In my experience, having type 2 diabetes means one challenge after another thrown my way. Here are a few I’ve faced — and conquered.
Challenge 1: Lose weight
If you’re like me, then after you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the first thing your doctor advised you to do was lose weight.
(Actually, I think doctors are programmed to say “lose weight” to everyone, whether they have diabetes or not!)
After my diagnosis in 1999, I wanted to drop a few pounds but wasn’t sure where to start. I met with a certified diabetes educator (CDE) and learned how to eat. I carried around a little notebook and wrote down everything I put in my mouth. I started cooking more and eating out less. I learned about portion control.
Within nine months, I lost 30 pounds. Over the years, I’ve lost about 15 more. For me, losing weight has been about educating myself and paying attention.
Challenge 2: Change diet
In my life, there’s the “BD” years (before diabetes) and “AD” years (after diabetes).
For me, a typical BD food day was biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast, a pork barbecue sandwich and potato chips for lunch, a bag of M&Ms with a Coke for a snack, and chicken and dumplings with yeast rolls for dinner.
Dessert was a given at every meal. And I drank sweet tea. Lots and lots of sweet tea. (Guess where I grew up!)
In the AD years, living with my type 2 diagnosis, I learned about saturated fat. I learned about non-starchy vegetables. I learned about fiber. I learned about lean proteins. I learned what carbs gave me the biggest nutritional bang for the buck and which would be better to avoid.
My diet slowly evolved. A typical food day now is cottage cheese pancakes with blueberries and slivered almonds for breakfast, vegetarian chili with a salad for lunch, and chicken stir-fry with broccoli, bok choy, and carrots for dinner.
Dessert is usually fruit or a square of dark chocolate and a few walnuts. And I drink water. Lots and lots of water. If I can change my diet this dramatically, anyone can.
Challenge 3: Exercise more
People often ask me how I was able to lose weight and keep it off. I’ve read that cutting calories — in other words, changing your diet — helps you lose weight, while exercising regularly helps you keep it off. That’s certainly been true for me.
Do I occasionally fall off the exercise wagon? Of course. But I don’t beat myself up about it, and I do get back on.
I used to tell myself that I didn’t have time to exercise. Once I learned to make fitness a regular part of my life, I discovered that I’m actually more productive because I have a better attitude and more energy. I also sleep better. Both exercise and adequate sleep are critical for me to manage diabetes effectively.
Challenge 4: Manage stress
Having type 2 diabetes is stressful. And stress can increase blood sugar levels. It’s a vicious cycle.
Plus, I’ve always been an overachiever, so I take on more than I should and then get overwhelmed. Once I started making other changes in my life, I wondered if I could manage stress better too. I’ve tried a few things, but what’s worked best for me is yoga.
My yoga practice has improved my strength and balance, sure, but it’s also taught me to be in the present moment instead of worrying about the past or the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a stressful situation (hello, traffic!) and suddenly I hear my yoga teacher ask, “Who’s breathin’?”
I can’t say I never feel stressed anymore, but I can say that when I do, taking a few deep breaths makes it better.
Challenge 5: Seek support
I’m a very independent person, so I rarely ask for help. Even when assistance is offered, I have trouble accepting it (just ask my husband).
Several years ago, an article about my blog, Diabetic Foodie, appeared in a local newspaper, and someone from a diabetes support group invited me to a meeting. It was wonderful to be with other people who inherently understood what living with diabetes is like — they just “got it.”
Unfortunately, I moved and had to leave the group. Soon afterward, I met Anna Norton, CEO of DiabetesSisters, and we talked about the value of peer support communities and how much I missed my group. Now, a couple of years later, I’m leading two DiabetesSisters meetups in Richmond, Virginia.
If you aren’t in a support group, I highly recommend you find one. Learn to ask for help.
In my experience, type 2 diabetes brings challenges every day. You need to pay attention to your diet, get more exercise and better sleep, and manage stress. You may even want to lose some weight. Having support will help. If I can meet these challenges, you can too.
Shelby Kinnaird, author of The Diabetes Cookbook for Electric Pressure Cookers and The Pocket Carbohydrate Counter Guide for Diabetes, publishes recipes and tips for people who want to eat healthy at Diabetic Foodie, a website often stamped with a “top diabetes blog” label. Shelby is a passionate diabetes advocate who likes to make her voice heard in Washington, DC and she leads two DiabetesSisters support groups in Richmond, Virginia. She has successfully managed her type 2 diabetes since 1999.