Last year during a physical, Lauren Crim of Richwood, TX, got a diagnosis she wasn’t expecting: type 2 diabetes. She had no symptoms, so the news threw her for a loop.
“I was devastated,” she says. “My grandmother had diabetes, and I saw her go through major health struggles because of it.”
After seeking support from loved ones -- and shedding a few tears -- Crim got to work. With help from her health care team, she changed the way she ate and started exercising. Now, a year later, she’s 22 pounds lighter, and her blood sugar is normal.
“My advice to anyone else facing type 2 diabetes is to stick to a plan, stay positive, and put your health first,” she says.
A diabetes diagnosis might feel overwhelming, but living well with the condition doesn’t have to be. If you’re ready to take control of your blood sugar levels and get on the path to better health, here’s how to start.
1. Build a Support Team
“It takes a village to manage diabetes,” says Linda Siminerio, RN, PhD, chair of the National Diabetes Education Program.
Along with your doctor or nurse practitioner, you can get help from:
- Diabetes educators
- Dietitians or nutritionists
- Psychologists or Therapists
Their services are often covered by insurance.
2. Get Involved
Having a health care team is key, but you're the most important member of it. “We want you to be informed and empowered,” Siminerio says.
Take an active role in your care. Ask questions. Learn what your medications do and how to take them properly. Practice any other healthy habits your doctor recommends. And know what your A1c levels are and what they mean.
3. Lose Weight
“Being overweight is one of the major drivers of the epidemic of diabetes,” says Vivian Fonseca, MD, a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Tulane University.
The good news: You don’t have to reach a certain target weight before seeing positive results.
“Any weight loss is beneficial,” Fonseca says. “It doesn't mean you should stop after you lose a few ounces, but it’s encouraging to know that even if you lose a little bit of weight, it is helping your body. It reverses a lot of those changes.”
It's extra-important to get rid of the extra pounds around your middle. That’s why Siminerio suggests you watch your waist.
“Folks that have the classic ‘apple shape’ -- usually men in their 40s and 50s -- are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease,” she says.
Keep your goals realistic for long-lasting change. “Losing 1 pound a week is doable,” Fonseca says.
4. Be Active
To lose weight, you should try to exercise three times a week for 30-60 minutes a day. But moving your body is good for a lot more than that.
Regular workouts can:
- Lower your blood sugar.
- Boost your heart health.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Help insulin work better in your body.
If you find an activity you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
“Exercise shouldn’t feel like a punishment,” Fonseca says. “If you want to go swimming, go swimming. If you want to go dancing, go dancing. That’s exercise, too.”
You can also call on a partner to help you stay the course. Whitney Bischoff, a registered nurse in Seguin, TX, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 48. Now 61, Bischoff says her disease has changed how she and her husband spend time together.
“It wasn't too long after my diagnosis that we had the opportunity to take an active vacation, and that began our more-active lifestyle,” she says. “It’s a favor, really. We treat our bodies better because of diabetes. We can live long and healthy lives through these recommended changes in our lifestyle, without missing out on life.”
5. Focus on Food
If changing your diet seems daunting, remember: Your goal is to strike a healthy balance, not achieve "perfection."
“Generally, you need to avoid concentrated sugars,” Siminerio says. “I'm not saying don't eat the cake at your grandson's birthday -- just don't eat all the roses on the cake.”
Focus on getting plenty of fiber through plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Keep track of your carbohydrates so you don’t go overboard, and stay away from sugary drinks.
Steer clear of trans fats, too. Instead, stock up on protein -- up to 25% of your plate at each meal should be protein from sources like fish, chicken, dairy, or vegetables.
“Vegetables really help me feel better,” Crim says. “And nuts are great. Have fruit on hand, and if you choose to eat sweets, moderate carefully, but don't deprive yourself so that you overindulge.”
The more people in your house that get on board with your meal plan, the better, Fonseca says.
“Very often, people try to diet in isolation, which is very hard to do,” he says. “You can't have a different diet from your spouse and your kids. Everybody's got to do it together.”
Siminerio says the very best thing you can do is invest in a dietitian.
“Meds work differently in each person, and that affects when and what you should be eating,” she says. “A dietitian has your medical plan. It's not an off-the-shelf cookbook from someone.”
6. Lower Your Stress
“Stress pushes up blood glucose, raises your blood pressure, and increases your chance of heart disease,” Fonseca says.
If smoking is your stress-relief go-to, it’s time to quit. “Along with affecting your lungs, smoking narrows your blood vessels,” Siminerio says. “So if you smoke, have high blood pressure, and high lipid levels, that's like a time bomb in your body if you have diabetes.”
Here are some healthy ways to combat stress:
- Do breathing exercises.
- Tense your muscles and then release them.
- Go on a walk or jog.
- Start a new hobby.
- Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
“My advice? Have fun,” Fonseca says. “It’s a whole lifestyle change, so be sure to make it a life you enjoy.”