I first met Debora years ago, when she was dating my friend’s son. Even then I knew that she was a very together person — smart and organized. I also knew that she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12, although at the time I didn’t know much about what that meant. Fast forward to 2015, and Debora is married with a young child and another on the way. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, has a BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics, and counsels clients on healthy eating. She’s fit, she’s fabulous, and a real inspiration to diabetics everywhere.
From start to finish, what would be your ideal diabetic food day?
My ideal diabetic food day consists of three home-cooked meals and a couple of snacks. The best results are when the foods I’m eating are measurable, have a label, or are familiar to me.
An example would be whole grain toast with eggs for breakfast with a 1% latte, then a medium fruit with some nuts for an a.m. snack. Lunch would be 1/2 cup of brown rice, a couple of ounces of chicken thrown into a mixed salad and some fruit for dessert. A p.m. snack would be a Greek yogurt (usually before my workout), and dinner would be nice and clean — a few ounces of meat or fish, 2 cups of green vegetables and a low GI starch, such as about 1 cup of whole grain pasta or bulgur, or a medium sweet potato. I usually allow myself a small treat, but if I’m being good this means a small square of dark chocolate or some berries and a 1/2 cup of frozen yogurt (NOT eaten out of the container or it’s a free for all).
What is your go-to breakfast?
I have 3 go-to breakfasts, all of which include a milky coffee.
Lately, since my son loves eggs, I’ve been eating 2 scrambled eggs with a bit of cheese and 1 slice of whole grain toast. Since I like milky coffee, I combine 1% milk with a bit of homo milk for creaminess.
My second go to is a batch-cooked portion of steel cut oats made with dates, walnuts and cinnamon, that I reheat with milk. Steel cut oats take some time. but I’ll make a batch on the weekend so that I have it for the week. They reheat well, and if you add some sweet fruits like dates or peaches during cooking the oats get sweet enough that you legitimately don’t need brown sugar!
Lastly, I’ll do a slice of toast with peanut butter and a small bowl of Greek yogurt and fruit, or a small smoothie with some spinach, frozen fruit, milk or yogurt and half a banana. If I do cereal, I go for one that is high in fiber and protein and I’ll top it with nuts or seeds, a bit of bran, a half a banana and a good amount of milk. That way I’ve got the protein, fiber and fat to keep me full a bit longer.
I know you do Crossfit, which might intimidate some people. Tell us about your exercise routine and how you tailor that routine to some of your clients.
There are no excuses for me when it comes to exercise; it must be a part of my life. It provides me with a sense of accomplishment and challenge day to day. The thing I love about Crossfit is that it is totally modifiable. Most of the people I’ve coached — and they’ve been of all ages and stages — have been relatively new to fitness and most of them are now thriving at Crossfit and have made HUGE strength and confidence gains. Crossfit is intense but intensity is a relative term. You work as hard as you can, using the appropriate weight and modification for you. Safety comes first.
Crossfit works because of the group and community environment, with built-in coaching and programming. I’ve done a lot of different exercise regimens and Crossfit is the least intimidating of all because everyone is working hard together and everyone is genuinely rooting for you to do your best. I train 4 days a week, give or take a day, but I make it a 110% effort every time (unless I feel crappy). Crossfit is short duration and constantly varied using both strength and cardio training, so it’s a highly efficient and exciting way to get and stay fit.
From a diabetes perspective, the short duration helps my blood sugar, because I’m less likely to experience lows, and don’t have to plan what fuel to bring for long, extended workouts. I don’t have hours to spend in the gym anymore, so efficiency is key. I’ve been doing it for over 5 years and it’s still the main source of pride and excitement in my life (aside from my endlessly entertaining toddler, who helps keep me active and on my toes at all times).
What’s your relationship with food like? Any favorite recipes?
I have a pretty even keel relationship with food; I’m not an emotional eater. I see food as fuel as it relates to keeping my weight and sugars in control, and optimizing my performance in the gym. If it’s unhealthy for the sake of it, I kinda just feel gross about eating it. I wont turn away fries or a bag of Smartfood if it’s in front of my face, but at this point I honestly feel better about eating if I know it’s doing something good for my body.
That said, I love food and I love to eat, and I don’t follow a restrictive diet at all. My husband and I are experimental in the kitchen so we cook a lot. Some of our go-to dishes are homemade burgers, turkey chili, and soy-maple glazed salmon.
How do you balance health and eating out?
I don’t eat out much. We like to cook, and my fridge is stocked with leftovers and grab and go snacks. We have a toddler and a budget, so social outings and take out are minimal these days. Our idea of a fun night is entertaining friends at our place and making a special dinner at home with quality ingredients and good wine. Even with drinks and dessert, you’re still likely spending and eating fewer calories than you would in a restaurant.
If we do take-out, it will most often be Vietnamese: either a vermicelli platter with meat, rice noodles and vegetables, or a Pho soup. There’s no escaping the insane sodium content and white rice noodles are high glycemic index — not the most nutritious carb choice, but otherwise it’s pretty clean. Not a lot of mysterious sauces or hidden fats, and we find it pretty satisfying. Also, it’s something we’re not likely to make at home, which makes it a treat for us.
Your website talks about “non-dieting”. How does that fit into a diabetic diet?
Being informed about nutrition and calories sets you up to make good, logical choices on a daily basis. There’s a place for measuring and logging your food to build self awareness, but after that you don’t have to diet because you have the foundations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and can indulge wisely.
In fact, we should all be following the same nutrition plan: one that focuses on whole foods, balance and moderation. Someone with diabetes has to focus a little more on the carb piece, including the type and quantity. But with the exception of endurance athletes, everyone would benefit from choosing whole grain, high fiber carbs most often, eating them in moderate portions and distributing them throughout the day. And we should all be making efforts to increase our intake of fruits and veggies. Anyone looking for healthy eating and weight loss tips will get this “diet” advice in my office — diabetic or not.
You also talk about “small changes” that lead to success. Any examples?
It’s sometimes shocking how small changes can make such a big difference. The difference only one extra workout a week made for me as far as strength gains turned out to be huge! For some of my clients, it’s as simple as modifying their morning breakfast to swap a 400 calorie muffin and a double double with cream, for a whole grain piece of toast with peanut butter and fruit and a coffee with milk.
Improving your diet and health can be as easy as walking to work instead of driving, logging one blood sugar a day, cutting out a glass of wine here, a soda there, some cream and sugar in your coffee, and that late night cookie or 2. It may even be as easy as lightening up your portion sizes of meat and starch at dinner.