How to Stress-Proof Your Diet When You’re a Diabetes Caregiver

Between counting the carbs in your loved one’s food, tracking their blood sugar readings and monitoring their medicine, you can get so burned out that healthy eating falls by the wayside. Here’s how to stress-proof your diet.

Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by
Philip Levy, MD

You’d think that taking care of a family member with diabetes would make you more attentive to your own nutrition. All that carb counting, veggie shopping and healthy-meal prepping ought to rub off, no?

Fact is, caregiving and weight gain often go hand in hand. According to a study by Evercare, which provides hospice and palliative care, 6 in 10 caregivers say their eating habits are worse than before they became caregivers. Some lack the time and energy to cook, and instead grab processed, packaged or fast foods. Other caregivers binge or eat unhealthy foods to cope with stress. That habit is doubly bad if diabetes runs in your family, since emotional eating can easily lead to weight gain, and that can activate your genetic tendency to develop the disease.

If caregiving is making a mark on your waistline, take heart. The following strategies can keep you from soothing your caregiving stress with food:

Create a calming menu. To avoid turning to unhealthy fare, stock good-for-you food that can help you handle your stress. Snacking on nuts, such as pistachios and almonds, or eating omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon or tuna, can help keep stress in check. That’s because these foods reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Eat complex carbohydrates, such as legumes and whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta. They’ll promote the production of serotonin, one of the body’s chemicals responsible for regulating mood. Also add to your diet dried apricots and spinach, which boast nutrients, such as potassium and magnesium, that help beat stress.

Break a sweat. Yes, you’ve probably heard this before, but it really is true: Exercise boosts the production of endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. And studies show that people who exercise regularly may be less affected by their stress. Try walking, yoga, swimming or karate.

Distract yourself. Don’t turn to junk food to drown your sorrows. Call a friend, listen to music or read a book. You can even do laundry or take a nap to distract yourself from eating. Research has shown that simply closing your eyes and imagining a tropical vacation can help kill a craving.

April 2013