Diabetes

Q&A With Trista Sutter on Gestational Diabetes

Welcome Trista Sutter to the RD Lounge (RDL)! Trista was the runner-up on the first season of the ABC reality television show The Bachelor before becoming the original star of its companion show The Bachelorette. Watched by more than 30 million viewers, she accepted Ryan Sutter’s proposal on the finale, and they were married on December 6, 2003. Trista’s shocking diagnosis of gestational diabetes during her first pregnancy turned her fairy tale life into a potentially frightening reality. Thankfully, the Sutters now have two healthy children and reside in the mountains near Vail, Colorado. Trista is also the author of Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart, a TedxVail speaker, the lifestyle editor for Beverly Hills Lifestyle magazine, a SheLift board member, as well as the creator of her Grateful Heart collection with GloryHaus.

It was great to see Trista, who’s an ambassador for American Pistachio Growers, speak at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo® in October 2017 on her own experience dealing with gestational diabetes, as well as the results of a new study on the benefits of pistachios during pregnancy. I sat down with Trista to learn more about her struggles with gestational diabetes, experience seeing an RD for assistance, and how she plans her meals today to fuel a healthful, active life for herself and her family.

RDL: What was it like for you when you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during your pregnancy?

Sutter: I was in complete shock. I guess I went into pregnancy like anyone else. Even though I have a pediatric background, treating neonatal ICU babies with genetic issues, I still went into my pregnancy hoping everything would be perfect, and that all would go well. When I completed the glucose tolerance test, I was definitely shocked, even though I have diabetes in my family. I should have thought to myself that it could happen, but I really didn’t think about it. But it wasn’t a shock that I couldn’t handle, especially because I had a meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist almost immediately after my diagnosis. I was able to control it through diet and exercise. I didn’t have to get insulin shots or medication. I really did feel like I could get a handle on it.

RDL: You seem like the model of health, so were you surprised that it could happen to you?

Sutter: It’s important to realize that anyone can get gestational diabetes. It may not seem like a huge percentage; up to 10% of mothers in the United States get it. But that’s a lot of women! You don’t have to be obese or unhealthy; you can be fit and healthy and get gestational diabetes. Even though I definitely gave into my cravings, and I gained 45-50 lbs. On me that’s a lot, because I weigh about 105-110 lbs. I think it’s important for people to know that if you’re going into pregnancy, it starts with you. You have control over what you put into your body. If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, take the necessary steps to do what you can. If it’s in your genes, do what you can. Make good choices before you get pregnant.

RDL: What advice did your RDN give you?

Sutter: My nutritionist told me to make sure my meals are balanced, and to make sure that I had one-third carbs, one-third protein, and one-third fat to balance my plate. I remember being conscious about eating my protein first. If I had carbs, such as bread or a bun, I might choose to eat the protein first and go lower on the carbs, and maybe just a couple of French fries. For me, it was really about balance, and making sure that I was getting that healthful balance at every meal and not overwhelming my system with sugars and carbs. I didn’t have just fruit for lunch; instead I might have yogurt with some fruit and pistachios. I tried to make sure I was getting more fiber. I tried to cut down on sugars and highly processed carbs. I have a big sweet tooth, and you don’t want to be limiting yourself too much when you’re pregnant. But you have to keep you and your baby healthy. When you get that diagnosis, then you have to limit your sugars and processed stuff. Even fruits I had to limit, and I love fruits. I had to learn about what I was eating and what would be good for me.

RDL: How has your glucose control and health been since the birth of your child?

Sutter: Well, my son is 10 years old. And my glucose has been good since then. I’ve had no issues. But I’m still conscious of it, because my father and grandmother have type 2 diabetes. I think that it’s something I still need to be cognizant of. I need to make sure that I keep my added sugars to a minimum. Also, honestly, this incredible experience of working as an ambassador with pistachios has helped me learn about the importance of good nutrition for health. I have to think that good nutritional habits like these are going to be important for preventing type 2 diabetes down the road.

RDL: How have you changed your diet for you and your family since your diagnosis of gestational diabetes?  

Sutter: I have switched to multigrain (whole grains) instead of white bread and this has trickled down to family. I don’t know if my kids have actually eaten Wonder bread, which is what I grew up on. My kids have always had stone-ground multigrain breads, whole grain breads, and I use the organic stuff. I make sure they get their fruits, vegetables, and healthful proteins every day—this is important to us. I think anyone can like raw salads, nuts, or fruit. And their fiber is really important for keeping your body’s digestive system working like it should.

But I’m not perfect. I had back surgery, and six months later I had a seizure, and I couldn’t drive for three months, and didn’t want to burden anyone. I kind of threw everything out of the window then when it came to my eating goals. There are moments when you have to give in to your cravings. We’re humans. You can come around again when you can. You just have to remember what you are doing this for, because you want to be able to keep yourself around and be in good health for your kids.

RDL: What is your fitness routine?

Sutter: I’m into Pilates, and I love doing the classes on reformers, which is more like interval training. I like bar classes. I’m not a big runner. I like to take walks, and I love to go hiking. This is part of our lifestyle in Colorado. I live in Eagle County, which was one of the least obese places in the country. We stay active and fit and get out and enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

RDL: You seem very moderate and reasonable in your approach to fitness. Would you agree with that?

Sutter: Yes! I think it’s bad to take a drastic approach. Any time I’ve found in my life that I limit myself too much and take something away completely, then I crave it and want it more. Moderation is key for everything. Let yourself indulge every now and then. I tend to have a sweet tooth, so maybe I’ll have one cookie instead of five, or a little dollop of ice cream instead of a big bowl. I share dessert with Ryan instead of having one all by myself. There are ways you can enjoy things you love in this life while still making sure you stay healthy.

RDL: What types of foods do you prepare for your family?

Sutter: We are big on yogurt, such as Greek, and with fruit. We usually make something like pasta, enchiladas, and tacos for dinner. I make an almond milk smoothie for myself every morning. The kids usually have hot cereal or muffins. I like to do more healthful stuff during the week such as pumpkin bread or zucchini bread. Ryan will make the kids pancakes and they love that. On the weekends I let them have something special, such as their favorite not so healthful cereal. For lunches they like PB&J, fruit, and yogurt, and I let them have a treat. They aren’t too bad about eating vegetables, we always have salad with dinner—their favorite is a spinach salad with strawberries, nuts, and poppy seed dressing. They like broccoli, asparagus, and avocados. I always give them cut up fruit on the side.

RDL: What is in the future for you? When will we see you again on TV?

Sutter: Keep your eyes open for the premiere of The Bachelor Winter Games. It’s a new show that I will be on—I can’t talk much about it right now. People can also find us on Instagram, which is where I post the most.

Tips for Eating for Gestational Diabetes
Between 23 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, doctors may order a glucose tolerance test. If patients are then diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), there’s no reason for them to be discouraged. GDM develops in pregnant women due to changing hormones and increased demands on the body. While GDM can increase the risk of complications during and after pregnancy for some people, it can be controlled through meal planning and smart food swaps. Changing when and how your clients eat carbohydrate-containing foods can help them control blood glucose levels and prevent complications. Creating a balanced diet with a variety of healthful, nutrient-rich foods from all of the major food groups—lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy foods, nuts, and seeds is the best strategy.

Here are a few of my own tips for eating a balanced diet for gestational diabetes.

  • If you have two slices of toast for breakfast, try replacing one with a lean protein source. Because pregnancy hormones are typically higher during the early morning hours, adding more protein and fiber to your plate is a smart swap.
  • Try enjoying your morning oatmeal with a handful of nuts or seeds. Their fat and fiber helps your body slowly digest the carbohydrates from the oatmeal.
  • Spread out your meals and aim to eat three small to moderate meals, and two to four snacks per day.
  • Enjoy fruit with nut butter or veggie sticks with hummus for a simple afternoon pick-me-up without the blood sugar spikes.
  • Ditch starchy or sweet salad toppings (sweetened dried fruit, croutons, or wonton strips) with protein enhancements, such as baked tofu, nuts, or chickpeas.

— Sharon Palmer, RDN, known as the Plant-Powered Dietitian, is an award-winning author, blogger, and plant-based food expert. She serves as the nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian and is currently studying Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. Visit her at www.sharonpalmer.com.

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