This post is all my own personal advice. I am a type 1 diabetic, so I know what it is like. I am not a doctor.
So, you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, what now?
First, let me reassure you that everything is going to be OK. Diabetes is a rough and tough disease to have, but it is controllable and there is absolutely no reason you can not be happy and healthy with it.
Secondly, let me suggest you get ready to come to terms with the fact that you are going to have to change your diet, get more exercise, check your blood sugar often, and take your meds. There is no getting around it, this is how it has to be if you want to avoid complications and an early death. There is absolutely no cure for diabetes, once you have it you have it for life. It is possible to get it under such good control that you have no obvious symptoms (in type 2), but it will NEVER go away. You must maintain your healthy lifestyle and blood sugar testing or else the diabetes will lash out with a passionate vengeance to remind you that you are still a diabetic.
THERE IS NO CURE
I’m not trying to scare you or break your heart. I’m just telling you the truth.
3. Most people are diagnosed with diabetes either by an emergency room doctor or primary care physician. No matter if you are type 1 or type 2, in my opinion, the best diabetes care will come from someone who specializes in it. Endocrinologists and Diabetes Educators are the best and most knowledgeable in diabetes of all types. If your diagnosing doctor has not already referred you to an endocrinologist or diabetes educator, I suggest you ask for that referral right away.
Some people, even some doctors, will say that type 2 diabetics do not need to be under the care of a specialist. I say this is malarkey. I personally think so many type 2’s are uncontrolled because they are not getting the specialized care and education they need and deserve.
4. Educate yourself – There is a ton of great information on diabetes of all types right here at your fingertips. The internet is a great source of education. It is also full of shit, so be careful where you look. I have included some links to good educational resources at the end of this post. I will also suggest you read Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, this is a great source of education on type 1 and type 2 diabetes, what they are, what they are doing to your body, and he also teaches how to eat healthy for blood sugar control. I am also told Think Like A Pancreas by Gary Scheiner is an excellent book, but I have yet to read it my self. Your doctor should have also given you some good resources to education on your type of diabetes. Unfortunately I have run into so many diabetics who’s doctor simply diagnosed them, prescribed medication, and taught them nothing about their new disease. If this is what you have encountered, change doctor’s right now!
5. Support – I hope you know other diabetics already, and I hope your family and friends are supportive and helpful in some way regarding your diabetes care; physically, emotionally, psychologically. There is an amazingly wonderful community of diabetics online. You can find a lot of them on Twitter, as well as at TuDiabetes.org. TuDiabetes is a social media site for diabetics and family of diabetics. There is a wealth of information, socialization, and support to be found there. If you are looking for an in person experience, most cities offer diabetes support groups. You can probably find one through your doctor’s office, insurance company, or simply type something like “Diabetes support groups Los Angeles” or whatever your city is, into your web browser.
6. Balance – Diabetes care has been described many, many, many times as a balancing act. This is true, regulating your blood sugar in order to maintain good health is a never ending battle to balance diet, activity, medication, and virtually everything else in your life. It is very difficult, and over the years you will need to constantly reassess your habits and routines in order to keep that balance.
There will be many times that you will lose your balance. It’s OK, don’t give up. Get back up and find that balance again and keep working to hold it. No one is perfect. The only thing that truly matters is that we get back up and keep working at it.
7. Diet – The word diet often brings up thoughts of restriction, deprivation, and blandness. But what a diet truly is is simply eating habits, a lifestyle. Many people agree that a diet very low in carbohydrates, normal levels of protein, and fairly high in fat, is what is best for blood sugar regulation in diabetics. You see, as diabetics our body works differently than a non-diabetic. Carbohydrates tend to be the devil to us, causing our blood sugar to rise too rapidly for our medication (insulin or oral meds) to be able to counter it well enough or fast enough. Carbohydrates make it a million times more difficult for us to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Our blood sugar ends up riding a roller-coaster rather than walking a straight line like it should.
There are a million diets out there that many different diabetics follow. It would be best for you to try different things out, check your blood sugar often and log it so you can see what your eating habits are doing to your blood sugar. I would suggest asking your doctor to help you get a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). This device checks your sugar level every five minutes and graphs it automatically so you can see how your lifestyle is affecting your sugar. It is an excellent tool to help you balance everything.
8. Activity – Everything we do affects blood sugar levels. The more physically active you are, the more your body uses energy (glucose, also known as sugar), so the lower your blood sugar is going to get; at least until you run out of insulin. Insulin is the hormone our body uses to make proper use of energy (glucose). But if you have too much insulin and use up all your energy, you will end up with a blood sugar that is too low. If you have too little insulin and too much energy (glucose) in your system, then your blood sugar will go too high. This is why staying physically active is helpful in blood sugar control and overall health, especially for type 2 diabetics. Type 1’s have a more complicated feat in this balancing act.
I might add that mental activity tends to use a decent amount of energy (glucose) as well. But physical activity is more efficient for blood sugar control and overall physical health.
9. Medication – The most important things a diabetic can do to get and stay healthy is to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Almost every diabetic out there is on some form of medication in addition to a healthy diet and exercise routine. Type 2’s tend to be on an oral medication that works to help their body use the lessened amount of insulin it makes and/or treat insulin resistance; they may take insulin injections instead or as well. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin through injections or an insulin pump, because their body no longer produces insulin at all.
10. Blood sugar monitoring – It is very important for any diabetic to check their blood sugar often to be sure their medication and lifestyle is working to properly regulate their blood sugar. The ideal range for a diabetic to aim to keep their blood sugar in at all times is 70 mg/dl – 120 mg/dl.
Because if you go above 120 you start to do damage to your entire body. The higher a blood sugar goes the more damage it does to your body. The longer and more often a blood sugar is high, the more damage is done and you begin to develop all kinds of horrible, life sucking, painful, debilitating complications. And eventually you will die.
If you go below 70 you begin to have difficulty thinking clearly, lose control of your muscles and coordination, blurry vision, confusion. The lower your blood sugar drops the closer you get to death. You lose consciousness and could slip into a coma. You could seizure. You could come out of it with irreparable brain damage. You could die.
This is why you must work hard and constantly at keeping your blood sugar in the ideal range.
This is why you should be checking your blood sugar often and/or using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
11. Finally, don’t worry. Life with diabetes can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be terrible. It is a lot of work on top of what you already have to deal with, but you can do it! Take a deep breath, take it one day at a time.
You are not alone!
Links to support and education:
TuDiabetes – A social site full of education, support, and friends
Diabetes basics as described by WebMD
#DSMA (Diabetes Social Media Advocacy)