When my blood sugar glucose test results exceeded the "normal range" by a mere 0.1 during my second pregnancy, my GP and midwives were hesitant to diagnose me with Gestational Diabetes. Eventually, for my own good and the baby's, they decided to play by the rules and I was immediately booked in to see a dietician as well as a diabetes nurse.
And so came long hours of research into this new condition which I've been diagnosed with, and standing for long periods in supermarket aisles staring at nutritional labels and information.
For the remaining five months of my pregnancy, I dutifully did a prick test four times a day to check my sugar levels and monitored what I ate so I could pick up on recurring patterns. I managed to avoid using insulin injections and went on to have a smooth, uncomplicated vaginal birth for the second time.
If you have recently also been diagnosed with GDM, or know someone who has, I'm here to share with you practical tips that I personally discovered which helped me in my diet-controlled journey with GDM.
1) Rule of Thirds
When you have your appointment with the dietician to plan your meals to manage GDM, chances are they won't be very specific. Either that or you're left with a very sad-looking meal plan that doesn't offer much variety and meal times will become increasingly stressful and unenjoyable for you.
I'm here to tell you to forget the meal plan (sorry, Mr Dietician) and eat whatever you want, but follow a very basic rule - the Rule of Thirds. Make sure your plate/bowl consists of only one-third of carbs (e.g rice, pasta, bread) and two-thirds should be veggies and meat.
This is because carbs are the main source of glucose and they are the culprits that send your blood sugar level spiking up. However, carbs are crucial for baby's growth so it is important not to eliminate them entirely.
For example, if I want a chicken schnitzel burger for lunch, I'll get that damn burger, but just eyeballing the portions, if I can see that the two buns make up more than a third of the burger, I will remove the top bun and eat only the bottom one.
2) 75% is the new 100%
If you're the kind of person who usually eats till she's stuffed and has no room for desserts, you'll need to get into the habit of only eating up to roughly 75% of your full stomach capacity.
When you're constantly eating to a 100%, it's very easy to overeat and thereby send your blood sugar levels shooting through the roof. It's much easier to control your blood sugar levels if you eat till you're JUST starting to feel full (which is usually around 75%) and then wait two hours, take your prick test, and then have a light snack (I call it dessert) to celebrate, which brings me to my next tip.
3) Reward yourself
Many recent studies have shown that the more one deprives oneself of food cravings, the more likely their diet will fail. It is emotionally healthy for you to satisfy your cravings in moderation.
In my case, I gave myself three or four mini rewards every day, once for each successful prick test where my results are within the safe range. Here's an example: For breakfast, I might have a slice of sourdough toast with egg and smashed avo, plus a light coffee. Two hours later I will need to do a prick test, and if the results are good, I might have a quarter of a blueberry muffin to celebrate.
But how much "reward" can you have to avoid a spike in blood sugar levels?
4) 15g carbohydrate = 1 serve
During one of my appointments with the diabetes nurse, she told me that a rough guideline is to keep my carbs to 2-3 serves for main meals, and just 1 serve for snacks. If you look at the nutritional labels, take note of how many grams of carbohydrates are in 1 serve.
For instance, Arnott's Cruskits Rye contains 8.6g of carbs per serve, and each serve is two biscuits. So I can have roughly four biscuits as a snack. Or, if I want a drink with it, I might just have two biscuits, so I have a bit of leeway for some coffee or tea.
Below an image of the cheat sheet, the nurse provided me. You would notice that there is no meat and hardly any veggies on it, that's because meat (or protein), seafood and leafy veggies do not have carbohydrate, so you can have as much of those as you like, hurray steak and salad for dinner!
5) Low, Low, Low
Low sugar, low GI, low carb is the way to go. When in doubt, like choosing between Nescafe Instant Hazelnut or Vanilla Latte, always go with the one with lower sugar and carb content.
Many supermarket foods now come labelled as low GI so you can make quick easy decisions. If you do your shopping online, you can search "low GI" on the Woolworths Online website and it'll show you everything that is labelled low GI. They have also recently added a new feature to their online shopping experience and you can now see nutritional content for every product. Pretty nifty! Wish they had this back when I was pregnant, so I didn't have to look like an idiot picking up every box and staring at its label.
(Wish they had this back when I was pregnant, so I didn't have to look like an idiot picking up every box in the aisle and staring at its label so I can compare and find the best one.)
6) Burn it off
If you've had a big night out and know without a doubt that you've blown your blood sugar levels, I've found that exercising for a solid 20 mins helps bring it right down. I particularly enjoyed swimming, because it's physically less demanding and it's super effective in lowering blood sugar levels.
So for instance, if I had a big dinner at 6pm, I will wait till 7:30pm, then go for a 20mins swim, and then take my prick test at 8pm. In most cases, my sugar levels would become extremely low after a swim, as low as 4.1.
7) Know your triggers
Everyone has slightly different triggers foods which can send a spike in their blood sugar levels. Generally, though, greasy food like most takeaways will be your biggest nemesis. To combat that, you can order extra greens so you're having fewer carbs and also keep your takeaway portions small.
8) There's only so much you can do
At the end of the day, the important thing is to stay happy and healthy. If you're finding managing GDM with a controlled diet extremely stressful, unsatisfying, and not producing results, it could be that you need insulin injections. There is absolutely no risk to the baby if you take insulin injections, although it does mean you will have to be monitored more closely during labour.
I hope you've found the above information helpful. Please bear in mind that these are things that I've personally found to be useful in managing my GDM, but by no means should replace any medical or professional advice given to you by your healthcare providers.
GDM is not an easy condition to manage and does require some sacrifice and discipline. But I like to think of it as a blessing in disguise because it forced me to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle, which is beneficial for both myself and baby.
Here's wishing you a healthy happy pregnancy!