There are ways to live with diabetes that allow for optimal health and relative freedom from complications. But to obtain them requires knowledge and know-how.
It’s not unusual for a person who has been newly diagnosed with diabetes to be overwhelmed. It calls for a whole new lifestyle, including paying very close attention to diet, counting carbohydrates, exercising, and sometimes taking medication.
So it’s not surprising that people may feel a certain resistance to adhering to dietary restrictions and complying with exercise requirements.
When I was first diagnosed, I was both overwhelmed and resistant. I had poor eating habits. I liked the taste of sugary products and wanted desert after every main meal. This wasn’t going to be easy! One thing I did have in my favor was that I exercised regularly.
Just when I thought it might all be too much for me, I heard some good advice. Ray Anne Best, a diabetes educator and dietitian at Mercy Anderson Hospital in Cincinnati, said, “The first thing a new diabetic must do is be patient with herself. There’s a lot to learn. Beginning slowly and gradually progressing is good.” She said that newly diagnosed people with diabetes have to build new habits for life and that it’s a process best done slowly.
I began by reading all I could about the condition. I learned that I didn’t know a great deal about healthy eating. So I began buying fruits and vegetables at the fruit market on a regular basis. I started making fruit and vegetable-based dishes, such as chopping celery, onion, apple, and a little tomato, mixing them into a salad, and then adding chicken stock and lemon juice to it. In summer I added mango. To my surprise, it tasted very good. I learned that developing a plan with a few recipes like this is essential for success.
I purchased a glucometer and with it came a series of diabetic cook books. I experimented with a few recipes. I joined Weight Watchers and practiced restricting my diet. I lost 25 pounds. But my attitude was still off: I was resistant to curbing my carbs to the extent that was required.
That’s when I signed up for diabetes classes at my local hospital and met Ray Anne and the RN who were supervising the classes. They were very helpful and not a bit overbearing as I had feared. I learned that diabetes is a condition that can be controlled with proper treatment and consistent care. One thing they taught me was that I don’t have to be compliant all of the time, that there is a give and take.
By then I was writing down my food intake and logging my blood sugar results. I found that when I ate a lot of sugar, I became fatigued and irritable. I also discovered that exercise brought down my sugar level. I began looking forward to preparing low-carb recipes. It was a trial and error process, but I found myself enjoying it more and more.
Ray Anne had mentioned the A1c levels. The A1c is a blood test ordered periodically by the doctor and done in a laboratory. It reports a three-month average of blood sugar levels. She said that the American Diabetic Association recommends 7% or lower for healthy diabetes control, but adds that the closer to normal the reading the better. Pre-diabetic levels are 5.7% to 6.4%, with anything above that considered full-blown diabetes.
“In addition to periodic A1c tests, regular monitoring at home of blood sugar levels is a good indicator of patterns,” she said. “It’s an easy way to gauge the health of the individual in terms of control.”
Here are my five suggestions for newly diagnosed people with diabetes:
1. Go through your cupboards and fridge and replace high-sugar items with tasty low-carb treats and healthy foods. Buy chicken and fish, and lean cuts of meat, and stock your freezer with them. Go heavy on buying fruits and vegetables. Add beans, purchase low- fat dairy, and whole-wheat bread and brown rice. There is a whole-wheat flour that is helpful in cooking and a sweetener that tastes like brown sugar that’s good for flavoring oatmeal.
2. Find a cookbook that meets your requirements for low-carb dishes and experiment with the recipes.
3. Assemble a team/support group. Work with a dietitian to include your food preferences in a healthy diet. Or better yet, take diabetes classes at your local hospital. You will be in touch with others who share a common purpose.
4. Get on an exercise schedule. Find an activity that you enjoy and do it regularly. Or experiment with different exercises to find ones best for you.
5. If you cook for a family, include the family in meal planning. It’s important to eat the same as your family, so you must enlist its cooperation right from the start. When going out to a restaurant, look at its menu online ahead of time, and decide what would be a good meal for you. For parties, eat a little before going so you are not so hungry that you overindulge.
After doing these five things, I am more in control of my health. In a way, I have embraced my diabetes. I now know that it’s possible to live well with it, and in doing so avoid complications like neuropathy, heart disease, and retinopathy.
(For further information on this disease and its treatment, consult the American Diabetes Association or use the search feature here at Diabetes Health. For meal planning tools, go to www.changingdiabetes-us.com.)