Are you struggling to manage type 2 diabetes? As a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist, I understand how overwhelming it can be to manage diabetes. But I have good news! With guidance and a little planning, you can set yourself up for a lifetime of success – and it can be simpler than you imagined.
This post was created in partnership with Med-IQ through an educational grant from Sanofi to allow me to discuss the realities of diabetes as a chronic disease. All opinions are my own.
I have lost count of how many people have come into my office newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes feeling scared, frustrated, and not sure where to start. And I get it. Learning that you have a chronic disease is overwhelming enough. But then learning that the only way to manage that disease is to change your whole lifestyle…from what you eat to how you move each day… that takes it to a new level. And that’s why I wanted to share with you my top tips to manage diabetes for life. I want to show you that it is possible to manage this disease and it doesn’t have to consume you. You just have to have the right game plan in place.
Top Tips to Manage Type 2 Diabetes For Life
More than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, of which 1 in 5 of them don’t know they have it. In addition, over one third of all adults have a condition known as ‘prediabetes’ or insulin resistance, putting them at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Yet 84% of them are unaware they have this condition. The invisibility of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is what make it such a challenge. On average, there is a six-year delay before treatment is started for most people with type 2 diabetes. And during this time period, the uncontrolled blood glucose could be damaging numerous organs in your body and increasing the risk for future heart disease and stroke. This is why early diagnosis along with implementing lifestyle changes and treatment as soon as possible is key in preventing future health complications.
#1 Know Your Numbers:
If you want to best manage diabetes, you have to understand what is going on inside your body. And the best way to do this is by knowing your numbers. Diabetes is a silent disease. Even if your feel well and you don’t ‘feel any different’ with elevated blood sugar, damage is still being done. Which is why it is so important to make the invisible visible in order to best manage diabetes. And you do that by knowing your knowing your ABCs:
- A: Get a regular A1C test to measure your average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months; aim to stay in your target range as much as possible.
- B: Try to keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg (or the target your doctor sets).
- C:Control your cholesterol
- s: Stop smoking or don’t start.
#2 Build a winning diabetes care team
Don’t try to manage diabetes on your own. Just like successful companies creating winning teams of employees to help them achieve their goals, diabetes management is no different. You are the CEO of your own body and no one is more invested in your health than you. Which is why you need to ‘employ’ a team that will support you and guide you to success.
Who should be on your diabetes care team?
Think of your diabetes care team like individual puzzle pieces. Each member of the team fills a specific role in piecing together the ‘puzzle’ that is diabetes management. Your primary care physician, endocrinologist, podiatrist, ophthalmologist, registered dietitian, diabetes educator, and mental health professional all offer unique insight to the management of the disease. Working together with a team and building a strong relationship with each member can ensure you have the highest level of care while setting yourself up for the best chance of success.
And remember, the earlier you create your team the better, especially when it comes to determining the best medication management for your individual needs. If you ever look at the list of available medications for managing type 2 diabetes, it can feel overwhelming. But you don’t have to panic. You physician is there to help fit the medication with your needs. What is even more exciting is that there are now extremely effective combination therapies that can tackle many of the alignments of diabetes that you can discuss together to see if they are right for you.
#3 Prepare in advance for every appointment
It may sound overwhelming to have so many members on your ‘diabetes team,’ but each plays an important role. That is why planning and preparing for appointments with each team member in advance is key to make the most of their services and your time.
Think about the last time you visited your primary care physician (PCP). Generally, these visits are pretty short. Most likely, you had less than 15 minutes of one-on-one time with your doctor. Which means the doctor has to tackle the most pressing and relevant issues during that limited time. If you came in because you felt sick and were suffering from a lingering cough, your PCP will address the cough. He most likely won’t be able to ask questions about your diet and exercise routine, your foot care, and your current stress levels. So those issues get pushed aside for the main reason you came in. If this was your only appointment, your diabetes management may slip through the cracks.
For this reason, it is best to schedule appointments dedicated to diabetes management specifically with your physician. Ideally, you would schedule these at least every three months. This allows for time dedicated specifically to diabetes management. But that still is just one hour of time dedicated to diabetes in a year. Your PCP cannot cover every aspect of diabetes management in that time or help guide and coach you on making lifestyle change. That’s where the other team member come into play. Working with a dietitian specialized in diabetes can help you to understand the impact nutrition has on diabetes and how to adjust your meal plan to best meet your goals. Working with a therapist can help you to cope with the stressors of living with a chronic disease and working through obstacles that may directly impact the management of your diabetes. Your eye doctor can ensure elevated blood sugar isn’t having a damaging impact on your vision. Your foot doctor can screen for signs of nerve damage caused by elevated blood sugar levels and monitor any cuts or wounds to ensure they are healing properly.
As you can see, every team member has a specific role. And each can help guide you to success. Before each appointment, write down the questions you want to discuss. Bring them with you. And never be afraid to speak up. Your care team is there to support you and the stronger your relationship with each member, the more successful you will ultimately be.
#4 Track all of your progress… big and small
When you think of the goal of diabetes management, what comes to mind? Reaching your morning blood sugar goals? Keeping your A1C level under 6.0% or your recommend target? Achieving your goal weight? There are many goals you can set for yourself both big and small. But remember, you won’t achieve every goal overnight. And if you only focus on the ‘big’ goals like your long term A1C goals or your ideal body weight, it can become frustrating.
Achieving small, simple goals are ultimately what will lead you to achieving larger goals. But if you fail to notice you are achieving these small milestones, you can start to think you aren’t doing enough. And then you may start to wonder why you are bothering at all. To stay motivated, focus on small, simple goals you can achieve each day. It can be as simple as remembering to test your blood sugar each day. Or going for a 10 minute walk. Or keeping a food journal. Or drinking that extra glass of water. Whatever the small goals are, write them down, take time to congratulate yourself over achieving them, and whenever you feel like you aren’t ‘doing enough’ look back and reflect on how much you actually have already achieved. That’s the mindset that will carry you to achieving those larger, long term goals.
#5 Be realistic, not perfect
I think the one thing my clients with diabetes find the most frustrating is that there is no ‘end date’ to managing diabetes. You cannot cure diabetes. But you can manage it. Yet in order to continue to manage it, it means you have to continue to do the hard work. And that can get exhausting. This is why I stress to my clients that you have to be realistic with yourself. You cannot be perfect with diabetes management. And if you strive to be perfect, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Instead, you have to shift your mindset and be realistic about managing diabetes.
To improve blood sugar levels, you have to make lifestyle changes. But that doesn’t mean overhauling your whole life in the course of a week and then trying to stick with those changes. That would be overwhelming to anyone, and you’d only burn yourself out. Instead, you have to focus on what true lifestyle change is. It isn’t about transforming your whole life. Instead, it’s about making changes that are so small, and so simplistic, they barely feel like a change at all. Because these are the changes you will stick with day after day. And that consistency is what will ultimately lead you on the path to success.
As you can see, with a little planning and support you can successfully manage diabetes for life. And I am here to help you along the way. Which is why I would love to invite you to participate & share your input in this anonymous survey by Med-IQ. The survey will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with diabetes and your care team, which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will be used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize and to send a follow-up survey as part of this same initiative.