12/14/2012 08:33 am ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Don't Wait to Prevent Diabetes: Start Today With 3 Easy Ways

With the holidays upon us, it might be easy to tell yourself to wait till the New Year to work on your diet, exercise plan or lifestyle. However, there's a good reason to start your plan today, and it's not about looking better in your clothes.

Why start now? Two words -- beta cells. These are the all-important cells that manufacture insulin in your pancreas. Once you get diagnosed with diabetes, at least 35-50 percent of your beta cells are dysfunctional or gone, and there's no turning back.

Everyone is born with a set amount of beta cells at birth. Lifestyle choices determine whether these cells function at their highest levels. Some people are born with defective beta cells, but lifestyle can still dramatically change whether they are diagnosed with diabetes or not.

Thomas Buchanan, M.D. from the Keck School of Medicine at USC studies what drives beta cells to wear out and what preserves them. His studies show that beta cells need to "rest" to prevent or reverse diabetes.

Weight loss allows this important resting process to happen. Even 10 pounds less gives the beta cells a nap, delaying or eliminating a diabetes diagnosis.

What drives and makes them wear out or die? Weight gain, lack of activity/exercise and a high-carbohydrate diet. These are all within your control.

You can make a difference starting today! Don't use the holidays as a reason to indulge! You can control food obsessions with these three easy changes:

1. Have protein at every meal and snack time, and avoid processed, boxed carbohydrates. Limit your carbs to non-manmade ones (fruits, veggies, squash, yams, nuts/seeds, etc.) Your diet can make a huge difference in resting beta cells.

2. Exercise for 30 minutes per day at least five times per week. A brisk walk is all that's needed. You can start by just walking around the block.

3. Lose 10 pounds if you are overweight. Consider making changes -- a balanced diet, exercise, sleep and mindful eating will help you lose the 10 pounds.

Small, reasonable changes can add up to a lot of benefits in your future. Incremental adjustments can ensure the earthquake of a diabetes diagnosis never happens to you. It is much easier to nurture and water your garden regularly rather than trying to revive it once it has already withered away!

Susan is the author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian. Her new book Healthy You, Healthy Baby: A mother's guide to gestational diabetes is now available. For more information, visit

For more by Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., click here.

For more on diabetes, click here.