“You have Type 2 diabetes.” Those words from your doctor can be scary and confusing. You probably have a lot of questions. How bad is it? Do I need insulin shots? What can I eat? What can’t I eat?
Stop and take a breath. There are lots of resources to help you figure out what it means and what to do.
The first thing to know is you are not alone. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, a number that has more than tripled in the last 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of those, 90 to 95 percent have Type 2 diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin the way it should, so blood sugar is high. About 5 percent of diabetics have Type 1 diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make insulin, causing high blood sugar.
The most important step a new Type 2 diabetes patient can take is to make sure you fully understand the disease, says Dr. Evelyn Lacuesta, an endocrinologist and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan medical director. Learn what it means, how it can affect your body now and in the future, and what you can do to control it.
“The No. 1 thing is education,” Lacuesta says. “No. 2 is ask your doctor to explain your medication and why you are being put on it. And No. 3 is to understand that it doesn’t matter how many pills you take — if you don’t follow a diet regimen, you won’t be able to control your blood sugar. The medication can only work so much.”
Get in the Kitchen
Your doctor may suggest you talk to a registered dietitian to figure out your new diet plan. If you need to lose weight, the dietitian or your doctor will talk to you about how much you need to lose and how to do it safely. Often it takes just a small loss to see benefits.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has information and recipes on its website, diabetes.org. You can find many resources to help maintain your diet, like the Create Your Plate tool. It allows you to enter your food choices to see how to balance them for a healthy meal.
Here are the ADA’s recommendation for a healthy diabetic meal:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, peppers and tomatoes.
- Fill one-quarter of the plate with a protein, such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs or cheese.
- Fill one-quarter of the plate with a small portion of grains or starch, such as rice, pasta, potatoes or tortillas.
- Add a serving of fruit or dairy, if your eating plan allows for it.
Another important part of taking control of diabetes is exercise. When you are active, your cells are better at using insulin and removing glucose, or sugar, from the blood. That can improve your average blood glucose levels (measured by a blood test called A1C).
Being active also has these and other benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Burns calories to help you lose or maintain weight.
- Increases your energy for daily activities.
- Strengthens your heart and improves your blood circulation.
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program, especially if you aren’t a regular exerciser. Keep in mind that low blood glucose can occur during or after physical activity, so be sure to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels while working out.
Not sure where to start? The ADA says your best bet for getting started is to simply take a brisk walk. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise at least five days a week (for a total of at least 150 minutes per week). If you’re new to exercise, you can start small and work your way up. Spread your activity out over at least three days during the week, and try not to go more than two days in a row without exercise.
A diabetes diagnosis can be scary, and you may not be sure what to do next. But if you communicate with your doctor regularly and create a plan you can live with, life might not change as much as you think.
Use your ABCs to stay on track.
Manage your diabetes with the ABCs. A is for the A1C test that shows your average blood glucose level over the past three months. Keep it in a healthy range. B is for blood pressure, and C is for cholesterol. Keep them in check. S is for stop smoking. Both smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels. Narrow blood vessels make your heart work harder. Working on your ABCs can help lower your risk for a heart attack, stroke or other diabetes problems.
Sources: Living with Diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2017; Type 2 Diabetes, CDC, 2018; Type 1 Diabetes, CDC, 2018; Managing Diabetes: Sick Days, CDC, 2015; Create Your Plate, American Diabetes Association, 2016; What We Recommend, American Diabetes Association, 2015; Diabetes Diet, Eating and Physical Activity, Managing Diabetes, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2016