes for common foods.
 
5. Stick to a healthy fat and calorie range.
 
Everyone has different needs, but the NIDDK provides a basic guideline for daily calories and fat grams based on how much the participants consumed in the Diabetes Prevention Program research study. You can work with your doctor or diabetes prevention specialist to tailor these guidelines to your needs.
 
Be sure to read nutrition facts labels and track your intake to ensure that you’re staying in your target range.
 
6. Find little ways to move more.
 
Even if you're not quite ready to take the plunge of daily gym visits or hard-core boot camps, you can always find ways to move your muscles throughout the day. "Adding 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, five days per week has been shown to help with weight loss and management of blood sugar levels," says Smithson.
 
She recommends starting with small amounts of activity (five to 10 minutes), building that into your daily routine and then slowly adding five more minutes every three days until you reach the goal of 30 minutes, five days per week. "For example, while watching television, stand up and do wall push-ups or heel lifts during commercial breaks," Smithson suggests. "If you watch an hour-long TV show, there is the potential to be physically active for about 15 minutes."
 
In general, always try to be on the lookout for opportunities to sit less and move more. Wearing an activity tracker can help you gauge your progress and stay motivated to get in the recommended 7,000-10,000 steps per day.
 
7. Stop smoking.
 
According to the CDC, smokers have a 30 to 40 percent greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. Smoking can cause inflammation and interfere with proper cell function, which can ultimately lead to diabetes. In addition, smokers tend to have higher amounts of cortisol, a hormone that elevates blood sugar levels.
 
If you currently smoke, there are countless reasons why it’s a good idea to stop, but a prediabetes diagnosis should rank pretty high on the list. The CDC offers a comprehensive list of resources to help you kick the habit. You can also join a SparkTeam to get support from ex-smokers and people trying to quit.
 
8. Get support.
 
As of 2015, 84.1 million American adults had prediabetes, but when you're diagnosed, you might feel like you're alone on an island, especially when your loved ones don't quite understand what you're going through. The good news? SparkPeople has plenty of support for those dealing with all types of diabetes. In our diabetes SparkTeams, you can connect with people facing the same challenges, share your story and get tips and insights from those who "get it."
 
There are also many online diabetes tools that can help you along your prevention journey. Diabetes HealthSense helps you create a customized plan for your new lifestyle. You can also find a wealth of general information from the National Diabetes Prevention Program, or locate a diabetes prevention program in your area.
 
9. Stay in touch with your doctor.
 
After a prediabetes diagnosis, it's more important than ever to maintain communication with your healthcare professional. As you pursue better eating and exercise habits, your doctor will likely want to monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure that they stay in a healthy range.

You might also want to ask about any medicines that could help keep diabetes at bay. When used with a healthy diet and regular exercise program, some medications can help to control high blood sugar by restoring the body's proper response to insulin and decreasing the amount of sugar your body produces.
 

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.