A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of painful injections or a life completely free of ice cream. Rather, it’s a wake up call to ditch destructive lifestyle habits.
When you have diabetes, sugar from food (a.k.a. glucose) that should be shuttled to the cells for energy builds up in the blood instead, wreaking havoc on your nervous system, blood vessels, heart and kidneys, explains Katarzyna Budzynska, M.D., M.Sc., a family medicine doctor with Henry Ford Health. “But when patients pay attention to lifestyle factors, Type 2 diabetes can be very well managed,” she says.
It’s important to get a handle on the condition early, particularly since Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of developing other chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke and nerve damage. Here, Budzynska offers 7 strategies to help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
1. Lose weight. Losing even a small amount of weight — and keeping it off — can improve the way your body responds to glucose. Losing weight has so many beneficial effects on your overall health and wellness. For some people, shedding a few pounds may even be enough to reverse a diabetes diagnosis.
Quick Tip: Load up on whole, unprocessed foods, find ways to move throughout the day (pump some iron, park in the farthest spot away from your destination, and do squats while you’re prepping dinner) and limit processed snacks and sugary beverages.
2. Get enough sleep. Restful sleep is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, and if you're overweight, getting enough sleep can help you lose some pounds. Sleep deprivation can cause you to overeat—and not just because you’re likely turning to sugar for quick energy boosts—but also because certain hormones that control hunger can go a bit haywire, leading to an increased appetite. At least 7 hours each night is recommended.
Quick Tip: For quality sleep, make sure your room is dark and quiet. Keeping the temperature a bit cooler can help you sleep better, too. And limit screen time for at least half an hour before bed—scrolling through your phone or tablet can keep you up!
3. Watch what you eat … When you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes, you may feel like you can never eat cake again. But if you make healthy choices 80 to 90% of the time, you can still make room for your favorite sweets in moderation. Trim portion sizes, cut saturated and trans fats, and swap soda and sweetened drinks for unsweetened, low-calorie beverages. Better yet, drink water.
Quick Tip: Fill half your plate with low-sugar fruits (such as apples, pears and berries) or vegetables at every meal and snack.
4…and when you eat. When you have diabetes, it’s important to eat regularly to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Nosh on small, frequent meals (preferably every 3 to 5 hours) to avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar and to keep portions under better control. A bonus: Eating this way also staves off cravings for “comfort foods.”
Quick Tip: Stash fiber-rich, low-sugar snacks in your glove compartment, desk drawer and pocketbook. Good choices include portion-controlled bags of almonds and trail mix, whole grain pretzels or crackers, whole fruits and raw veggies.
5. Get moving. Exercise is a powerful weapon in any health-maintenance arsenal. Regular exercise can help you shed unwanted pounds, and better equips your body to metabolize sugar. Exercise can also improve cholesterol levels and reduce other risk factors for heart disease (a common complication of diabetes).
Quick Tip: Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Instead, focus on consistency. Go for a walk during your lunch break, squeeze in a set (or two) of push-ups during commercial breaks or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
6. Stop smoking. The toxic chemicals in cigarettes can seriously damage your health, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies suggest smoking thickens the blood and reduces oxygen, slowing blood flow. The upshot: As soon as you quit, your health improves.
Quick Tip: Get help. Talk to your doctor and/or find a smoking cessation program to help you quit.
7. Schedule regular screenings. It’s important to stay on top of your condition with regular visits to your primary care physician. In addition to helping you reach your target blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, he or she can screen you for eye and foot trouble, as well as early signs of kidney disease.
Quick Tip: Ask your doctor for a referral to a diabetes educator, registered dietitian or another health professional who can help you better manage your condition.
While Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, patients can successfully manage it with a combination of medicine and lifestyle changes. Your best bet: Keep track of what you’re doing and how it affects your blood glucose levels. Write down what you eat and when, and make notes about your physical activity. Then test your blood sugar levels to see how your daily habits impact your readings.
“You may discover you don’t even need medication,” says Budzynska. If you do, take heart. Doctors have more pharmaceutical options than ever before to effectively treat the disease, many of which have fewer side effects than earlier generations of these medications.
Dr. Katarzyna Budzynska is a family medicine physician and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown in Detroit.
Henry Ford Health is a partner in the American Medical Group Foundation (AMGF) Foundation’s Together 2 Goal® campaign, a national effort to improve care for 1 million people with Type 2 diabetes.