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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Type 2 Diabetes

Losing weight and beginning a regular exercise program can help bring your blood glucose levels to within the normal range. However, this does not mean that your diabetes has been cured. Rather, you must maintain these lifestyle habits, including eating healthy foods, to keep your blood glucose in control and to minimize the chances of complications.

Diet and exercise alone may not be enough to maintain blood glucose levels within a normal range. You may need to take anti-diabetes medications, including insulin, to control glucose levels.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is the first step you can take to help lower your blood glucose level. As you lose weight, your body's cells will be more responsive to insulin. This can lead to improved blood glucose control.

The safest and most effective way to lose weight is by eating fewer calories, eating healthy food, and exercising regularly. You should strive for gradual and continual weight loss until you reach your ideal weight. If you are overweight, losing just 5%-10% of your body weight can make a difference in your blood glucose control.


The nutrition guidelines for managing diabetes can seem complicated. However, you will see that the guidelines are similar as those for general good health. A registered dietitian can help you develop healthy eating patterns that will work for you. Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian.

The basic eating guidelines for people with type 2 diabetes are:

Planning Meals and Snacks

Eat 3 meals per day, and do not skip meals. Each meal should be at about the same time each day and contain about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat as the same meal the day before. Your blood glucose rises and falls in response to your eating patterns. Therefore, by eating about the same amounts and types of food at the same times each day, you can more easily predict when your blood glucose level will rise.

Snacks are also important. Eat 2-3 snacks per day, and keep them with you at all times in case a meal is delayed. Just before bedtime, have a snack that contains both protein and starch. Eating at this time can help control the changes in blood glucose that may occur while you sleep.

Filling Your Plate

To make sure that you are getting the nutrients that you need, follow the US Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate guidelines. MyPlate encourages you to:

  • Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat whole grains, lean protein, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Watch your portion size! Avoid overeating.
  • Choose low-sodium foods.
  • Opt for water instead of sugary drinks.

In addition, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) offers these tips for creating a healthy plate:

  • Give yourself a larger amount of non-starchy vegetables. There are many kinds to choose from like spinach, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, mushrooms, and peppers.
  • Add a small serving of starchy foods. Some examples include: whole grain bread, rice, cooked beans, peas, corn and potatoes.
  • Add a small serving of meat or meat substitute (such as chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu).
  • Drink a glass of fat-free milk with your meal.

Focusing on Carbohydrates

Sugar and starch are both carbohydrates. Your body reacts to any type of carbohydrate in the same way, so the total amount of carbohydrate you eat is more important for blood glucose control than the source.

A dietitian can help you determine how many grams of carbohydrate you should eat per day. This amount should be dispersed evenly throughout your meals and snacks, and you may need to avoid foods that are high in sugar. Many foods contain carbohydrates. Grain products, fruits, and milk products contain the most. Soda has a lot of sugars and should be avoided.

Keeping a Record

Keep a record of your meals, include the time you ate, what you ate, and how much you ate. Include this information with your blood glucose levels and insulin dosages. This information is very helpful when you discuss how to modify your medication and/or diet with your doctor.


The ADA recommends exercising for at least 150 minutes a week. This should be moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, riding a bicycle, playing tennis, or doing water aerobics. In addition, strength training should be done at least twice a week. Examples of strength training include using free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands.

Talk with your doctor about an exercise program that is safe for you. Since exercise usually causes your blood glucose to drop, you may need to make some modifications in your medication dose and schedule, as well as your eating plan. Also, when you exercise, remember to wear your diabetes identification bracelet.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you:

  • Are having difficulty losing weight
  • Have any questions about your eating plan
  • Feel that your eating plan is too difficult to follow
  • Want to start an exercise program or make significant changes in your present program
  • Have any symptoms of hypoglycemia after exercising
    • Shakiness
    • Lightheadedness
    • Extreme sweating
    • Hunger
    • Headache
    • Pale skin color

Create your plate. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: Updated October 19, 2015. Accessed August 22, 2016.

Diabetes mellitus type 2 in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 29, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

What is MyPlate? Choose My Plate—Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Updated January 7, 2016. Accessed August 22, 2016.

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Last reviewed September 2016 by Kim A. Carmichael, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 8/22/2016