Receiving a diabetes diagnosis can feel scary and overwhelming. You may look through a host of pamphlets and websites devoted to helping you manage the condition and feel like there’s a lot of work and lifestyle change ahead of you.
Take a deep breath: Not only can you manage this disease, but you can do it while still eating normal, delicious food.
Where to Start
The best first step you can take is to connect with a certified diabetes educator. This professional may be a nurse, doctor or nutritionist. They’ll work with you to develop a long-term plan that meets your needs.
“People once assumed that complications of diabetes — blindness, amputation, heart attack, stroke — were going to occur no matter what,” said Diane Doucette, a diabetes nurse educator at Winchester Hospital. “The good news is, with good control, complications can be lessened and hopefully avoided.”
Behavior change is a sure way to mitigate complications. Medications and insulin may also be an essential part of your care plan, but they cannot correct poor diet or lack of exercise. That’s where the diabetes educator comes in.
“My role is to motivate people to make healthy lifestyle changes,” Doucette explained. “Diabetes educators are another tool for people in addition to their doctor. I’m not here to tell people what to do but rather to help them come up with better choices.”
Developing a Long-Term Management Plan
Diet, exercise, medication and regular health checkups are key elements of any long-term plan. Your doctor and a diabetes educator can help you figure out what will work for you.
Receiving a diabetes diagnosis can feel like the end of eating your favorite foods, but it doesn’t have to be. Find a nutritionist or nurse who will work with you to make better choices that still taste good. Do you love vegetables but don’t have time to cook? Explore quick and easy recipes to help you eat more of them. Or maybe you’re just not a fan of fruits and veggies? Look for ways to incorporate them into your favorite meals.
“We know that a rigid meal plan doesn’t work,” Doucette said. “We start with little changes, such as cutting back on sugary drinks and foods, and find out where people are coming from and what they are willing to do. Sometimes, we recommend that people still eat what they love but decrease the portion size and frequency.”
Staying active is another key element to long-term diabetes management. It can be as simple as adding a walk after dinner or trying something more intense like kickboxing. Physical limitations don’t have to stop you from being active. Fitness classes designed for seniors or chair yoga can provide you with gentle, low-intensity exercise.
Doucette also urges people to have regular checkups, including an annual eye exam, foot care, vaccines and a wellness exam to monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and kidney status.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 84 million Americans have prediabetes, and 90 percent of them are unaware they have it. Making similar lifestyle changes can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. You may not need a diabetes educator, but consulting with a nutritionist can help you develop a prevention plan.
You can also use online resources or apps that help you track your exercise and food intake, such as a pedometer, FitBit or MyFitnessPal.
A diabetes diagnosis can be frustrating, but getting help from a certified diabetes educator can give you hope and control. You can avoid or greatly delay the worst complications by being open to making some lifestyle modifications.
Talk to a Lahey Health physician about managing your diabetes diagnosis or minimizing your risk of developing the condition.