What Diabetes Healthcare Professionals Want You to Know
If you have type 2 diabetes, you probably already know that lifestyle changes can make a big difference in how well you manage the condition. Good health habits like getting regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are the cornerstones of type 2 diabetes management. But these habits can be difficult for anyone to maintain over time, and that’s where a certified diabetes educator (CDE), registered dietitian, or diabetes nurse may be able to help. These professionals work to motivate, teach, and support those with diabetes, and they’ve learned what really helps from working with countless people who have the condition. Here, diabetes pros share their top tips for successfully managing type 2 diabetes.
Start Small With Lifestyle Changes
It may seem daunting to overhaul your lifestyle, but you don’t need to make big changes all at once. “People get scared when they hear ‘diet’ or ‘exercise.’ They think deprivation or hours at the gym,” says Diana O’Keefe, RN, CDTC, CDE, clinical coordinator with the Diabetes and Endocrine Institute at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey. “For someone who doesn’t exercise, we ask them to walk for 10 minutes, three times a week. … This motivation leads to healthy habits, which ultimately leads to better diabetes management.”
Remember, too, that any extra movement helps meet your exercise goal. Robert Gabbay, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, says that “parking your car farther away from the mall or taking the stairs instead of elevators also adds up throughout the day.”
Fool-Proof Your Medication Schedule
With everything else going on in your life, it might be hard to remember to take your diabetes medication on time — but doing so is crucial to diabetes management. “Not taking medication at the right dosage or time is one of the biggest problems in type 2 diabetes care. People don’t ‘feel’ sick, so they sometimes don’t take their insulin or other medications,” says Maria Elena Rodriguez, RD, CDN, CDE, diabetes program manager at The Diabetes Alliance of The Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Rodriguez suggests setting an alarm on your phone when insulin or medication is supposed to be taken and keep hitting snooze until you take it. This also works for remembering to test your blood sugar.
Regular Exercise? There’s an App for That
In addition to helping you remember to take diabetes medication, your phone can also help you stick to a more active lifestyle. “I try to get people with type 2 diabetes engaged with smartphone apps, including those that allow you to count steps and compare it to days past,” says Davida F. Kruger, MSN, APN-BC, a nurse and diabetes expert at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and the author of The Diabetes Travel Guide.
Smartphones come pre-programmed with — or allow you to download — apps that can track your physical activity, letting you use your phone as a high-tech pedometer, Kruger says. Other tracking tools, like activity bracelets, can help monitor exercise as well as diet. Some devices also measure sleep, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Not into technology? A good old-fashioned pedometer is a fine way to track your movement and push yourself to get more active.
Avoid Too Much of a Good Thing
In addition to what you eat, it also matters how much you eat — which can be difficult to regulate in our “supersize-me” culture. “You may eat healthier, but it’s all still about portion sizes and how many calories you consume,” Kruger says. “Apples still have 100 calories, so if you eat six, that’s a lot of calories.” An easy way to limit portion sizes: Buy or make individual-serving sizes of snack items. “This will help you avoid things like mindlessly eating an entire large bag of chips before bed,” Kruger says. Also keep healthy low-calorie snacks on hand, like sliced vegetables, low-fat cheese sticks, and other grab-and-go items. If you’re unsure what constitutes healthy portion sizes, talk to a dietitian or CDE.
Do Prep Work at a Restaurant
Going out to eat can make it tough to stick to a good diabetes diet — even if you order a healthy dish, you can likely end up with far more food than you need for one sitting. “If you are planning on going out to a huge dinner, think about what you will order in advance so that you are prepared to make a healthy choice,” Kruger says. Once your food arrives, take some extra precautions. “Many restaurant-sized portions are big enough for two. Either split your entrée with a friend or ask for a box or doggie bag early in the meal and take half of the food home,” she suggests. This can help you avoid the temptation of eating all the food on your plate.
Reach Out for Support
If you’d like to learn more about diabetes management and want the added bonus of meeting others who understand what you’re going through, you might consider taking a diabetes education class or joining a diabetes support group. “Group classes can be incredibly motivating because everyone is talking about the same thing and has the same challenges,” O’Keefe says. “It’s motivating for people to be with others who are also managing their diabetes.” There are also online support groups that allow you to express yourself and share with others who are in the same situation, she says.
When You Fall Off, Get Right Back On
Living with a chronic condition like diabetes means you’re likely to have good days and bad days. On days when you struggle, “Don’t beat yourself up over what you didn’t do,” Kruger says. “No one is perfect, so even if you drank too much or ate one too many desserts, give yourself a pass and start over.” Get back on track as soon as possible to avoid a downward spiral. “If you eat healthier, exercise, and follow your doctor’s orders, you will feel better, look better, and have more energy,” she says. Remember that living with diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint — and every healthy step counts.