How can I get my father with diabetes to eat appropriately?

1 answer | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 70-year-old dad, recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, lives on junk food. What can I do to help him eat better?

Expert Answers

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

What you describe is very common in people with type 2 diabetes who don't want to face the disease. In this situation it's best to help your father take small steps toward change, lead by example, and offer your support.

Start by asking him what he is willing to do to make his diet healthier. Maybe he'll agree to add one serving of vegetables to his dinner. Or perhaps he'll promise to limit sweets to just once a day. Or maybe he'll concede to replacing fruit juice with a piece of fruit. You also want to find out why the junk food is in the house. Is it convenience? Habit? Or does your dad think it's too much effort to prepare a nutritious meal? Maybe he never learned to cook. Such scenarios are all potential barriers to your dad making better food choices.

But they're not insurmountable. Many supermarkets carry chopped vegetables, making it relatively easy to whip up a simple, healthy meal. Gourmet grocers offer nutritious prepared meals that take mere minutes to fix -- minus the trans fats and extra sugar, salt, and calories found in most fast food. Help your father check food labels to find the healthiest choices. For snacking, encourage him to try healthy substitutes such as nuts instead of chips and cookies.

Be patient. If your dad has eaten poorly for years, he's probably not going to start shopping at the farmer's market just because you tell him to. Instead, try modeling a healthy diet by cooking nutritious meals when you visit with him. They don't need to be fancy: Pile stir-fried veggies on half the plate, oven-baked fish on a quarter of the plate, and whole-grain rice on the final quarter. Go grocery shopping together so you can steer him toward healthier choices, or arrange to have meals delivered that he enjoys and that meet his dietary needs.

His diabetes educator can also be a great resource. It's important for your father to attend diabetes education classes, if he hasn't already. If possible, attend classes with him. He should also meet with a registered dietician.

Finally, finding a support group in his local community or online could work wonders. He's more likely to listen when a peer or a professional tells him why he should watch what he eats than when his own child -- even a grown child -- gives him the same advice.