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How to Prevent Diabetes with Family History

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

If you have family members with diabetes you might be concerned about what your own risk is for getting diabetes.

Fortunately, having diabetes in your genetics doesn't mean you are destined to be diagnosed, and there are many ways to lower your risk and keep yourself healthy!

Woman sitting with elderly couple looking at a photo album

If you have one or both parents with type 2 diabetes your risk for getting diabetes is higher than someone with diabetes in their extended family or with no known diabetes in the family at all. However, the way I like to describe genetic risk is that having diabetes in your DNA is like having the "light switch" in your body, but your lifestyle and habits will either turn that switch on or off! You have control over your habits, therefore much of the power is in your own hands! Read on to see what habits make a difference and how to prevent diabetes with family history.

Tip #1 - Change your Diet

This is one factor you have a MAJOR amount of control over and makes a huge difference in your overall health. There's a phrase that goes, "Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it." Now, of course the goal is not to be worried about every single morsel we eat, but the idea is that our diet is our fuel and the foods we choose do affect our health. Following a nutritious, balanced diet gives us the best shot at reducing insulin resistance, minimizing inflammation in the body and avoiding weight gain which increases the risk of diabetes. While poor choices in moment seem fine, over a lifetime they really add up.

table of green vegetables and someone holding lettuce in their hands
  • Focus on more whole foods, meaning foods that come closer to the ground

  • Keep meals consistent throughout the day for steady sugars

  • Avoid overeating

  • Include plenty of fiber

  • Choose complex carbs over simple carbs, for example, eat an apple instead of drinking apple juice, or have a small baked potato instead of french fries

  • Try to reduce simple sugars like soda and candy

More research is coming out about the effects of saturated fat, red meats, and processed meats on insulin resistance. You don't have to be a vegetarian but the more you can cut down your intake the better your body's insulin can work to keep sugars under control. Benefits are even found in limiting red and processed meats to once a week, which is totally reasonable for many people.

For more personalized guidance on your diet and what changes you should be focusing on, set up an appointment with me!

Tip #2 - Quit Smoking

If you are still a tobacco smoker, it's seriously time to quit if you want to not just avoid diabetes but other diseases and cancers. Smoking is known to raise the risk of diabetes as high as 40%, which is such an enormous factor! If you already have diabetes, smoking exacerbates and speeds up diabetic complications. The chemicals in cigarettes raise inflammation throughout the body and decrease effectiveness of our insulin. Not to mention the cell damage that happens from cigarette smoke coupled with the damage from high blood sugars sets up a recipe for disaster in the body.

Quitting is hard, but it is absolutely possible and can significantly reduce your risk for getting diabetes. Be realistic about a quit plan. Think you can cut your usage in half? Or know you can go cold-turkey if you just set your mind to it? Commit to your goal and stick to it.

"Quitting smoking is difficult, but possible, and it is beneficial at any age. Whether you have type 2 diabetes or not, the sooner you quit, the sooner your body can start to heal."
— US Food and Drug Administration

Tip #3 - Get Active

Exercise is another health habit that so many Americans just don't get enough of. Physical activity has been proven to reverse insulin resistance, which we know is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Specifically, 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise is what makes the difference. Check out my other blog on this topic for the best types of exercise for prediabetes.

Tip #4 - Get More Sleep

Woman sleeping next to a window covered up by a blanket

Sleep is so underrated in today's society. Many either struggle to fall asleep, can't stay asleep or simply just don't get enough of it! Sleep is the essential time when our bodies can finally heal and repair all the damage from the day, clear waste from the brain and rejuvenate for a new day. We know appetites run higher after a night of poor sleep, while the metabolism runs at a slower rate. People tend to make poor food choices when overtired, subconsciously looking for energy in our food choices in things like sweets, comfort food, coffee, energy drinks or soda. Lack of sleep even has a negative effect on insulin resistance and blood pressure.

  • Aim for 7-8 hours a night, or just try to increase from what you typically get now

  • Avoiding screens an hour before bed can help with the brain's production of melatonin, the sleep hormone

  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help with better sleep quality

Tip #5 - Cut Down on Alcohol

Drink with water and lemon sitting on a cutting board with lemon and sprig of mint nearby

As much as we enjoy a refreshing cocktail, the key here is moderation. We don't have to give up an occasional drink but when we have a few too many, our insulin effectiveness decreases, over time leading to diabetes. Heavy drinking can also lead to pancreatitis, which diabetes can be a side effect of. When you have your next night out, choose a low-calorie drink like light beer, cocktails with seltzer or sugar-free mixers, or a glass of red wine, and limit to one or two total.

Tip #6 - Reduce Overall Stress

Lastly, stress is a huge driver of inflammation in the body, and contributes to a higher risk of getting diabetes. Stress has even been shown to negatively affect our sleep, raise blood pressure, worsen gut health and promote heart disease. Now obviously we can't simply eliminate stress (it's just part of life!) but we do have control in how we manage it.

Incorporate healthy stress management strategies into your life like a walking routine, meditation, hobbies that make you happy, spending time with friends or pets and music. You may not realize stress levels when they are rising but once you do take a minute to step away and take a few deep breaths to mitigate stress's negative effects as soon as you can.

Now that you know how to prevent diabetes with a family history, let's start making the steps!

Middle aged couple smiling and leaning towards each other on the beach

You have control over a lot in your life, even if it feels hard. Make moves to start improving your diet by working with a dietitian, create an exercise routine, quit smoking, bring down your stress level, get a little more sleep and skip a few of the additional cocktails. Small changes add up and you don't have to be perfect. Our bodies are forgiving and the majority of what we do makes up our overall picture of health.

To see what your diabetes risk factor is right now, take my prediabetes quiz at the bottom of the page! You can also read my other blog on Road Trip Ideas or Low Carb Movie Snacks. Leave me a comment below if you found these tips helpful!

If you're ready to work with me on lowering your diabetes risk check out my Better Blood Sugar Program where we take a deep dive into your diet and lifestyle habits to lower your sugars and reduce your risk for diabetes in a 4-month program!


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