A diabetes diagnosis often comes with a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. And with all the excess info out there, it can be hard to tell which suggestions are legit and which ones are nonsense invented by the internet.
We’re here to give it to you straight. Combined with a doctor-prescribed treatment plan, there are several lifestyle tweaks you can incorporate to get your condition under control. Here are a few of the most promising:
There’s no way around it: If you’re learning to manage either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you need to monitor your carb and nutrient intake, and prioritize complex carbohydrates over sugary, processed foods.
Your diet should include plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Check out this diabetes-friendly shopping list!
You can also experiment with a low glycemic diet, which involves using the glycemic index to create a meal plan full of foods that take longer to break down into sugar in your bloodstream. We’ve got a full guide for ya right here.
Tracking your numbers is an essential way to stay on top of your blood sugar levels and keep yourself feeling your best. If scribbling grams-per-meal on a napkin throughout the day isn’t your thing, check out helpful nutrition-tracking apps like Fooducate or MySugr, which keep everything organized and can even help you plan your meals.
While protein is a healthy part of every diet, it can be especially helpful for people with diabetes. Not only does protein help stabilize blood sugar (by slowing down the time it takes for your body to digest carbs), but it also keeps you feeling full for longer.
However, before you load up on chicken breasts and protein powder, it’s important to note that those living with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing kidney problems. Too much protein can cause waste to build up in the bloodstream, leading to kidney disease and other issues (eeeek).
That means you should aim to get about 20 percent of your daily calories from protein. So, if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, that would mean no more than 100 grams of protein daily (1 gram of protein equals 4 calories).
Movement is key for managing diabetes and has been found in multiple studies to improve insulin sensitivity (which, FYI, keeps blood sugar stable). Not to mention all the other great benefits of exercise — such as improved mood, weight loss, better heart health, etc.
But how much exercise do you need? Ideally, a mix of moderate-intensity cardio and strength training totaling at least 150 minutes a week.
You can spread that out over several days, but don’t let more than 2 days go by without moving your body. If you’re new to exercise, start small and start slow. Try walking a few extra steps every day while you listen to your favorite podcast or schedule in a yoga class, which has been found to have extra benefits for people with diabetes.
In addition to staying hydrated (not drinking enough water has been linked to high blood sugar), you should also limit your alcohol intake. While there’s said to be no long-term effect on controlling blood sugar, consuming alcohol can increase your risk for low blood sugar — especially if you take insulin.
Over time, excessive drinking can lead to high blood sugar, among other health issues. So, if you do choose to indulge, limit yourself to one drink per day or less (for adult women) and two or less per day (for adult men).
Not only is chronic stress linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but it can also interfere with your ability to manage the condition.
Find ways to keep calm and carry on, whether it’s yoga, meditation, snuggling with your dog, or a hot bath and a good book at the end of a hard day. There’s no “best” way to do self-care, so do what makes you feel good!
You knew this was coming — and that goes for both the real deal and artificial sweeteners. While it was once common practice to recommend sugar-free sweeteners as a substitute for refined sugar, that’s no longer the case.
Instead of sweetening foods and drinks with pastel-colored packets, find natural ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Also keep an eye out for added sugar. Read the nutrition labels on any packaged foods before you buy — and don’t fall for glam labels like organic or natural. They can still hide added sugar.
Take tabs of the ingredients listed first, as ingredients are always ordered based on how much of each ingredient is present. If you see several types of sugar in the first three items listed, put that item back on the shelf.
One of the long-term complications of diabetes is weakness, pain, and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. This can turn into an increased pain tolerance in those areas (not a good thing!).
Having less pain sensitivity means it’s easier to get injured or develop infections. What starts as a small, unnoticed irritation could become a big problem down the road.
To prevent a Walking Dead lesion situation, make skin care part of your daily routine. This could be as simple as giving yourself a foot rub, taking note of any sores or numb spots, or treating yourself to a new moisturizer and using it daily.
Feeling overwhelmed? Ask for help. Find a registered dietitian in your area who is also a certified diabetes educator. They can help you plan meals and come up with plans for tricky situations, like finding appropriate foods on the menu at your favorite restaurant, navigating the grocery store with a diabetes-friendly shopping list, and planning for special events like birthdays and Thanksgiving.
You can also find support online, through various communities, like this one hosted by the ADA. Chatting with someone who’s been where you are can be incredibly helpful as you learn to navigate life with diabetes.
After a diagnosis, it’s tempting to live in denial or avoid dealing with your health. But the longer you wait, the harder it will be to get started.
“Instead of aiming for the disease to disappear,” says Ana Hill, RD, LD, CDE, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 2 decades, “it’s best to aim atliving with the disease.”
Keep adding these healthy habits to your life, but don’t forget to keep living. Because you’ve got this!