How This Registered Dietitian Helps Her Clients—And Family Members—Struggling With Type 2 Diabetes

One thing she teaches her clients: There's no such thing as "good" or "bad" foods.

Kim Rose grew up playing soccer—but it wasn't until high school that she started to notice how her diet was affecting her playing. That's when she started to experiment.

"Before games, I decided to not eat any foods with any carbs in them," Rose, now 35, tells Health. "It was a lot of protein and salads with non-starchy vegetables. The next game, I'd eat something that was rich in starches, like pasta or a sandwich, and then I would compare how my body felt."

The results surprised Rose. "I would feel more tired during the game if I didn't have any carbs, and I realized that the body actually needs carbohydrates for performance," she says.

But while she was paying attention to what she put into her body—and how she felt after—she couldn't say the same for the rest of her family. "We moved from Jamaica to Florida when I was really young, and my family didn't really raise my brother or [me] to be health conscious," she says. "They wanted us to be active and were very into sports, but food-wise, the main focus was eating traditional Jamaican dishes."

When the time came for Rose to pick a major in college, she went with her first love: sports—but she soon changed her mind to something that could help more people. "I was doing my undergraduate work and it dawned on me that not every needs a physical therapist," she says. "I started thinking about the impact I wanted to make, I tried to focus on something that could help everyone and anyone."

That's when she decided on nutrition. "Food is something everyone needs," she says. "It's something that brings people together." But it would become much more personal to her when her family members started developing type 2 diabetes.

According to Rose, who's now a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, her cultural cuisine likely played a big role in the type 2 diabetes diagnoses in her family. "A lot of the traditional foods from Jamaica were rich in starches and then when you add in the starches that are prevalent in American cuisine, it's no wonder that people started developing type 2 diabetes," she says. "Seeing this pattern only served to fuel my passion for helping people improve their lives by improving their diets."

But, as Rose soon found out, improving someone's diet usually focuses on more than just food choices. "One way that I encourage people to show themselves kindness around their choices is that food doesn't have any morals attached to it," she says, speaking of her family members and clients who have a tendency to beat themselves over making the "right" food choices. "Food is just food," she says. "There is no good food and bad food."

She also found that it's important to keep a person's culture in mind when working with them on food choices—and that forbidding favorite foods (and encouraging a salad-only diet) wouldn't lead to sustainable success. "One size does not fit all when it comes to eating with type 2 diabetes," says Rose.

Instead, she regularly recommends what's known as the Healthy Eating Plate Method, courtesy of Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which recommends half of your plate consisting of fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate as grains, and the last quarter made up of protein.

"This method allows people to mix and match food they like," says Rose. "So if you don't like fish you can sub out a lean meat as a source of protein. If you don't like potatoes, you aren't forcing yourself to eat potatoes. This gives people a chance at building more sustainable habits because your food shouldn't taste like cardboard and sadness."

Still, with so much bad information out there, it can be hard for Type 2 diabetics to feel like they aren't being shamed for making the wrong choice. Especially when it comes to consuming sugars.

"One of the first things I recommend to people with Type 2 diabetes is to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables to make sure we are getting enough fiber. And while yes, fruit does contain sugar, it also contains vitamins, fiber and other nutrients the body needs to function properly."

Just like she did on the soccer field, Kim has learned that knowing how the food you eat impacts your body goes a long way in helping people make changes. Part of her job is empowering people to make their own choices by educating them.

"Knowledge is power, when it comes to health and so I try and explain some of the issues that diabetes can cause down the road. Things like blindness and kidney failure. Then we discuss whether or not they are experiencing any of those issues or complications. I also let people know that I'm not there to take away their favorite foods. I'm there to help guide them to make changes that can help avoid some of the negative outcomes associated with unmanaged diabetes."

In addition to providing the framework for clients with Type 2 diabetes to make changes in their diets, Kim also provides motivational support in the form of postcards.

"I received a post card from a client five years saying how much I had helped them. Since then, they send a post card every year and it made me realize how much that little bit of validation motivated me. So now, I will send postcards to people checking in with them, encouraging them to keep up the good work, or simply opening the door for them to feel like they can reach out if they are struggling."

Kim has seen firsthand with her family members how hard it can be to manage Type 2 diabetes. She also knows how all the noise out there can be overwhelming, particularly when it comes to social media and the influx of fad diets claiming to "fix" your condition.

"Type 2 diabetes is not your fault. And the best way to move forward is to take a breath, then reach out a trained health care provider who understands your condition and can help you get on track."

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