While technological advances – think continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps – have improved life for people with diabetes, developing healthy eating habits, exercise, and sleep habits remain decidedly low-tech.
While diabetes educators, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and physical trainers can help you to monitor and better understand your condition, in the end, maintaining good diabetes care is up to you.
And if you’re newly diagnosed, getting a handle on self-care can be a lot.
Although I can’t cure your illness, below are a few observations about the chronic condition, based on years spent sharing a body with this disease.
Blood sugars rise and fall. And sometimes, you have no idea why.
Sure, there are times when you can track a rise to a hot fudge sundae or a low to an extra-long exercise session. But other times, it’s a mystery. My advice: Don’t panic until readings up or down become a pattern over a day or two. What if your sugars dip in the late afternoon? Maybe the space between lunch and dinner is too long and you need a small snack. Are your fasting blood sugars too high? Are you eating too large a dinner too late at night? If you observe a pattern that worries you or that you can’t solve on your own, give your health care professional a call.
As much as possible, aim for consistency.
Life gets in the way: You’re on the road, you get busy with work, and you honestly forget to eat or drink. But as much as possible, try to keep the times you take your glucose readings, eat, and exercise consistent from day to day. Having a set schedule helps you balance your carbs and calories and makes it easier to figure out when – and if – something goes awry.
No one is perfect. You’ll have days when you fall off the diabetes wagon. The trick is to be persistent – dust yourself off and start again the next meal. Also, give yourself a break – an occasional cookie or reasonable serving of french fries will not upend your A1c. Having diabetes can lead to disordered eating or an unhealthy obsession with food, so working in a dessert now or then can be worth it in the long run.
Consider dropping a few pounds.
Yo-yo dieting is bad for your metabolism and your mental health. Extra pounds can interfere with how well your body uses the little insulin it has. Think about losing weight in 3- or 5-pound increments. That way, you can celebrate lots of victories. Forget fad diets or quick loss schemes and find a healthy, well-balanced plan that you can live with.
Adopt a dog or borrow one.
You might not be an athlete, but you can strap on a pair of sneakers and head around the block a few times after meals. It will lower your blood sugars, your blood pressure, and improve your mood. (OK, a dog is optional.)
Having diabetes can be a mixed blessing: Unchecked, it can wreak havoc in your body. But if you take the time to take care of yourself, you might end up becoming the healthiest you’ve ever been. One thing is certain: It’s up to you.
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