On Your Way to Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

If you’re interested in preventing type 2 diabetes, this guide can help you get started. Congratulations on taking the first step! By reading this, you’re already on your way.

Prediabetes puts you on the road to possibly getting type 2 diabetes. Find out now, in less than 1 minute, if you may have prediabetes by taking the Prediabetes Risk Test. If your result shows you’re at high risk for type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood sugar test to confirm it. Then, if you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, consider joining a lifestyle change program offered by the National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP). This program is proven to cut the risk for type 2 diabetes in half.

Not quite ready to join a lifestyle change program? Or want a jumpstart before your program begins? Use this guide to help you take the first steps toward preventing type 2 diabetes.

Why is prevention so important? Because type 2 diabetes is a serious, chronic health condition that can lead to other serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure. If you can prevent or even delay getting type 2 diabetes, you can lower your risk for all those other conditions.

This guide will help you take small, practical steps that add up to a healthy lifestyle you can stick with and enjoy, including:

By making some healthy changes, including eating healthier and getting active, you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and improve your physical and mental health overall.

And you don’t have to wait to feel the benefits—when you start making healthy changes, you get rewards right away. After taking just one walk, your blood sugar goes down. Make physical activity a habit and see how your sleep improves. Enjoy the taste of fresh, healthy food. Figure out what to do with all of your extra energy. Maybe even get closer to friends and family if you invite them along for the ride!

Starting Point: Assess Where You Are and Where You Need to Go

pencil and pad

Let’s assess where you stand right now when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. Write down your answers to these questions to make it easier for you to figure out which of your habits are helpful and which habits you might want to work on.

Think About How You …

Eat in a Typical Week

  • Do other people, such as friends, family, or coworkers, influence what you eat?
  • Do you prepare your meals ahead of time, or decide in the moment what to eat?
  • How comfortable are you with reading a nutrition label?
  • How often do you eat out and where?
  • What makes it easier for you to eat healthier? What makes it harder?

Move in a Typical Week

  • How much of your commute is spent walking or biking?
  • How much time do you make for physical activity around the house, such as walking the dog, cleaning the house, or gardening?
  • How often do you dedicate 30 minutes per day for physical activity, such as walking, biking, or swimming?
  • What are your favorite ways to be active?
  • What makes it easier or more enjoyable for you to move more? What makes it harder?

Set a Weight Loss Goal

With your starting point in mind, set a weight loss goal. If you are overweight and have prediabetes, shedding just 5% of your weight can help reverse prediabetes.

Here’s an example to help calculate a weight loss goal of 5%.

Action Example
Example to calculate a weight loss goal of 5%
Weigh yourself first thing in the morning for the most accurate results and record the number 240 pounds
Determine 5% of your current weight. Take off the last digit of your weight: 24
Divide in half: 12
To lose 5%, a 240-pound person would need to lose 12 pounds.
Subtract that number from your current weight to determine your goal weight. 240
– 12
228

A 240-pound person’s goal weight would be 228 pounds.

Now that you’ve assessed your habits and preferences around eating and being active and have set a healthy weight loss goal, you’re better prepared to hit the road on your way to wellness.

First Stop: Make a Nutrition Plan for Healthier Eating

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Winning Habits: Make over your meals with a plan, the right ingredients, and life hacks.
recipe book

Make a plan.

You’ve probably noticed that someone who follows a popular diet plan might quickly lose weight, but has a hard time keeping it off long term. This is common and discouraging, so let’s design a plan that you can follow for life. It doesn’t need to be popular or have a name.

Your plan only needs two key ingredients to work:

  1. It should be based on healthy eating.
  2. It should be something you can keep doing.

People often need to try different things to create a plan that works for them. Some may cut back on sugar and eat more protein to stay fuller longer. Others may focus on crowding out unhealthy food with extra fruits and vegetables. Still others take the guesswork and temptation out of life by sticking to just a few breakfast and lunch choices that they know are nutritious. The details will depend on what you like and what fits in best with your life.

Eat well. Good food in the right amounts does so much more for you than just helping you lose the pounds; it helps you feel better and even think better. All good things! Read more in our Eat Well section.

Some basics to get started:

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Choose these foods and drinks more often:

  • Non-starchy vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, and spinach
  • Fruits
  • Lean protein such as fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, eggs, and yogurt
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and steel-cut oatmeal
  • Water and unsweetened beverages
red check for don't eat these

Choose these foods and drinks less often:

  • Processed foods such as packaged snacks, packaged meat, chips, granola bars, sweets, and fast foods
  • Trans fat, found in things such as margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods, and many fried foods
  • Sugary drinks such as fruit juice, sports drinks, and soda
  • Alcohol

For more ideas, see 12 Tips for Healthy Eating.

Master Portion Sizes

Size it up: get a handle on portion size. Most of us don’t know just how much we’re eating. One way to help manage portion size is by using the plate method. If you’re not using a plate, this “handy” guide will help you estimate portion size

Choose the Best Foods: Decoding Food Labels, Eating a Healthy Variety, and Quality Calories

food nutrition label

Use the Nutrition Facts label to make healthier choices.

Put foods that don’t have labels first on your grocery list. Visit the produce section to stock up on fresh veggies and fruit. (Just watch out for packaged food tucked away between the apples and asparagus, such as salad toppings and snack foods.) Then, shop the outside aisles of the store for dairy, eggs, and lean meat. Some packaged food will be on your list. Use the Nutrition Facts label to see how many calories and grams of carbs, sugars, and fat are in the food you choose.

Eat a variety of healthy foods. Eat all kinds of different foods from the major food groups: veggies, fruits, grains, dairy or dairy alternatives such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and other products made from soy, almonds, and cashews, and lean protein. Eating a variety of foods helps to make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need. You don’t need to eat all food groups at each meal.

Count what counts.

Don’t get too hung up on calories, but definitely count them in. Cutting calories from your meals and adding physical activity to your routine can help you lose weight. But don’t cut back too far. If you get too hungry, you won’t stay on your plan. And remember, if you’re more active, you’re burning more calories.

The National Institutes of Health offers an interactive Body Weight Plannerexternal icon that can help you determine the number of calories you should eat each day to get you to your goal weight and to maintain it.

Make Work, Home, Grocery Stores, and Restaurants Work for You

  • Take the work out of eating at work.
    Bring a healthy lunch from home instead of eating out. Keep fruit and vegetables in the fridge at work for snacks. Package high-power snacks like nuts in small containers so you don’t eat too much.
  • Make home your healthy place.
    Cook while you’re doing another enjoyable activity, such as listening to music or catching up on your favorite show. Keep a few healthy snacks on hand in case food cravings hit.
  • Create a grocery store game plan.
    Shop on a full stomach so you’re not tempted to buy unhealthy food.
  • Restaurants: Order with ease.
    Decide what you’re going to order before you go to a restaurant so you’re not tempted by the look and smell of less healthy choices.

Download the complete list of tips pdf icon[PDF – 38 KB]

Keep Moving: Set a Fitness Goal for Healthier Movement

pair of colorful tennis shoes

Get active. Our bodies are made to move, and we feel better when we do. That said, getting started can be a challenge. One thing is for sure—you won’t stick with something that you don’t like doing, and you shouldn’t have to.

There are lots of ways to get moving; for example, walking is a great physical activity, and just about anyone can do it. Just be sure to check with your doctor about which activities are best for you and if there are any you should avoid.

So, set a goal that works for you! And gradually work up to being active at a moderate intensity at least 150 minutes per week. One way to do this is to aim for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Moderate-intensity activities are those that make you breathe harder and make your heart beat faster, such as a brisk walk. Below is an example goal chart.

Example activity chart
Goals: Number of days a week being active: How many active minutes each time: Total number of active minutes each week: Goal date:
My physical activity goal for now: 3 20 60 March 1
My intermediate physical activity goal: 4 30 120 April 15
My ultimate physical activity goal: 5 30 150 May 31
check mark for make a fitness plan
Make a Plan! Put it on the calendar and choose the same time or location for your daily activity. The more regular you are being physically active, the quicker it becomes a habit.

Track Your Progress: Watch Yourself Succeed With a Few Easy Steps

ipad and notebook

The best way to stick with your goals and keep building on them is to measure them! Research shows that people who keep track of their food, activity, and weight reach their goals more often than people who don’t.

There are lots of free tracking apps for your phone or tablet. Good old-fashioned pen and paper work too. Some people swear by taking photos of everything they eat and drink to keep them accountable.

Download an example log pdf icon[PDF – 36 KB]

Prepare for the Long Run: Get Support and Look Ahead

supporting hands

Get support.

Share your healthy goals and why they’re important with your friends and family. Having their support and encouragement can help you stay on track.

Consider these few examples of support:

  • Ask if a friend would like to walk with you after dinner.
  • Invite your kids to cook a healthy meal with you, or make a date night out of cooking with a partner.
  • Talk to friends about struggles you’re having and ask if they have advice.
  • Share your successes with people you can trust to encourage you.

Who knows, you could even be helping someone you care about prevent type 2 diabetes along with you.

Go online.

There are lots of free online resources that can boost your motivation and confidence too. A quick Internet search will show you no-cost communities with people who share your goals and challenges, and who could learn from your experience (and you from theirs). If you share your health goals with others, you’ll be more likely to stick to them.

Remember, your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner can help you meet your goals.

If you retake the risk test and find that you’re at a higher risk, or just feel like you’re struggling and not seeing the results you want, consider asking for your health care provider’s advice and direction. They could also refer you to specialists, such as a registered dietitian or mental health counselor, who can help you deal with a specific challenge. If you have prediabetes, ask your doctor if joining the National DPP might be a helpful step for you.

Look ahead.

We hope this guide has helped you get started down the road to not only preventing type 2 diabetes, but also having more energy, better checkups, and better mental health.

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Making lifestyle changes can take time, but if you add in small steps towards your goals every week, you can start to make living healthy a habit.

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Page last reviewed: August 10, 2021