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Can Prediabetes Be Reversed?: What You Need to Know about Prediabetes

Have you just been told you have prediabetes? Don’t panic. Read on to find out everything you need to know about managing this condition.

A person holding a glucometer in hands over the bowl filled with vegetables and fruits against the blue background

Hearing the words ‘you have prediabetes’ can be scary. You might start wondering what does that mean? Do I have diabetes already? Am I destined to develop type 2 diabetes? Do I need to change my diet? Can prediabetes be reversed?

These are all great questions, and as a registered dietitian and diabetes educator, I get asked them A LOT. So, I put this resource together for you to help you understand what prediabetes is, why it occurs, and what you need to do about it.

Plus, I will be answering the most important question of all… can prediabetes be reversed?

What is prediabetes?

An animated illustration of pancreas working

The term ‘prediabetes’ pretty much means exactly what it sounds like. This condition is a precursor to diabetes. If you have prediabetes, it means that your blood sugar levels are above normal levels, but not yet high enough to diagnose type 2 diabetes

Think of this as a warning signal. This signal tells you that you need to act now and start making the changes necessary to prevent developing diabetes. Without making any lifestyle changes, it is likely that you will go on to develop type 2 diabetes, so listening to this warning signal is critical.

The good news is that if you have prediabetes, there is still time to make diet and lifestyle changes to improve your blood sugar regulation and take charge of your future health. You don’t have to just sit back and wait for type 2 diabetes to develop… you still have time and the ability to stop it.

Prediabetes and insulin resistance

Prediabetes is caused by increasing levels of insulin resistance in your body. Insulin is the hormone responsible for shuttling blood sugar into our cells in order to be used for energy. 

Think of insulin this way: Insulin is like a car and glucose as the passenger. Insulin’s job is to drive glucose to a garage (your cells). In normal, healthy cells, the garage door is wide open, insulin is able to successfully drop off glucose into the cell for energy. In an insulin resistant cell, the garage door is closed and the glucose passenger is unable to be dropped off into the cell. This results in the sugar staying in your bloodstream, gradually accumulating, and leading to slightly elevated blood sugar levels. 

As more cells become insulin resistant, the more sugar stays in your bloodstream, and the more your blood sugar levels rise. And this slight increase in blood sugar is identified as prediabetes.

Prediabetes means that you have a lot of insulin resistant cells, and without intervention you can further increase your insulin resistance and eventually develop type 2 diabetes. However, there is still time to reverse insulin resistance in those cells and lower your risk of diabetes. The more you reverse your insulin resistance, the less likely it is for you to develop type 2 diabetes. 

Remember: not everyone who has prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes

One important thing to note is that you cannot feel insulin resistance. It is a silent disease. So, think of your prediabetes diagnosis as a blessing. You now have a chance to reverse your insulin resistance and prevent developing a chronic disease. Because it isn’t just type 2 diabetes you are working to prevent. Insulin resistance also increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline as we age. 

But the good news is that insulin resistance can be reversed! It takes some work, but it can be done. 

Reversing prediabetes

A blue animation of woman's organs with pancreas painted red

Can prediabetes be reversed? YES! It takes work and consistency, but it is absolutely possible and I see this with many of my clients. In order to reverse insulin resistance, your cells need to become more sensitive to insulin again. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to increase your insulin sensitivity.

Improve your insulin sensitivity by losing body fat

In people with higher amounts of body fat, losing body fat helps enhance insulin sensitivity. In particular, belly fat is connected to higher levels of insulin resistance. Research shows that losing belly fat improves insulin resistance, even if you end up gaining some of it back. A total loss of just 5% of body weight can successfully improve insulin sensitivity, especially if the loss is coming from fat and not muscle. 

Move more for less insulin resistance

You don’t necessarily need to lose weight to improve your insulin resistance. There are actually many people with prediabetes who are considered at a healthy body weight, yet insulin resistance still occurs. One reason for this may be due to low physical activity levels. Moving your body more actually makes your cells more sensitive to insulin! 

Be sure to speak to your doctor before jumping into any type of exercise regimen. But it is important to note that moving your body more doesn’t mean you have to do actual exercise. Simply getting up and moving your body more throughout the day can make a big difference! 

Here are some ideas to get you moving:

  • If you sit at a desk all day, invest in a standing desk
  • Use a fitness tracker to track your steps and hit daily move goals
  • Choose the stairs instead of elevators and escalators
  • Park at the far end of parking lots
  • Schedule time for movement into each day
  • Take stretching breaks during the workday
  • Be creative! Movement can be fun

Focus on your diet to reverse prediabetes

It won’t be a surprise to hear that another massive factor that influences insulin resistance is your diet. The more added sugars and simple carbohydrates you consume, the more insulin your body has to produce. The more your cells are exposed to this excess insulin, the more resistant they become to it. So, the main goal for prediabetes is to reduce added sugars in the diet as much as possible. Make sure to keep your added sugars under 10% of your calories every day (but less is even better!). 

A major source of added sugar in the diet is sweetened beverages, like sodas or sweetened coffees from your local coffee shop. Removing these types of beverages from your diet is often the best place to start because they provide little nutritional value, limited satisfaction or fullness, and they directly impact insulin resistance.

Another thing to pay attention to is Nutrition Facts labels, especially with processed foods. Added sugars have their own line on the panel now, so you can easily see how many grams of added sugars are in your favorite products. Another trick is to limit products that have added sugars listed in the top 3-5 ingredients, because that means there is a lot of added sugar in the product. 

When it comes to carbohydrates, be sure to choose more complex carbohydrates that are slower digesting. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are better choices because they provide carbs for energy, but are more slowly digested. This leads to more balanced blood sugar and better balanced insulin. 

Focus on healthy eating and try adding in some of my favorite foods that lower blood sugar

De-stress to decrease insulin resistance

Did you know that stress has an enormous impact on insulin resistance? The more stressed out we are, the more stress hormones are released, and insulin is a stress hormone. When we have large amounts of stress, more insulin is released, and the more cells can become resistant to insulin.

In addition, stress elevates our blood sugar levels. The combination of increased blood sugar, increased insulin, and increased insulin resistance leads to prediabetes and can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. This is why we want to take steps to reduce stress as much as possible.

Sleep your way to better blood sugar levels

Even just one night of poor sleep can increase insulin resistance in the body. Poor sleep makes it more difficult to control blood sugar levels, leading to higher blood sugar. This is one reason why making sure you are getting enough good quality sleep is so important! Plus, sleeping well means you are feeling better and have more energy throughout the day.

Your 5-step Plan to Reverse Prediabetes

A woman in white shirt and orange hoodies doing a sit up in a gym

Now that you understand what prediabetes is and what you can do to reverse it, let me give you my 5-step action plan that you can get started on today to help improve insulin resistance and prevent type 2 diabetes in the future.

1. Start increasing your activity each day

You can start small by adding in a 5 minute walk every day. Then slowly add on more minutes to your daily walk so that you reach 10, 15, 20 minute walks (or longer). Challenge yourself so that each day, you are increasing your activity by a little bit. The more active you become, the easier it is to maintain healthy cells and healthy blood sugar levels.

2. Cut out added sugars

The more added sugars in your diet, the more your blood sugar and insulin levels spike. We also know that added sugars lead to more accumulation of visceral belly fat which further increases insulin resistance.

Start by identifying the top 3 culprits in your diet that have the most added sugars and begin reducing them. If you need help figuring out where those added sugars are coming from, be sure to learn how to read food labels. Sugar doesn’t always go by “sugar” in ingredient lists, so knowing the biggest sources of hidden sugars can help you start to reduce them.

If you drink sugary sodas, a great swap is a naturally flavored carbonated water. This allows you to cut down on the added sugars that don’t provide any nutritional value, but instead contribute to blood sugar and insulin spikes and insulin resistance.

3. Spend one minute each morning and night to fight stress

The chronic stress we face day after day plays a major toll on our health. Chronic stress is associated with higher levels of insulin resistance. 

Focus on belly breathing for one minute when you wake up each morning and for one minute before you go to sleep. This is deeper breathing that helps to curb your stress hormones in your body. 

Once this becomes a habit, it is so easy to implement it throughout your day. Whenever you feel stressed, you can take a minute to deep belly breathe and you will feel more relaxed and better able to tackle stressful situations that present themselves throughout the day.

4. Create a relaxing sleep routine

Remember that it takes just ONE night of poor sleep to increase insulin resistance. So, this means that it is essential to prioritize your sleep. On top of that, when you don’t get a good night’s sleep, this increases your appetite, especially for those added sugars and simple carbs. And consuming more of these added sugars leads to increased insulin resistance.

Make your sleep environment more conducive to sleep. Start by getting rid of any distractions like electronics that can keep your brain wired and suppress melatonin secretion, preventing you from falling asleep. Turn off the TV at least 10 minutes before you try to sleep and don’t look at your phone while laying in bed. Make sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark. Invest in black out curtains and a white noise machine if you live in a noisy neighborhood or apartment building. 

Really focus on relaxation before you hit the hay. Avoid thinking about mistakes you may have made throughout the day or your to-do list for tomorrow. Instead, focus on visualizing calming, relaxing thoughts so you can drift off to sleep. This is where deep belly breathing can come in to really help to calm your nerves and get you in a relaxed state to prepare for sleep.  

If you have trouble sleeping, check out my video the 3 best foods to help promote sleep

5. Follow up with your doctor

Depending on your doctor’s recommendation, you will probably need to follow up every 3-6 months. Remember, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are silent diseases because you cannot feel yourself becoming insulin resistant.

Going in for regular checkups allows you to see if the diet and lifestyle changes you have been making are helping to decrease your insulin resistance and reverse prediabetes. You want to make sure that the steps you are taking to improve your health are working. Regular checkups can help you see whether or not you need to do more to address your insulin resistance. 

The bottom line: can prediabetes be reversed?

So, can you reverse prediabetes? If you’ve gotten this far, you know the answer is YES! Prediabetes can absolutely be reversed, it just takes some effort and focus in order to change your habits and your diet. 

My 5-step plan to reverse prediabetes is the best place to start. These steps can help you to address the leading causes of insulin resistance to improve your insulin sensitivity to help you reverse prediabetes. So, get started today!

If you like this post, check out Type 4 Diabetes: Everything You Need to Know as well.

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