How I managed gestational diabetes with diet and exercise only

How I managed gestational diabetes with diet and exercise
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Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes is tough. When I got pregnant, I knew I had a lot of risk factors, but the diagnosis was still a bit of a shock. Before pregnancy, I had made a lot of progress with weight loss. I was hoping that this would be enough to reduce my risk, but it wasn’t. At 26 weeks I had the glucose tolerance test, and was informed of the bad news. I was devastated. I let myself be sad for a couple of days, then I started doing research.

This second part, is the important part. I took the initiative to learn about it myself. I was booked in to see a dietician after my results came back, but I can say that if I tried to follow what she said I would not have been able to stick to it, felt a failure, and ended up on insulin or other drugs to control my sugar levels.

What they advised was, heavy restriction of both carbs and fat. What is left after this? Fibre and protein. A great way to rapidly become emaciated. It might be an ok diet for short term weight loss, but this is not particularly appropriate during pregnancy.

What I opted for instead was a low carb keto diet. It kept my blood sugar in a great range, and I maintained a decent weight range. Growth scans also showed my baby was growing normally, not the high growth rate you’d expect with gestational diabetes. He was born at a healthy, normal weight of 3.5kg, and I was also able to carry him to my due date and avoid an early induction.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I hope you can be inspired by my story.

This is what I did…

  1. Monitor your blood sugar at the recommended intervals 
    For me, this meant a fasting level first thing in the morning, and then 1-2hrs after a meal. Keep a diary of what you ate and what the level was after this meal. Note any carby foods that gave you a spike and try to eliminate them or reduce the quantity.
  2. The Keto Diet
    Opt for a healthy low-carb diet like paleo or something similar with little meat and lots of vegetables. I do not recommend diets high in animal products like meat, eggs and diary. Meat in large quantities has a negative impact on your health, raises your risk of cancer and heart disease, and these diets also tend to cause constipation (which is already an issue for pregnancy for many people) due to low fiber content. If you have had issues with gallstones or problems with fat metabolism seek medical advice about diet because keto may not be appropriate for you.
  3. Ketones
    During pregnancy you may have your urine tested for ketones at various times. Being on a keto diet, if you’re keeping to it successfully, will cause ketones to show up in your urine. The reason ketones are tested is because the body will also produce them in uncontrolled diabetes. Depending on your medical professional they may just order some additional testing and if those are fine not worry much, or they absolutely flip and lecture you about your diabetes and how you should be eating. If additional tests don’t show anything to worry about, then you don’t need to worry.
  4. Exercise after meals
    When you exercise, your muscles use glycogen stores. When these stores are used up, your muscles will pull more glucose out of your blood stream, keeping your sugar levels lower. High intensity interval training is useful because it will deplete glycogen stores quite fast and it doesn’t take much time, but any kind of exercise is good.
  5. Cook
    The best way to stay healthy is to make your own food from real ingredients. You know exactly what went into it. No nasty surprises when you take your sugar level later.
    Cooking is also a very valuable skill when you have a family to feed, because eating out is expensive. If it’s your first baby, develop this skill while you still have the luxury of uninterrupted free time.
  6. Avoid packaged foods, and eating out
    Almost every time I went to a restaurant my blood sugar would spike, almost regardless what I ordered. Many restraunts use the tricks of the trade like using fructose syrup to make things tastier (and it can be hidden in almost anything), and using other industrial additives like MSG, coloring and flavor enhancers which you’d never even consider adding to your food at home.  Avoid hidden carbs by cooking at home. For packaged foods, sugars are hidden behind many, many names, and usually buried in a list 100 other ingredients you can’t pronounce. When considering packaged items, stick to things with known ingredients (eg tomato paste containing tomatoes, salt).
  7. Avoid sugary drinks
    Especially juice, flavored milk, iced coffees/teas and soda. Stick to water if you can. I was having a homemade smoothie most mornings and it was ok, but go by your blood sugar levels. If you need juices (I needed something flavored to get my prenatal vitamin down without gagging so I don’t judge if you do) you can dilute them by adding at least 20% water.
  8. Snack on low calorie foods
    Carrots, celery, spinach, lettuce. Non-starchy vegetables can be eaten freely to satisfy your hunger. fiber is also great for you. If needed you can add a fat like ricotta cheese or almond butter to dip carrots and celery or olive oil as a dressing for salads.

Got any other tips for those wanting to manage their gestational diabetes? Leave a comment below.

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