So You Have Type 2 Diabetes: Now What?

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 11, 2022
5 min read

You might not remember much after your doctor said, "You have diabetes." That can be a tough thing to hear. It can't be cured. And it will take time and hard work to get used to having this disease. But it can be controlled and possibly turned around.

Diabetes is a lifelong journey. For now, start with these steps you can take today that will put you on the right path to live well with type 2 diabetes.

If you haven't met with a certified diabetes educator (CDE), make an appointment as soon as you can. A CDE can teach you the ins and outs of diabetes care, like how to build a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods such as whole grains, veggies, lean meats or fish, nonfat dairy, and good fats (like olive oil) that's also based on your likes and dislikes, your culture, and your lifestyle.

Diabetes education is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. Ask your doctor for a referral.

Switch to no-sugar beverages like ice water with a twist of lemon. If you drink three cans of soda a day, replace one with water; next week, replace another with water. Order half sweet tea, half plain as you move to unsweetened tea.

Carbohydrates -- sugars and starches -- raise your blood sugar more than proteins and fats do. Not all carbs are the same, though. You'll need to eat much less of some kinds while others can actually be helpful, and your CDE will help you figure that out.

Some people shun all carbs when they learn they have diabetes, but that's not necessarily healthy in the long run.

This will help you lose weight and keep your blood sugar steady. Your CDE will teach you how to adjust your meal sizes and timing.

A smaller dinner plate -- 9 inches or less across -- can make it easier to get used to eating smaller meals. Snack-sized 100-calorie packages are another good way to keep your portions in check.

Don't skip meals though. When you haven't had lunch, you're much more likely to be extra-hungry and then overeat at dinner. Consistency is key.

You probably left the doctor's office with a prescription for diabetes medicine. Get it filled if you haven't yet, and follow the directions. Set an alarm on your phone or watch as a reminder until it becomes part of your daily routine.

When you're on certain medicines or use insulin, your blood glucose level could get too low. Have a source of sugar on hand -- like orange juice -- to get it back up quickly in case you need to.

Exercise helps get glucose out of your blood and into your cells. Plus it burns fat.

If you aren't already exercising most days, start walking. Set out at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes, switch to a brisk step for 5 minutes, then slow down for another 5. Do that for 5 days this week. Next week, add a couple of minutes to your faster pace. Work your way up to at least 30 minutes of brisk walking on at least 5 days every week.

If walking isn't your thing, pick another way to exercise -- something you like so you'll stick with it.

Look for ways to be more active throughout the day, too. Vacuum the carpet, walk your dog, cut the grass, rake leaves, take the bus or train to work instead of your car -- anything that gets your feet moving will help.

That's the way you'll find out how food, exercise, and medicine affect your glucose level so you get better at controlling your diabetes. Not testing is like never stepping on a scale when you're trying to lose weight.

You need some tools: a blood sugar meter, lancets (small needles), and test strips. Talk to your CDE about how to get these supplies and how to use them.

Your doctor will let you know what your target blood sugar range should be and when to check. At first, you might do it a couple of times a day after meals.

Keep a log of your numbers and show them to your doctor at your next visit.

Quit smoking. It damages the inside of your blood vessels, and uncontrolled diabetes does the same thing. This can lead to problems from your head to your toes. No one expects you to quit for good in one day. Now's the time to get real about a plan to stop.

Check your feet. Since people with diabetes can have foot problems but feel nothing due to nerve damage, look for cuts, sores, blisters, or anything unusual on your feet every day. Call a foot doctor if you see anything that worries you.

Get a flu shot. High blood sugar makes you more prone to infection, so when you get sick, it will probably be worse. Protect yourself with a flu shot every year. Many drug stores offer them.

Ask your doctor if you should get any other shots, like ones to protect against pneumonia or shingles.

Find support. Join a diabetes support group to connect with others who understand what you're going through. A community like that is a great resource when you're feeling down or overwhelmed. They'll also appreciate and be there with you to celebrate the wins.

Most hospitals host support groups. You can find them online, too. Ask your CDE for recommendations and about other people and organizations that might help you.