Being diagnosed with diabetes can be an emotional and confusing time. Many people are intimidated by the lifestyle changes that are required or fear the possibility of insulin injections. These are normal and valid responses, but don’t let them push you into denial or cause you to delay treatment. Following these steps can help you to transition into a healthy lifestyle that controls your diabetes.
First of all, make sure that the diagnosis is confirmed through follow-up testing. If you accidentally ate or drank something instead of completely fasting before the blood sugar tests, they may not have been completely accurate. Make sure that tests are repeated — including a Hemoglobin A1c test. While this test is usually accurate even right after eating, it should still be done at least twice to confirm the diagnosis.
Once you’re sure the diagnosis is true, it’s time to build your team. You’ll need a primary care doctor if you don’t already have one. He or she will help you monitor your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol and can work on you to create a plan to reach your target levels. You primary care doctor also acts as the hub for all of your other providers — a diabetes educator, dietitian, eye doctor, and possibly other specialists. Diabetes can cause problems for the eyes, feet, and kidneys, so your doctor will need to check all of these areas regularly and/or refer you to someone who can do more thorough exams and monitoring.
If prescribed a medication, take it regularly and follow all instructions. Most diabetics start with a pill rather than insulin injections, so don’t worry about needles unless your doctor says that’s necessary for you. Depending on your age, your doctor may also recommend cholesterol medication because diabetes and heart disease often go hand-in-hand. You’ll likely need to be on medication for the rest of your life — diabetes is not a disease that goes away once you finish taking one bottle of medication.
Like it or not, you’ll have to change your diet and exercise regularly. Diabetes medication is not a miracle cure that lets you eat whatever you want and forget about the sugar you’re eating and drinking. You’ll need to consume fewer carbohydrates and fats. Your dietitian or diabetes educator will work with you to create a diet plan that allows you to still eat your favorite foods but in smaller portions and with less sugar and saturated and trans fats.
Because physical activity also has an impact on blood sugar levels, you’ll need to make sure to incorporate at least 30 minutes per day of some type of physical activity at least five days per week. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate workout; it could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away at the store, and taking the dog for a twenty-minute walk after dinner. Swimming is also a great, low-impact exercise.
And finally, talk to your family and friends. Many people feel angry or depressed after their diagnosis, or you may feel overwhelmed or resent the changes you have to make in your life. This is absolutely normal. Help them get better informed about diabetes so that they can be your allies in managing your blood sugar. Learn everything you can about diabetes and don’t get hung up on “horror stories” online. You may even want to look into a support group for people with diabetes so that you can share your struggles and triumphs.
Diabetes is a disease that you will have to manage for the rest of your life, but you can still live a full and healthy life. Incredible advancements have been made in the management and treatment of this disease.