Lifestyle Changes for People Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes

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While type 2 diabetes is a disease that must be managed on a daily basis, you can live a normal, healthy life with it. A key component of proper diabetes management is making lifestyle changes. Two of the most critical ones are improving your diet and getting more physical activity.

These can help you lose weight, increase your energy levels, and effectively manage your blood sugar levels.

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The American Diabetes Association says that highly motivated patients with a near-target A1C level could engage in lifestyle changes for three to six months before drug therapy is considered.

For those already prescribed something, diet improvements and physical activity changes—and associated weight loss—may even allow them to modify or discontinue their medication altogether.

This article delves into important lifestyle changes that are critical for managing diabetes.

Take a You-Centered Approach 

No two people with diabetes should be treated the same. Everyone has different habits, work schedules, food preferences, and so on. It is important that you find the plan that works best for you so that you stick with it.

You may have people around you advising you on what to eat. You may also hear a great deal of conflicting information, such as that you cannot eat fruit, which is simply not true.

It's important to receive diabetes self-management education from a licensed professional. They can help you create a plan that is both you-focused and science-based, and help you stay on track.

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, only to find that they gain all the weight back (plus more) when they stop.

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 for you—whether that's 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, encourage weight loss, 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 compose your meal as follows:

  • 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)
  • 1/4 of your plate: A complex carbohydrate (sweet potato, beans, quinoa, barley, bulgar, etc.) 

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 the more adept your body will be 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. Do as much as you can when you can with the aim of trying to hit an eventual target of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. This should include aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training.

Focus on Moderate Weight Loss

One of the reasons people develop diabetes is because of excess weight. When you are overweight or obese, 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 is what allows sugar into a cell. When your cells are resistant to insulin, the sugar cannot go into the cell and, instead, stays in your bloodstream.

You can help to reduce your blood sugars by losing about 5% to 10% of your body weight.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best way to manage type 2 diabetes?

    Type 2 diabetes is typically managed through diet, exercise, weight loss, and medication. 

  • Can you control type 2 diabetes without medication?

    Some people are able to control their type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise alone and do not need medication.

  • What is the best diet to control diabetes?

    There is no one best diet for type 2 diabetes. Everyone is different, and it can take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. One way to do this is to “eat to your meter.” This means testing your blood sugar after meals to see how certain foods affect you. Some people manage type 2 diabetes best on a very low carbohydrate diet, while others do better on a plant-based diet.  

  • Can type 2 diabetes be reversed?

    Type 2 diabetes can often be managed through diet, exercise, and weight loss, although it is unclear if it can be completely reversed. One 2020 study suggests that losing 10% or more of your body weight may put diabetes in remission in about one in three people.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dambha-Miller H, Day AJ, Strelitz J, Irving G, Griffin SJ. Behaviour change, weight loss and remission of Type 2 diabetes: a community-based prospective cohort study. Diabet Med. 2020;37(4):681-688. doi:10.1111/dme.14122

Additional Reading

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.