Medical experts agree that when it comes to the question of how to manage diabetes, the most important aspect of health is balanced blood sugar.
While it may seem like a simple answer, blood sugar management is unique for each individual, and a handful of lifestyle factors can come into play.
This article will explore what diabetes management looks like, which lifestyle factors to watch, and who you may want on your team for extra support.
Diabetes and Self-Management
Part of living with diabetes is understanding the aspects of self-management. While your health care practitioner can provide guidance and prescribe the appropriate medications, it's up to you to manage the day today.
The good news is that with the proper tools, diabetes can be very manageable, and in some cases, you can even turn things around.
Self-management for diabetes includes understanding how your body handles glucose and what lifestyle factors and foods you may want to keep an eye on. Maintaining a diet that allows you to stay within a healthy glucose range is vital, but you also must consider factors such as exercise, stress, and alcohol intake that can also impact your blood sugar.
Many people find it helpful to begin their self-management process with the guidance of a diabetes educator. A diabetes educator is a certified healthcare practitioner who can help you understand what diabetes is and how it's impacting your body and then provide you with detailed guidelines for controlling your blood sugar. These practitioners may also help with scheduling tests and follow-ups so that you can track your progress and keep an eye out for potential complications.
Some examples of healthcare practitioners that can help include:
Registered Diabetes Educator
Registered Diabetes Educators are often nurses, but they can be any type of health care practitioner that has received their certification. Specifically, RDE's teach and guide patients on their diabetes journey and help them meet their health goals.
A Registered Nurse will provide direct care and can help you with your overall plan of care. They can also coordinate with your doctor when necessary.
A Registered Dietician specializes in helping you control your diet for optimal blood sugar. RDs will work with you to understand your specific needs and challenges around food and provide guidance to make reaching your dietary goals more attainable.
A Registered Pharmacist can support you with your overall health goals and particularly handhold around your medication. They can conduct health and wellness screenings to make sure you're on track and assess whether your current prescriptions are the safest and most beneficial options for you.
Sugar Levels: How They Are Affected
While most people understand that certain foods can directly increase blood sugar, your lifestyle and daily routine can also significantly impact the way your body handles glucose and how high or low your blood sugar goes.
With this in mind, it also means that you can shift your lifestyles and routines to better support your body's ability to handle glucose. This is why monitoring your blood sugar is so vital. Unless you have an idea of where your blood sugar is, you'll never know which lifestyle factors are impacting it, not to mention which dietary practices are helpful versus harmful.
If you're in a prediabetic state, there are also several lifestyle factors to keep in mind that can help you avoid developing diabetes.
A few of the most important lifestyle factors to keep in mind whether you're in the prediabetic or diabetic state include:
Preparing Well-Balanced Meals
Consuming meals that contain an appropriate amount of fat, fiber, and protein is vital when you have diabetes. While fat and protein are digested much more slowly than carbohydrates, most fiber skips absorption altogether. As a result, consuming well-balanced meals helps you to keep blood sugar levels in balance.
Adjusting Meal Portion Sizes
Along with keeping your meals balanced, you may also want to take a look at your portion sizes. Many people have eyes that are bigger than their stomach, which leads to overeating past to the point of satisfaction. The best way to get ahead of potential overeating is to keep your portion sizes smaller, to begin with, and then add more food if you find you're still hungry.
Controlling Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake
Of all the sources of carbohydrates out there, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) may be the most harmful. In fact, research shows that SSB consumption is associated with an increased risk for diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, diet sodas aren't much better - with some research suggesting that they, too, may contribute to diabetes. Furthermore, the artificial sweeteners used in diet soda may produce neurological harm.
Your best bet is to avoid these beverages altogether and instead opt for healthier versions that are made with natural nonnutritive sweeteners like Zevia (sweetened with stevia).
Managing Meal and Medication Proportions
If you're taking insulin, you must have a firm grasp on how to manage your medication according to your meals. This is where the help of a healthcare professional could come in very handy, along with a reliable glucose monitor.
Along with your eating habits, your drinking habits also have a significant impact on your blood sugar. Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding alcohol:
Choose What You Drink
There can be a sizable difference in how your blood sugar responds to alcohol depending on what type of alcoholic beverage you consume.
Generally speaking, beer and cocktails tend to be higher in carbohydrates white spirits (vodka, tequila, whiskey) will be lower. Wine is a tricky one, as some types of wine will be lower while others may have added sugars. There are several companies that are now selling low-sugar wine that you can look out for if wine is your preferred beverage.
Check Your Blood Sugar After Getting Your Last Drink
It's always a good idea to check your blood sugar after your drink to see where you are. You may be lower or higher than usual, depending on what you ate before or while you drank.
Be Mindful of Your Calorie Intake Per Drink
Cocktails like margaritas, Pina Coladas, and white Russians can run up to 500 calories per drink or more – and that comes with a hefty dose of sugar. Being mindful of your caloric intake from your beverages will transfer into being mindful of your sugar intake.
As mentioned previously, your best bet is to go with spirits or low-sugar wine.
Check With Your Doctor If It's Okay to Drink Alcohol
Depending on your condition, your doctor may advise that you avoid alcohol altogether, at least for a time.
Avoid Consuming Alcohol With an Empty Stomach
Always make sure you have some food in your stomach before you enjoy an alcoholic beverage. When your stomach is empty, the alcohol can be absorbed too fast, which may lead to high levels of alcohol in the blood, blocking the release of glucose. As a result, you may find yourself in a hypoglycemic state.
Getting enough movement in your daily routine is one of the best things you can do for diabetes management. Exercise helps your cells pick up more glucose, and the more you exercise, the more glucose transporters will appear on your cells. This is excellent for enhancing your body's ability to manage glucose, but it could lead to hypoglycemia if you don't track your exercise properly.
Plan Your Workout
Be sure to plan your workout ahead, so you know how much fuel your body will need. For example, you may like to hit the gym and just see what you feel like doing that day (cardio, lifting, free weights, etc.). While any movement is good movement, if you end up pushing beyond what you expected, you may find yourself running out of energy.
Always Have A Snack On Hand
In the case that you do reach a state of hypoglycemia, be sure to have a snack on hand that includes easily digestible carbohydrates. This could be a piece of fruit, a bar, or glucose tabs.
Check Your Blood Sugar Before and After Exercise
Before engaging in a workout, check your blood sugar levels to ensure you're in a good place to get moving. If you're already starting to dip, have a snack beforehand and check your levels again to make sure you're properly fueled.
Once you've finished your workout, you may want to check your levels again to make sure that you didn't push past your limits.
Finding ways to manage stress is important for almost every health condition out there. Stress is known as the silent killer because although it may seem like a normal part of life, it can slowly throw your entire system off balance.
Unfortunately, one of the most common side effects of too much stress is hormonal imbalance, which can significantly impact blood sugar.
Stress management will look different for everyone, but some research-backed suggestions include:[9,10,11,12,13]
- Mindfulness meditation
- Connecting with a friend or loved one
- Getting out in nature
The key to successful diabetes management is to stick with your practices and make them a habit. Over time, all the shifts that you're making will become second nature, and you won't even have to think about it.
With that being said, starting out on your diabetes management journey can feel pretty overwhelming. That's why most people find it helpful to work with a health professional while making initial changes. Whether you're troubleshooting your medication protocol or figuring out what type of exercise plan is right for you, your diabetes educator can help you find the right fit for your goals and lifestyle.
To learn more about how working with a diabetes professional can help you, check out BioCoach.
- Wang, Meng, et al. "Association between sugar‐sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes: a meta‐analysis." Journal of diabetes investigation 6.3 (2015): 360-366.
- Malik, Vasanti S., et al. "Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk." Circulation 121.11 (2010): 1356-1364.
- Maher, Timothy J., and Richard J. Wurtman. "Possible neurologic effects of aspartame, a widely used food additive." Environmental health perspectives 75 (1987): 53-57.
- Stanford, Kristin I., and Laurie J. Goodyear. "Exercise and type 2 diabetes: molecular mechanisms regulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle." Advances in physiology education 38.4 (2014): 308-314.
- Surwit, Richard S., Mark S. Schneider, and Mark N. Feinglos. "Stress and diabetes mellitus." Diabetes care 15.10 (1992): 1413-1422.
- Ozbay, Fatih, et al. "Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice." Psychiatry (Edgmont) 4.5 (2007): 35.
- Woodyard, Catherine. "Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life." International journal of yoga 4.2 (2011): 49.
- Childs, Emma, and Harriet De Wit. "Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults." Frontiers in physiology (2014): 161.
- Ewert, Alan, and Yun Chang. "Levels of nature and stress response." Behavioral Sciences 8.5 (2018): 49.