November is National Diabetes awareness month. If you have diabetes, now is a great time to focus on taking care of yourself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 million American have diabetes; 1 out of 4 people with diabetes don’t even know they have it! Taking care of your diabetes, or “diabetes self-management,” can be a lot of work, and many people who have diabetes feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t help that you might be getting conflicting advice from friends, family, or the internet. Yes, it can be confusing, but don’t give up. While it’s true that there is no cure, you can still manage your diabetes and live a healthy life. You just need the tools and the knowledge. Here are some simple – but important – steps that you can take, starting now, to feel better, gain control, and lead a healthy life with diabetes!
Learn about your condition
With so much information (and misinformation) about diabetes out there, it’s easy to become confused. You might not even know what type of diabetes you have! Start by talking to your doctor or other health care provider. Questions you might ask include:
- What type of diabetes do I have?
- What is the best way for me to manage it?
- Should I be checking my blood sugars?
- What types of medication do I need?
- What are my A1C, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and microalbumin, and what are my goals for these numbers?
- What other tests or exams do I need?
- Do I need to see any specialists?
- Can you refer me to a diabetes program or a diabetes educator?
Tip: Go to your appointment armed with questions; write them down so you don’t forget them! Take your partner, child, or a friend who can write down the answers while you’re talking to your doctor.
Turn to credible sources to learn about your diabetes. A diabetes educator or a dietitian with experience in diabetes management are great sources of information. There might be diabetes classes in your community that you can attend. Consider reliable on-line resources, such as www.diabetes.org (American Diabetes Association), www.diabetesselfmanagement.com (Diabetes Self-Management), and www.diabeticlivingonline.com (Diabetic Living).
Follow a healthy eating plan
It seems so simple to eat healthfully, yet, when it comes to diabetes, experts don’t always agree on the best “diet.” Some promote a lower-carb eating plan, some believe a vegetarian plan is the way to go, and some believe that an eating plan should include a variety of foods. The reality is that there is no single best eating plan for someone with diabetes. Eating with diabetes is not a diet that you follow for a short period of time, only to go off it a short while. Whatever plan you choose, it’s meant to be followed long-term. Working with a qualified expert, such as a dietitian, is one of the best ways to figure out what your eating plan should look like. Maybe it’s lower carb, maybe it’s vegetarian, or maybe it’s a plan that lets you fit in your favorite foods. Your plan should be one that works best for you, based on your food preferences, your culture, your schedule and any other health conditions that you may have.
Tip: Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. Your insurance will likely cover the cost.
Be more active
Physical activity is a key part of diabetes management. But being active doesn’t mean you have to go to a gym. There are lots of ways to be active. You might consider home exercise equipment, such as a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine, or just working out with exercise videos. One of the best ways to instantly boost your activity is to start walking. Most people can walk without too much difficulty. You decide on the pace and the distance. Over time, you’ll be able to go farther and faster. You also don’t need fancy equipment to walk– just a good pair of walking shoes or sneakers. A walking partner helps, too, to keep you motivated and to provide some company.
Tip: If you’re not currently physically active and/or if you have other conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes complications, see your doctor before starting any physical activity regimen.
Check your blood sugar
How do you know how your diabetes is doing? Do you wait until your twice-yearly doctor’s appointments to find out what your A1C (a blood test) is? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to know on a regular basis how things are going? That’s where self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) comes in. Using a blood glucose meter and a lancing device, you can do a fingerstick and find out your blood sugar level in a matter of seconds. Today’s meters are small, quick, and accurate, and lancets are thin and practically painless. Your meter will likely have a “memory” that can store hundreds of blood sugar readings. You can also track your blood sugars in a logbook or with a smartphone app to help your healthcare team see patterns in your blood sugars. This helps your healthcare team determine if any changes in your treatment plan are needed.
Tip: Check with your health insurance plan to see which meters they cover, and get a prescription from your doctor for the test strips.
No one likes to take unnecessary medication. Medications can be expensive and have side effects. However, most people with diabetes need to take medication – if not for their blood sugars, then for a condition related to their diabetes, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. When it comes to type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin to survive. Many people with type 2 diabetes also need insulin. There are a multitude of other medicines for type 2 diabetes, including pills and non-insulin injectable drugs. If you have type 2 diabetes and can meet your blood sugar and A1C targets with a healthy eating plan and physical activity, great! But if you need a medication, don’t question taking it. Remember that medication is a way to help you achieve your blood sugar goals.
Tip: If you’re not sure if your diabetes medicines are working for you, or if you have side effects from taking them (including frequent low blood sugars), talk with your doctor about other options that may be a better fit for you.