- Written by Janis Merrell, Editor of The Good Life
- Published: 15 November 2019
November is National Diabetes Awareness month, and I wish it wasn’t. As someone who has type 2 diabetes, this is the time of year when I want to ignore it completely and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner (and the morning celebratory cinnamon rolls to go with it)…followed by dessert…and leftovers. Plus November is the beginning of the holiday food season. The last thing I want to be reminded of is diabetes!
Having made my protest, remembering to manage one’s diabetes is the key to staying healthy and being able to enjoy as many future holidays as possible. With a healthy future in mind, what follows is some information about the diabetes epidemic, the symptoms of diabetes and its diagnosis, and how to manage diabetes successfully.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2015 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population had diabetes-so if you have diabetes, you are not alone! Of those 30.3 million, 23.1 million were diagnosed and 7.2 million were undiagnosed. Also, diabetes disproportionately affects older adults. Approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 60 have diabetes, and aging of the U.S. population is widely acknowledged as one of the drivers of the diabetes epidemic.
Insulin is a hormone that the body needs in order to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. If you have type 1 diabetes, in which your pancreas does not produce insulin, then you may notice weight loss even though you are eating more food. If you have type 2 diabetes, in which your body doesn’t use insulin properly, you may notice tingling, pain, or numbness in your hands and/or feet. Other common symptoms of either type of diabetes include urinating often, feeling very thirsty and hungry (even though you are drinking and eating), feeling fatigued, having blurry vision, and having cuts and bruises that are slow to heal.
If you are concerned you might have diabetes, your first step is to talk to your physician. They will order an A1C test, which will provide your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months. It is a simple blood test. Learn more about A1C.
If you do find out you have diabetes, don’t lose hope! It can be managed successfully through healthy eating, regular exercise, and managing your medication. If it is type 1 diabetes, it will require monitoring your blood sugar and administering multiple daily insulin injections with a pen, a syringe, or a pump. Learn more about managing type 1 diabetes.
Approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 60 have diabetes, and aging of the U.S. population is widely acknowledged as one of the drivers of the diabetes epidemic.
If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, with your doctor’s guidance you may be able to control your blood sugar levels with healthy eating and exercise, or you may need medication or insulin to fight it. Learn more about managing type 2 diabetes.
There is also gestational diabetes, which affects 10 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. and for which the cause is unknown. Hormones can block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body causing insulin resistance, or the mother’s body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes can still have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Learn more about gestational diabetes.
Once you receive a diabetes diagnosis, whether it is type 1, type 2, or gestational, it is important to focus on healthy food choices, exercise, medication management (if required), and blood sugar monitoring. Talk to your medical provider about resources that can help, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or registered dietitian (RD) to help you figure out what eating plan makes sense for you.
According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2019 Nutrition Consensus Report, everyone’s body responds differently to different types of food and diets, so there is no “diabetes diet,” although it is good for diabetics to include lots of non-starchy vegetables, minimize added sugars and refined grains, and choose whole, minimally processed foods. For “some” in the study, eating no more than 26-45% of total calories from carbohydrates did result in better blood sugars and a reduction in diabetes medications, but please check with your physician to find out if this is the best option for you.
Even losing modest amounts of weight through a healthy diet and exercise can improve your blood sugars and reduce your risk for diabetes complications. It is important to start out slow. Five minutes of exercise is better than nothing, and you are more likely to do it again than if you push yourself too hard. Also, if you are taking insulin, you are at risk for hypoglycemia if your insulin dose or carbohydrate intake is not adjusted with exercise, so you will need to work with your medical team to figure out the best approach for you.
The cost of diabetes medications and blood sugar testing supplies can be stressful to people with diabetes. If you are struggling to pay for insulin, visit insulinhelp.org to find out how to obtain immediate assistance and find a long-term solution. Talk to your medical team about help paying for your medications and supplies, as most pharmaceutical companies offer financial assistance programs to people who need help.
Emotional support is also important for people with diabetes. Caregiver.com suggests talking with your family and friends honestly about the problems you are having dealing with diabetes, including any judgment you might be feeling from others around your diabetes diagnosis. Your loved ones can help you take care of yourself, just as you help them. They can join you in being physically active and help you prepare healthy meals. If you need additional emotional support, please talk to your physician or mental health professional about available options.
Making the major lifestyle changes that diabetes may warrant can be difficult. If this is a concern for you, consider attending a Diabetes Self-Management workshop, such as the one offered by LifePath. These evidence-based workshops are hosted at various community locations and are taught by leaders who usually also struggle with diabetes. They are designed to help you make the changes that are right for you in a supportive learning environment. If a workshop isn’t right for you, we may be able to offer other support to tackle these challenges.