If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, your head might be spinning and understandably, you may feel upset. It’s scary to get a diagnosis of any kind of chronic condition. While there isn’t a cure for diabetes yet, don’t let feelings of fear discourage you — there is a lot that you can do to get and stay as healthy as possible, and limit your risk of getting complications.
Many people with diabetes find that making changes to their eating habits is harder than other things they do for their diabetes. Our eating habits and food choices become engrained in us over time, and changing them can seem hard. Here are a few suggestions to get you started or back on track:
Choose healthier carbs.
Carb (carbohydrate) foods have the most impact on your blood sugars. You don’t have to stop eating them, but you’ll likely need to cut back. When you eat carbs, go for whole-grain versions of bread, pasta, and rice. Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, lower-fat milk, and unsweetened yogurt.
Include protein at meals.
Try and sneak some protein into each of your meals to help keep blood sugars more steady. Greek-style yogurt, eggs, poultry, seafood, lean meat, cheese, tofu, and legumes are excellent sources of protein.
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Switch your drinks.
Sugary drinks, like soda, juice, and energy drinks, are loaded with carbs. Move over to drinking more water, seltzer water, unsweetened tea, and sugar-free drinks, instead.
Get on a meal schedule.
Eating meals at about the same times each day can curb hunger and keep blood sugars on a more even keel. If your meals are more than four to five hours apart, think about eating a small snack with protein and no more than 15 grams of carb.
Learn more about healthy eating.
Some people can manage just fine on your own, but if you feel confused or overwhelmed, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. Another option is to scout out diabetes nutrition classes or programs in your community or online.
Being active doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to start training for a triathlon; rather, it includes all of the ways that you move your body — and decrease the amount of time you spend on the couch or your office chair! Making a point to be active every day helps your blood sugars, boosts your mood, wards off other diseases, and can keep you at a healthy weight.
Take that first step.
Every journey starts with a single step. Before you know it, you’ve taken 10,000 steps! Think about walking as a form of activity that you might do. Start off slowly — walk the length of your driveway or march in place during TV commercials. Gradually build up by adding a few more steps each day.
Clean your home.
Don’t underestimate the health benefits of housework. Think of it as a way to manage your blood sugars. Mopping, sweeping, dusting, and vacuuming can burn some serious calories — plus, you’re getting your home clean at the same time!
If you are unable to walk or have difficulty doing so, try chair exercises. There are plenty of videos on YouTube, for example, and you can find a level that is suitable for you.
Boost activities of daily living.
Make the most of moving throughout the day. Climb stairs, stand up when you talk on the phone, park a little farther away from the store. All of these movements help burn calories and can help keep blood sugars in a safe range, too.
Set the timer.
If you are glued to your chair for most of the day, change that by getting up every 30 minutes to move. It doesn’t matter what you do. March in place, do some squats, stretch … all of these activities count toward getting you to better health.
Not everyone with diabetes monitors their blood sugars. Your doctor may have told you that you don’t need to, or perhaps you are scared, not sure how to monitor, or don’t see the value in doing so. Monitoring your blood sugar helps you learn what affects your blood sugars — your food, activity, medications, illness, and stress. It also alerts you to blood sugars that are too high or too low, since you may not always be able to tell what your blood sugars are up to.
Have a chat.
If you aren’t monitoring your blood sugars and aren’t sure how to get started, talk with your provider or ask for a referral to Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES). They can explain how, when, and why to check your blood sugars so that it makes sense.
Check with your health plan.
Your health insurance may have preferred blood glucose meters on their formulary, so it pays to find out what those brands are. This will save you money when it comes to getting test strips. If your plan doesn’t cover meters and/or test strips, check out store brands at your pharmacy or stores like Target or Walmart.
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) lets you know your blood glucose via a tiny sensor inserted under your skin. It measures your glucose every few minutes. CGMs are more likely to be prescribed for those with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes on insulin, so once again, check with your health plan to find out if it’s covered. You also have the option of paying out of pocket, but be prepared for a high cost.
Look at your data.
A key reason for monitoring your blood sugars is to learn how your diabetes is doing on a daily basis. But if you don’t ever look at your numbers, you won’t really know! If you have a hard time understanding your blood sugar data, consider keeping a log, even for a few days, of your food, activity, and diabetes medications. Did you miss a meal one day, or did you forget to take your medication? Have you been ill? All of these events can impact your blood sugars. Finally, talk with your provider or diabetes educator if you’re not sure about your readings. They can help you make sense of them, and also help with tweaking your diabetes treatment plan, if needed.