Finding out you that have diabetes means that it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. Your doctor will give you a lot of information, and a simple online search for “diabetes education” yields hundreds of millions of results. Processing all this data can be tough, and even confusing. It’s sometimes difficult to know what to do next.
Diane Doucette, RNC, MSN, a nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator at Winchester Hospital, says that managing your diabetes — early on and in the years that follow — starts with these 15 simple, actionable steps.
1. Know your why. Doucette says that the lifestyle changes necessitated by a diabetes diagnosis don’t come easy, and it helps when people connect their actions to a goal beyond just controlling their disease. Do you want to take a trip? Do you want to have more time or energy with your grandkids? It may help to write down your why and put it somewhere you’ll see every day.
2. Make small, short-term goals. You don’t have to change your entire diet or lifestyle overnight. Set small goals for each day, like getting in 5,000 steps or drinking three more glasses of water.
3. Celebrate the incremental milestones. Maybe you have a long way to go toward losing weight or changing your eating habits. It doesn’t always happen overnight. Reward yourself when you reach a goal or establish a new healthy habit. Consider a movie ticket, a small vacation, a new pair of shoes or other non-food rewards.
4. Eat the right carbs. Carbohydrates (like sugar), refined flours and even starchy vegetables (like potatoes) raise your blood sugar and are more likely to cause the spikes you’ll want to avoid. Opt for whole grains and complex carbs instead.
5. Get in five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. An easy way to do this is to make sure that you’re getting at least one serving of fruit or vegetable with breakfast and lunch, two at dinner, and another serving as a snack or dessert.
6. Control portions. “Ninety percent of weight loss is what you put in your mouth,” Doucette said. And it’s not just what you eat, but how much. Keep your plate balanced: Fill half of it with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with protein, and the last quarter with whole grains.
7. Eat tasty food. Yes, you’ll have to limit how much you eat of certain foods and cut others out entirely. But that doesn’t mean your meals have to be bland and boring. Experiment with spices and cooking techniques to find foods you enjoy. For example, roasted carrots are much sweeter than raw or boiled carrots. Cinnamon adds sweetness without adding sugar.
8. Lose weight. Many people with diabetes need to lose weight to adequately control their disease. It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t see results right away, so start small. What may seem like a small weight loss to you could make a huge difference.
“Even 5 to 10 percent weight loss can lead to improved outcomes,” Doucette said.
9. Exercise regularly. Get moving. Adults should get 30 minutes of exercise per day, or 150 minutes per week. Take a walk or a swim, or go for a bike ride. Start with a reasonable goal and work your way toward doing more.
10. Track your fitness. Apps, watches and fitness trackers may give you greater success by allowing you to see what you’re doing in real time and by helping you set and achieve goals. You could also go old-school and begin a food journal with a pen and some paper.
Mind Your Health
11. Consider medications. Doucette says that she sees many patients who are reluctant to take medications. However, oral medication may work better when you start them sooner. You may even be able to stop taking them once you have your blood sugar under control with lifestyle behavior changes.
12. Know your numbers. Doucette recommends getting your A1C levels tested two to four times yearly and keeping an annual physical to check your weight, blood pressure and lipids and to undergo any other tests your doctor might recommend.
13. Use the resources available to you. Attend a diabetes education session, meet with a diabetes educator, get meal plans from a nutritionist. Take advantage of whatever and whoever is in your area — friends, family members, support groups — to learn about the disease.
14. Get annual checkups. Keep regular appointments not just with your primary care provider, but with your eye doctor, dentist, podiatrist — whoever you need. Make sure you’re scheduling the annual visits you need to keep a handle on your disease.
15. Forgive yourself. Diabetes is a progressive disease. Even if you achieve your goals and follow your doctor’s recommendations perfectly, it’s still possible that you may end up requiring insulin in the future. This doesn’t mean that you did something wrong. Managing diabetes is a lifelong process, and it’s important to take it day by day and celebrate what you’re doing right along the way.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have had diabetes for years, you can attend seminars or meet with an educator or nutritionist for additional guidance. If you have diabetes, Doucette encourages you to find a provider you trust and can develop a relationship with, someone who will encourage you and celebrate your successes with you.
Need help with diabetes education? Reach out to our Diabetes Center.