Lifestyle Changes for People Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes

If you've recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, odds are you are feeling quite overwhelmed. This feeling is normal, but it's important to know that it's going to be OK. The good news is that, while diabetes is a disease that must be managed on a daily basis, you can live a normal, healthy life with diabetes.

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The key components to success are motivation, support, planning and lifestyle changes. Of these, two of most critical components, diet and physical activity, are lifestyle changes that can help you lose weight, increase your energy levels and effectively manager your blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association's position statement is, "At diagnosis, highly motivated patients with HgbA1c already near the target (e.g., <7.5%) could be given the opportunity to engage in lifestyle changes for a period of three to six months before embarking on pharmacotherapy (usually metformin)."

This means that if you are someone newly diagnosed with diabetes whose A1c at diagnosis is close to normal, then around 7.5% of initial treatment options can be focused on solely diet and exercise for three-to-six months before starting medicine. But with weight loss, diet, and physical activity changes, you may be able to modify or discontinue your medicine altogether. That is a pretty significant statement. Some newly-diagnosed patients lose weight and stop taking medicine—it is possible. Here's where to start.

Take a Patient-Centered Approach 

No two people with diabetes should be treated the same. Why? Because we are all individuals with different habits, work schedules, food preferences, etc. It is important that you find the plan that works best for you.

Odds are you will have a great deal of "food police" trying to tell you what to eat. You may also hear a great deal of conflicting information, such as you cannot eat fruit, which is simply not true.

It's important to receive diabetes self-management education from a licensed professional, such as a certified diabetes educator, to help you organize your diabetes and get you on track. Get educated on how to create a healthy meal and exercise plan.

Change Your Diet

Finding a healthy and sustainable way to eat is absolutely critical for weight loss and diabetes management. Most people will find success following some sort of diet, but once they stop "dieting" they gain all the weight back plus more.

You must strike a balance and be consistent. One of the best ways to do this is to meet with a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian who can help you craft the best plan—whether it be a low carbohydrate, modified carbohydrate, or a consistent carbohydrate diet.

The emphasis on carbohydrates is important because these are the types of foods that impact blood sugars the most. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruit, milk, yogurt, starches (bread, pasta, rice, beans), starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn), and sugary foods (cookies, cake, candy, and ice cream).

Having diabetes doesn't mean you are banned from eating carbohydrates ever again, but it is important to choose the right kinds of carbohydrates in the appropriate quantities. Reducing your carbohydrate intake will help take stress off your pancreas, lose weight, increase your energy level, and reduce your blood sugars.

Ideally, people with diabetes should cut out all high-calorie beverages, including juices, sodas, smoothies, and sweet coffee drinks.

Most people seem to do best with a lower carbohydrate breakfast, a high-fiber lunch and a balanced carbohydrate controlled dinner. To get started, think about your plate; use a smaller plate and make 1/2 of your plate non starchy vegetables (salad, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, etc.), 1/4 of your plate lean protein (white meat chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef), and 1/4 of your plate a complex carbohydrate (sweet potato, beans, quinoa, barley, bulgar, etc.) 

Are you someone that fairs well with structure? Do you need a structured meal plan or would you be better off estimating portions, label reading and learning about food? Either way, you will need to know how to put meals together. You can put together simple meals with simple ingredients.

Get Moving

Moving doesn't have to mean going to the gym for hours. To start, simply move more. Exercise is critical for utilizing insulin (which helps to move sugar to your cells) and lowering blood sugar. And the more you move, the better your metabolism will be and you'll be more adept at burning calories.

Life is busy and finding the time to exercise can be tough, but the importance of moving can't be stressed enough, especially if you are someone who sits at a desk all day long. To get yourself motivated, try to make exercise fun. Pencil your workout into your calendar as if you would schedule a lunch date—make a commitment. Do as much as you can when you can with the aim to try to hit an eventual target of 150 minutes per week of moderate activity including aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. The hardest part is actually getting yourself to start, but once you do you will feel great.

Focus on Moderate Weight Loss

One of the reasons people develop diabetes is because of excess weight. When you carry excess weight, your body is unable to move sugar from your blood to your cells to use for energy because your cells become resistant to insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that acts as the "gatekeeper." It opens the gate so the sugar can get into the cell; when your cells are resistant to insulin the sugar cannot go into the cell and instead stays in your bloodstream.

By losing about 5% to 10% of your body weight, you can help to reduce your blood sugars.

Test Your Blood Sugars

If you were just diagnosed with diabetes and are not taking any medicine, you may not see any reason to test your blood sugars. But, blood sugar testing can actually act as an eye opener and motivating tool for you to change your diet and get moving.

You don't need to test four times a day. Rather, aim to start testing a few times per week. Use your numbers to adjust your carbohydrate intake and increase your physical activity. For some, this is a good tool (better than the scale) used for motivation.

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