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8 Simple Ways to Help Reverse Prediabetes

Doable tweaks to your diet, movement and mindset that can improve insulin sensitivity and reverse prediabetes.

By Kaly JohnesPublished about a month ago 5 min read
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Your doctor broke news you didn't want to hear: you have prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar is elevated, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. The thing is, with that info, you're one of the lucky minority. Prediabetes is common, affecting 96 million American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but just 20% are aware that they have it. Knowing that you have prediabetes can be enough to push you to make the changes you need to reverse it, according to research published in 2019 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

While genes strongly influence whether someone develops prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, you have some control, says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, CDE, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. "Even for those with a strong family history, lifestyle habits can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. And a delay can mean less medications for fewer years and fewer complications," she says. "The prediabetes stage is the best time to reverse course," Weisenberger adds. In fact, lifestyle changes have been shown to reduce the risk of prediabetes progressing to type 2, per a 2022 study in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

The goal: reduce insulin resistance and preserve beta cell function (beta cells are pancreatic cells that produce insulin). Losing just 5% of your body weight can decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says the CDC, in part because a healthier weight generally means better insulin sensitivity. However, improving insulin sensitivity goes beyond the number on the scale.

Learn more: These 8 Things Could Make You More Likely to Develop Prediabetes, According to a Dietitian

1. Stop Focusing on Numbers

You may be prepared for a lifetime of breaking down your food by numbers (calories, fat, carbs), but "that's much too simplistic and is likely to take you off course. Food quality is your best bet to improve insulin sensitivity," says Weisenberger. There's no need to be scared of carbs, including whole grains. What's more, just because something is low-carb does not make it healthy. She recommends filling your plate with berries, vegetables, oats, barley, beans and lentils, which are all sources of high-fiber carbohydrates that help reduce risk of disease.

2. Walk More

Exercise helps muscles soak up glucose to be used for fuel, and it's one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity. That said, you don't have to jump into an intense routine to see effects. A 2022 study in Frontiers in Physiology found that regular physical activity was associated with lower insulin levels, and that high-intensity activity had additional potential benefits on insulin sensitivity. If that sounds like too tall an order at first, at least establish the habit by walking 10 minutes five to seven times a week and building from there, says Weisenberger.

3. Eat an Early Dinner

Intermittent fasting (IF)—where you restrict your food intake to a specific window during the day—is on-trend right now. And there is some indication that IF may actually be useful if you have prediabetes. A 2022 International Journal of Endocrinology article that reviewed eight years of research found that IF is helpful for reducing fasting blood glucose, lowering glycosylated hemoglobin—a compound that measures three months worth of blood sugar levels—and reducing insulin levels.

4. Stop the Before-Bed Email Check

This diagnosis is your wake-up call to ditch the habits that you know cut into good sleep, like staring at your phone and tapping out just one last email while in bed. "Sleep is not optional, it's a necessity. Sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes," says Weisenberger, who adds that sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity even in adults without diabetes. Sleeping less than five hours a night is associated with a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes than getting five to seven hours of shut-eye over a 16-year period, according to a 2023 Endocrinology and Metabolism study.

5. Eat More Raspberries (and Fiber in General)

Sweet, juicy red raspberries add more than flavor to your morning bowl of oatmeal or smoothie, per a 2019 study in Obesity. In a small study on adults who were overweight or obese and had prediabetes, those consuming at least one cup of red raspberries with breakfast experienced an improvement in glycemic control for two hours after the meal, which researchers attributed to improved insulin sensitivity. Raspberries are yummy and a great source of fiber, but it's important to note that this research was supported by a raspberry industry group. Including plenty of other fiber-rich foods in your diet should help as well.

comfortable looking couch with blankets and pillows

6. Practice Self-Care

Daily stressors are a given, but how you deal with them is what counts. What self-care looks like—spending your lunch break in the sunshine, scheduling walking dates with friends—doesn't matter as much as doing it regularly. "Emotional stress has a way of distracting us from good habits and our health goals. It may also affect glucose metabolism in some people," says Weisenberger.

hand weights on a rack

7. Start Strength Training

If you're already walking more throughout the day, add in strength training too. According to a 2021 Sports Medicine-Open review of published studies on the topic, resistance training was effective in lowering blood glucose levels as well as body fat in those at risk for type 2 diabetes. You don't have to bench heavy weights to reap the benefits, either. Start out with simple bodyweight exercises (that are easily modifiable) like lunges, squats and push-ups.

woman sitting at doctor's office

8. Shift Your Mindset

Achieving a glycosylated hemoglobin level of 5.7 percent or below, which is considered normal, may bring you back from the brink of diabetes, but thinking only in terms of those numbers can veer you off course. "A lot of people get off track because they focus more on the [weight loss or blood sugar] goal and ignore the process. But it's focusing on the process that helps us get to the goal and stay there," says Weisenberger. By being journey-oriented, you can build healthy habits into your life, like making time for movement that feels good to your body or figuring out how to throw together quick dinners during busy weeks. "Your emphasis should be on habits, not weight loss," she says.

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Kaly Johnes

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