Learning that you have diabetes can be extremely overwhelming. It can be very hard to know where and how to start making lifestyle changes. Many of my newly-diagnosed clients come to me asking for a comprehensive list of all the things they need to do to improve their numbers. But while it’s wonderful to be proactive, you don’t need to try and change everything at once.
If you recently found out you have diabetes and don’t know where to start making a change, here is a list of do’s and don’ts that I share with my clients who are newly-diagnosed:
DO: Get informed on the basics
Attempting to jump start your diabetes management plan before you understand your condition is like jumping into a swimming pool before learning how to swim. I know it can be easy to panic when you’ve first been diagnosed, but in order for you to know what changes will make the biggest impact, you need to have a firm grasp on what causes diabetes, what measures should be taken to manage it, and what can help to prevent associated risks. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for a thorough overview of your condition or schedule some one-on-one time with a Certified Diabetes Educator or Registered Dietitian. Many of these professionals should be able to break down the complexity of diabetes into simpler terms and explain things like why it’s important to get an HbA1C reading, as well as check your blood sugars at home regularly.
DO: Learn what affects your blood sugars
Most people know that what we eat and how active we are plays a role in diabetes management, but did you know that things like caffeine and stress may also influence your blood sugars? Learn what factors may be affecting your blood glucose values by keeping a journal or log that keeps track of blood sugar readings and factors that might be affecting them, like what you ate, when you exercised, how stressed you were that day, etc. Use these trends to figure out what might be most affecting your blood sugar readings. Do you notice a blood sugar surge in the mornings? Do you see a large spike at night after your evening snack? Do you eat at consistent times during the day or go long hours between meals? Learning what specifically affects your blood sugar values can help you to better tailor your diabetes management plan without continual trial and error.
DO: Seek support
Many of my clients who have been most successful at managing their diabetes have some type of support system in their life. Several studies have shown that having some kind of support system, whether it be family, friends, a health coach, or a behavioral health counselor, can drastically improve an individual’s ability to manage their diabetes.
If you feel like you could use a boost in support, ask your primary care provider about local support groups where you might find peers who may be able to relate to what you are going through. Or seek out a mental health professional that can help you sort through the many emotions you may be feeling since your diagnosis.
Keep in mind that having high stress levels can heavily impact blood sugars, so the more you attention you give to stress management, the closer you are to better diabetes management.
DON’T: Get all of your information from the internet
While it may be tempting to Google search a “cure for diabetes,” the amount of misinformation circulating on the internet makes this approach quite risky. When looking online, stick with credible sites with evidence-based research to back up their claims. When in doubt, discuss an article with your primary care provider or ask your doctor or dietitian for credible sources of information that you can rely on when you have a burning question.
DON’T: Jump on a bandwagon diet
This typically goes hand-in-hand with avoiding untrustworthy sources of information. There are countless diet plans available online, many of which promise extreme weight loss in very little time or were invented by folks with little professional background in health or nutrition. For those living with diabetes, going on extreme diets to lose weight or manage blood sugars can be very dangerous, particularly when they cut out entire nutrient groups like carbohydrates.
When attempting to change your eating habits focus on a more gradual, sustainable approach, like reducing the amount of processed foods you’re eating or increasing your intake of vegetables each day. The most effective diabetic eating plans are rarely “sexy” or dramatic but are easier to maintain, resulting in long-term success, not just a temporary fix.
DON’T: Bite off more than you can chew
Be mindful of how many changes you commit to at once. Avoid making commitments to goals that you know you cannot realistically maintain for the long-term. Too often this leads to goal burn-out, which will make you more likely to resort back to old habits.
The most important thing is to remember is to be patient with yourself. Learning you have diabetes can be a scary time, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate your current lifestyle and see where there is room to start making some changes to make for a healthier, livelier version of yourself.