Incredibly, one in four Americans over age 20 has prediabetes -- and most don't even know it. Being prediabetic means that your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but short of being classified as diabetic levels. Studies show that most people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, unless they lose weight and make dietary and exercise changes.
Because prediabetes develops gradually over years, it's often said that there are no obvious symptoms. But it's possible to notice certain warning signs of growing insulin resistance.
If you're experiencing the following signs, you should ask your doctor about an insulin response test to measure your insulin and blood sugar levels. If the tests confirm that your body is starting to have trouble managing its glucose, it may be incentive for you to commit to diet and exercise changes that can help move you away from the path toward diabetes.
Feeling Tired and Sluggish After Eating
After eating, all carbohydrates -- whether in a doughnut or a carrot -- are broken down into the bloodstream as glucose (blood sugar), the body's main energy source. When the blood containing the glucose hits the pancreas, this organ gets the message to release insulin, a hormone it produces to help the cells throughout the body use glucose. Cells have insulin receptors that allow glucose to enter and either be stored as future energy or used right away. It's a great system. But a diet that's high in simple carbs like sugar, white flour, and sweet beverages overwhelms it. The glucose builds up in the blood while the needy cells don't get any. The pancreas, meanwhile, notes the glucose level is still high in the blood that flows through it, and it pumps out still more insulin in response. Net result: You feel sleepy and may find it hard to think, because your brain and body are depleted until the system rights itself. Over time, this cycle can cause someone to become chronically insulin resistant.
What helps: Slow your carb load. Always have protein and fat with a meal, snack, or anytime you put anything in your mouth. The body has to work harder to digest protein and fat, slowing the release of sugar into the blood stream, meaning the blood sugar stays stable longer. Move around right after eating -- take a 15-minute walk; even washing the dishes helps -- rather than plopping in front of the TV. The activity will help your body begin to process the big glucose intake faster and more efficiently.
Often people crave carbs, not only because they taste good, but because their energy is low and then feel they need a pick-me-up. But what happens next in the body can be dangerous and create a vicious cycle. Simple carbs such as sugars and white flour break down very quickly, providing a fast hit of energy. Soon, however, the pancreas releases more and more insulin to handle the glucose. What follows is a dramatic drop in blood sugar as the extra insulin quickly shuttles the glucose to the cells -- and energy levels plummet. The body is caught in a wave of fatigue. So, naturally, it craves another quick hit of energy to bring blood sugar back up. The brain becomes obsessed with this mission and the cycle continues. Before you know it, you're reaching for another guzzle of soda, handful of pretzels, a second cookie.
What helps: Kick your food cravings. Instead of quick-hit snacks like candy bars or chips, substitute slower-to-digest choices, like a handful of almonds, a slice of turkey, a cup of cottaged cheese, beef jerky, which will keep you feeling sated longer.
Most prediabetics carry excess weight. That fact alone is a major risk factor for diabetes. But especially worrisome is when you try to cut back on calories and still can't see the scale budge. Stubborn weight loss despite best efforts can be the result of mixed messages that our cells are receiving. The cells are starving because the fuel they need (in the form of glucose) is not being absorbed at the insulin receptor site on the cell. In the face of a perceived fuel shortage, the body will hold tightly onto existing stores of energy -- fat. What little is absorbed also goes straight into storage -- as more fat.
What helps: Incremental change. Don't think, "OMG, I have to lose 50 pounds; I can never do that." Instead, think small. Losing just 5 to 7 percent of body weight prevents or delays diabetes by 60 percent, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major multicenter research study. Again, increase protein and healthy fat, and cut out carbs.
This is an excellent (and pretty hilarious) video about diabetes and weight gain.