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Living Well

Beating Diabetes with a Healthy Diet

Last updated: Dec 29, 2015

Jetaun Fleming of East Orange is a busy woman.  A truck driver for Fed Ex, Ms. Fleming, 44, is a wife and mother, raising five children with her husband, Tyree.  In addition, Ms. Fleming works the night shift, so she juggles family responsibilities and work, all the while trying to get enough sleep.

Last June, Ms. Fleming took on yet another challenge, perhaps the most demanding of her life.  She learned from her physician, Summit Medical Group’s Cynthia Paige, MD, that she has Type 2 diabetes—and then meant that Ms. Fleming was heading for a lifestyle makeover.

“The news was a total surprise,” Fleming said.  “My mother was diabetic, and I have a niece who has juvenile [Type 1] diabetes, so I thought I was familiar with the signs.”

When she visited Dr. Paige for her June checkup, Fleming was trying to overcome a weight problem and doing what she thought was all the right things.  She exercised, ate a vegetarian diet and was an avid juicer.  She had no appetite during the day, after she would get up in the early afternoon, so she skipped meals.  Instead of eating, she created her own fresh juice drinks using apples, bananas and greens, and she’d always take along a container of fresh juice with her when she drove her truck.

It sounded good—on paper—so why did Fleming feel sluggish all the time, she wondered, and how did the needle on the scale not budge from 214 pounds?  

 “Jetaun was living a life she thought was healthy, but high carbohydrate intake, and her irregular eating habits, due to her night work, were leading her down a path to diabetes,” said Dr. Paige, a family-medicine specialist with whose expertise includes chronic disease management, treatment for obesity and wellness. 

“She was a vegetarian, but she ate a lot of potatoes and other carbs—foods with a high glycemic-index content,” Dr. Paige said, “so they were raising her blood sugar levels, and she was going without eating for hours at a time, which makes the body go on overdrive to store carbohydrates.”  

Dr. Paige told Ms. Fleming that she would need to start on oral medication immediately, and check her blood sugar levels throughout the day.  She advised Ms. Fleming to shift her diet away from carbohydrates—in fact she limited her patient to 50 grams of carbs a day—and eat more greens, fresh fruit in moderation, low-fat dairy products, like a stick of mozzarella cheese, and healthy fat-and-protein combinations, like almonds and walnuts.

Then, Dr. Paige gave Ms. Fleming a guideline that surprised her.

“She told me to eat every two hours!” Ms. Fleming recalled. “I’d thought that drinking juice instead of eating during the day was healthy, but, in fact, it was the opposite. I was starving myself during the day.  I had to retrain my body to get hungry.”

At Dr. Paige’s suggestion, Fleming used her smartphone’s alarm clock app, and set it for every two hours.  When the alarm sounded, she’d have a healthy snack.  The appetite training worked, and now Fleming gets hungry at healthy intervals and eats the protein, vegetables and healthy oils she needs to stay well.

What does a typical day’s menu look like?

“I roast vegetables every Sunday and put each type into a separate container for snacking,” Ms. Fleming said.  The new mainstays of her diet are low-fat cheese, yogurt, fish, nuts and seeds (pumpkin are a favorite)—and plenty of fresh produce.

The new eating plan made her feel better quickly.  Between June and October she lost 30 pounds.

“I was amazed to see that Jetaun’s blood sugar level lowered considerably,” said Paige.  “Tests to show how well she was controlling her diabetes, showed that she’d been very successful. Her commitment to eating a healthy diet paid off.  She works hard and is highly motivated.”

Ms. Fleming noted that she gives herself some slack so she’s not “like a kid in a candy store” looking at food she cannot have.  She and her husband love to eat out on the weekends, and when they do, she lets herself deviate somewhat from her new regimen by “ordering an appetizer I wouldn’t have during the week, or having some bread.”

Thanksgiving was a challenge.  “I made the apple pie I usually do, but I had just one slice a week—and I would normally have eaten much more than that,” Fleming said.  “It’s not easy to eat healthy all the time, but I have a great support team: my husband and Dr. Paige.” 

Learn more about healthy eating and lifestyles for people with diabetes, at Summit Medical Group’s Diabetes Live Well Program

Dr. Cynthia Paige, is a family-medicine specialist with whose expertise includes chronic disease management, treatment for obesity and wellness.