Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes Management
Lifestyle changes for managing diabetes is extremely effective, affordable and safe, but exceptionally difficult to implement. Why? Because our lifestyle is how we’ve been living for years and it revolves around our family, work and routine. When you have been living a certain way for years, it becomes second nature and difficult to change.
So, what does an ideal lifestyle change look like for someone who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
If you’re a current smoker, then quitting can be one of the best things you can do for your health. If that’s the only thing you can manage to change right now, that would be a huge victory in the health department. The nature of diabetes causes severe irritation to the vessels due to elevated blood sugar levels. This is damaging to the blood vessels which is the main reason why uncontrolled diabetes can cause blindness (damage to the vessels in the eyes), kidney failure (damage to the vessels in the kidneys), and higher risk for a stroke or embolism. Smoking alone causes systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Therefore, when you combine both diabetes with smoking, it can exponentially increase the progression of the disease.
There are many natural tools to reduce cravings! Patients have found medical hypnotherapy, acupuncture, and herbal therapy to be helpful.
Controlling your blood sugar and lipids:
What does that look like to have your blood sugar and lipids controlled? Well that means having your blood sugar levels and lipids in the goal range. Your fasting blood sugar (no food or fluids other than water for minimum of 8 hours) should be within 80-130; your post-prandial blood sugar (blood sugar level 1-2 hour after you take your first bite of food) should be under 180; and A1c (blood marker that provides an average blood sugar reading over the past 4 months) should be 7% or under. As I have mentioned before, optimal levels of each are very individualistic, so always ask your doctor what is your optimal level is and work together on reaching that goal.
Why does it matter to have your blood sugar in goal range when there are no symptoms of pain or discomfort when it’s high? Well, that’s another challenge with managing diabetes; it’s often called the silent disease because you commonly do not experience any symptoms until it’s extremely uncontrolled. An extended period with uncontrolled blood sugar (meaning blood sugar levels consistently higher than the goal range) can start damaging all the veins and arteries leading to medical conditions such as retinopathy, nephropathy and higher risk for stroke. Uncontrolled blood sugar can also cause neuropathy, where you can lose sense of touch. This is especially dangerous because you can injure yourself and then continually injure it without being aware, creating potential, lasting damage.
So how do you keep your blood sugar in goal range? Well, that’s when diet, exercise, stress reduction and medication come into play! You can read more about it in the sections below. It’s important to go to your quarterly diabetes check up with your primary care doctor. At these visits they will run pertinent labs to check your blood sugar and once a year they will check your lipid levels to make sure you are well controlled.
Lipid elevation (also known as cholesterol) is a very common comorbidity with diabetes. Similarly, having elevated cholesterol levels have no symptoms, but without getting them in goal ranges, the risk of having a cardiovascular event when you have diabetes is much higher.
How to get your cholesterol levels in goal range you ask? It comes right back down to diet, exercise and stress reduction! By making those three lifestyle changes, you would be killing two birds with one stone to help bring down your cholesterol levels and blood sugar! So why not start today!
In a nutshell, eating a whole foods diet is best; a diet composed of mostly unprocessed food in its most natural form. It’s also good to have some goals for carbs, since carbs turn to sugar. In each of your meals the goal is to consume under 45g of carbs and under 10-25 grams of carbs in your snack. I would also think we would mention making sure to bring in healthy, unprocessed fats. The higher the fiber content in the carb, the better. A straightforward way to check how much carbs are in each food item would be to go to www.calorieking.com. It may be tedious in the beginning to calculate carbs for each of your meals, but once you do it for a while, you would know by memory how much carbs are in something you’re eating. The goal is to also have protein with each of your meals and snacks, this will help prevent a sugar spike and keep you full longer. It is important to eat 3 meals a day especially if you’re taking medication to ensure you do not have a hypoglycemic event (low blood sugar). It’s more damaging to your arteries and veins when you have a yoyo blood sugar than if you have a constantly elevated blood sugar.
Adopting diet such as the Mediterranean diet, paleo or ketogenic style diets can be effective at balancing blood sugar levels. Come in so for a comprehensive diet review and teach you how to adapt a blood sugar balancing diet that is right for you and your lifestyle.
Exercising is an amazing tool to lower blood sugar, cholesterol and pretty much improve all avenues of health. Just a 10 min walk after each of your meals have shown in studies to drastically lower blood sugar and aide tremendously in getting blood sugar in goal range! With exercising, anything counts, so even light walking after your largest meal would be a huge plus!
Just a quick note on medications. Diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that even if you eat the healthiest food, exercise every day, live a stress-free life and pretty much live the most optimal life for someone with diabetes, your beta cells from the pancreas can fail. Meaning, you may still need medication and you may need to gradually increase your medication every few years. Remember, this isn’t a personal fail, it’s simply the pathophysiology of diabetes. All you can do is do your very best to control it, because every little thing you do absolutely does count!
A second note on medication, if your doctor does prescribe medications for you, it is important to take it as it was recommended. This will make sure your blood sugar stays within range and avoid the yoyo blood sugar, which your arteries and veins would appreciate.
Sage Tool/Tip: In addition to your recommended medications, there are many nutrients and herbal medications that have been shown in clinical trials to improve diabetic outcomes, including: better blood sugar control, improved tissue healing, and improved cholesterol levels. For example, decreased chromium levels have been associated with worsening blood sugar control – and the opposite can be true when those levels are optimized!
In addition to your recommended medications, there are many nutrients and herbal medications that have been shown in clinical trials to improve diabetic outcomes, including: better blood sugar control, improved tissue healing, and improved cholesterol levels. For example, decreased chromium levels have been associated with worsening blood sugar control – and the opposite can be true when those levels are optimized!
Remember this is a very general recommendation for reaching in range levels for diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels. Because you’re an individual and everyone is different in their own way, always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your routine. If your doctor gives you the okay, then give this lifestyle change a go! Anything is possible when you put your mind to it!
- Smoking cessation
- Control blood sugar and lipids
- Diet: moderate alcohol consumption, reduce sodium intake to 2,400 mg/day
- Physical activity: moderate to vigorous activity 3-4 days a week of 40 min per session.