By George “Joe” Trotter Jr., BSN, RN, CDCES, as told to Hope Cristol
I work directly in the Diabetes Management Program at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta as a nurse and certified diabetes care and education specialist. We try to equip patients with the skills and knowledge to improve their diabetes management. When they come to us, they don’t always know how to manage their diabetes correctly, even though they may have been living with it for a while.
I think one of the main challenges for people with diabetes is that there are many, many sources of information out there, and not all of it is reliable. Sources you can trust are places like the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, the ADA [American Diabetes Association], and JDRF [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation].
Then you have the personal blogs and social media groups. They typically involve people who are living with diabetes or whose relatives have diabetes. They can be great resources for support, but sometimes they have information that isn’t supported by medical science. The same can be said about diabetes advice from family and friends.
For example, one misconception I hear a lot is that once you have diabetes, you can no longer have carbs. That’s not true. Everybody needs some carbs. When you have diabetes, you have to learn to limit them -- and to choose the right kind of carbs from natural, unprocessed foods
Why You Need Personalized Advice
When you have diabetes, what works for you may not be what works for someone else. It’s not one-size-fits-all advice. Your physician, your NP [nurse practitioner], or your diabetes care and education specialist can help with your individual needs.
Keep in mind that different tastes, different cultures, and different preferences also come into play for diabetes management. Where I work, the population tends to skew African American, so we need to help them find healthier versions of the typical foods in their diets.
We also see a lot of Latinx people with diabetes. Their diets tend to be more carb heavy. We want to help them tailor a healthier version of what they would normally eat, so we’ll educate them on portion sizes and the importance of choosing foods from different food groups.
Sometimes you may need specific information for a specific issue, and that’s something we can help with. We have one patient who had been taking her medication by injection for 2 years, but her numbers weren’t getting better. She had been giving herself the shots in the same place over and over and developed hard spots -- scar tissue. Because of that, the medication couldn’t be fully absorbed. We told her she needed to rotate injection sites, and after a few weeks we started seeing her numbers go down.
The Value of Social Media
Social media may not necessarily be the best place for information on how to manage diabetes, but it can provide some of the social support that’s important when you live with a lasting illness. Having diabetes myself, I like to join social media groups that make me feel like part of the diabetes community.
I often recommend social media (especially the groups Beyond Type 1 and Beyond Type 2 on Facebook) to help people manage, especially if they don’t have family or other loved ones nearby. It’s important to have a good support system when you’re trying to deal with the longer-term emotional impacts of diabetes: the frustration, the burnout. You can get your feelings out there and find ideas from other people on ways to manage the stress.
If you have severe burnout, you may need more than a Facebook group for support. That’s when I would suggest a mental health professional, an in-person support group, or an online support group. Managing the emotional impact of diabetes can be just as important as managing medication.