Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Diabetes on the Job

by Laura Hieronymus, MSEd, RN, BC-ADM, CDE

Brown-bag meals. The best option for eating healthfully at work may be to bring food from home. This allows you to control what you eat, how the food is prepared, and how large your portion sizes are. It may save you money, as well. To keep your food cool, use the workplace refrigerator, or purchase an insulated lunch bag and reusable freezer packs. If you have a microwave at work, you can also prepare hot meals in minutes.

Healthy snacks. Whether or not you make snacks a regular part of your meal plan, it is a good idea to keep some healthy snacks at work to tide you over when the need arises. If you have access to a refrigerator, you might choose to bring in items such as fruit, yogurt, or carrot sticks. Nonperishable items such as granola bars, nuts, and rice cakes can be stored in your desk or locker.

Having snacks handy will help you to avoid hitting the vending machine or eating “treats” brought in by coworkers when you’re hungry or are in a hurry. It is a good idea to prepackage your snacks into the portions you desire so you can avoid overeating, especially while preoccupied with work.

Physical activity
If your job includes physical labor and/or significant amounts of walking, it may be helping to keep you fit. As you know, physical activity is an important part of a diabetes treatment plan. You can evaluate the effect of your on-the-job activity on your blood glucose level by monitoring it during the day. You will benefit by keeping records of your blood glucose levels and discussing them with your diabetes care team to decide whether any adjustments, such as lowering your diabetes medicines on highly active days, are needed.

People who primarily sit at work will want to figure out when during the day they can get up and move around. Using breaks to walk up and down the stairs or walking a few laps around the building during lunch may help offset higher blood glucose levels from lack of movement while you work. Try to squeeze in at least three 10-minute sessions of moderate activity a day for a total of 30 minutes daily. When you meet with your diabetes care team, discuss the nature of your job, your activity level at work, and how best to meet your physical activity goals during or outside of work.

Work hours
Managing diabetes requires learning to balance the effects of eating, physical activity, and usually one or more blood-glucose-lowering medicines. One of the necessary steps toward achieving this balance is learning how your diabetes medicines work — and knowing when they are likely to be working most effectively at lowering your blood glucose. This helps you to time your eating and exercise so that neither disrupts your blood glucose control. At work, however, your personal needs also have to be balanced with the needs of your job.

If you have flexibility in your schedule, try to plan meetings or intensive projects for times other than when you need to eat or perform other parts of your diabetes treatment plan. If you don’t have much flexibility, you may want to discuss your break times with your manager so they can be scheduled for times that work well with your diabetes regimen.

If you work long hours (more than 7 or 8 hours a day), you may need to plan for two meals at work, rather than just one, as well as more blood glucose monitoring, taking medicines, and finding a way to work some activity into your day.

Working an evening, night, or rotating shift can be particularly challenging when it comes to diabetes control. This is in part because shift workers tend to get fewer hours of sleep overall than do people who work regular daytime hours. In addition, figuring out the best times to sleep, eat, and exercise can be difficult. In general, you will still need to match your diabetes medicines to your meals, no matter when those meals occur.

It’s a good idea to speak to your diabetes care providers about managing your diabetes if you do shift work. It can also help to keep detailed written records of when you’re sleeping, eating, exercising, and taking medicines and what your blood glucose levels are at these times. This can guide you and your care providers in making adjustments to your regimen.

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Also in this article:
Resources for Workers
Take-Away Job Tips



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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