- Ways to take the baby step approach through your food choices, physical activity, stress, taking medications, properly utilizing your health care providers, and focusing on the future.
Every year in November we celebrate Diabetes Awareness Month to remind us of the importance of being tested for diabetes and for taking care of yourself if you are living with diabetes. We have learned that people who have a chronic disease like diabetes are more vulnerable to having complications from COVID if they are sick. So perhaps now more than ever, making sure you are doing everything you can to keep your diabetes well managed is really important.
On the one hand, managing your diabetes is simple: take your medication, see your doctor regularly, eat healthy foods, be physically active every day. On the other hand, it isn’t that simple, is it!?
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with the advice given to you by your health care provider, diabetes educator, dietitian, the television, or friends, and family. It feels like at every turn there is something you need to be doing or doing differently!
This diabetes month, let’s try and take a different approach-a baby step approach: When a baby is learning to walk, it happens in stages: They learn to scoot, then crawl, then pull up on a surface such as a table or a chair, the edge their way around that table or chair. Then they might hold the steadying hand of a parent and take steps across the room and eventually, that wobbly first step alone, and then another and another. For some this process takes months and others weeks-but in the end all babies find their way to walking independently and soon running.
In managing your diabetes, taking a baby step approach can be a good way to get started on living healthier. There are several small choices and actions that a person with diabetes can take that when done, over and over, become new healthier habits. These healthy habits help to keep our blood sugars/glucose in a healthy range and that helps us to avoid some of the complications of diabetes over time. Let’s look at some baby steps that you can consider taking this diabetes awareness month:
Food Choices: Eating healthy with diabetes can be confusing-eat this, don’t eat that, eat a little of this, or a lot of that-whew! What advice do you follow!? You may also wonder if you can still eat things that you love that others may tell you are “bad”. There are no foods that you must eliminate from your eating habits entirely (unless you have received specific health guidance to do so) just because you have diabetes. However, it is true that there are some small changes you can make to your overall pattern of eating that will help you to manage your diabetes better. Choose one thing to work on related to your food and beverage choices; Perhaps you will drink more water each day, perhaps you replace some or all sweetened beverages(soda, sweet tea, sugary coffee drinks) with water or unsweetened drinks. Perhaps you will work on making sure every meal has some fruit or veggies included (making sure your plate is more than one color is a simple trick). Perhaps you will focus on reducing your portion sizes-so instead of two pieces of toast at breakfast you cut down to one. Perhaps order the medium or small option from the menu rather than large. Or perhaps you will consider switching out a dessert for a piece of fruit when you can or have a smaller piece of that pie or cake on occasion. You get the idea, identify one small way to add more healthful foods to your day.
Physical Activity: Some people say that exercise, or physical activity, is like “magic” for diabetes management! Movement helps to lower your blood sugar, build muscles, relieve stress, and make you feel better overall. Your small steps in the activity category are dependent on your physical abilities. Any movement you put into your day is beneficial to your diabetes. If you enjoy walking, can you take a long walk or plan to walk one more day a week than you currently do? If you are limited to being active at home, what kind of physical activity can you do while cooking, cleaning, or watching TV? YouTube (ask your kids or grandkids if not familiar) has many free fitness videos. Look for some that reflect your age and/or fitness level. Consider a walking workout video, a sit and be fit or something more strenuous that matches your level of fitness. When you feel safe to do so, many community recreation centers and YMCA’s have fitness classes and clubs that might help you stay motivated!
Stress: Feeling stressed a lot can make it harder to manage your diabetes. The hormones released in our bodies when we are stressed increase our blood sugar! We all feel stress a little differently, but common feelings can include muscle tension, headaches, heart racing, feeling agitated or even nauseous. Since many stresses in our lives cannot be completely avoided, finding ways to manage our stress is important. Some people find that simply taking deep breaths and blowing out the air can help with the physical symptoms of stress. Other people find that talking to a friend or support person is a way to de-stress. Physical activity can also be helpful. Taking a walk, or even just walking in place can help your body de-stress and therefore your blood sugar come down! Some people find that prayer and meditation are helpful in staying calm during stressful events. Try something new to cope with your stress. If coping with stress on your own is not working, talk with your health care provider about other supports.
Medication: What small step might you take related to your medication? Keep taking it! If your doctor has prescribed a medication to help with your diabetes, it is important that you take that medication as the instructions state. If you are not sure how often or how much of your medication to take or are having side effects that are bothersome, talk to the pharmacist or doctor.
Health Care Providers: Other aspects of your diabetes care involve your relationship with your health care providers. A person with diabetes should visit their doctor several times a year to monitor their diabetes management. Other professionals that your doctor may encourage you to see include a registered dietitian, a diabetes educator, and/or a specialist such as a foot doctor or eye doctor. While it can be a lot to coordinate appointments for your care, it is so very important to make sure you are seen regularly. We are learning new things about managing diabetes every year and your doctor may want to change your medication or provide other guidance to support your wellness.
Focusing on the Future: As previously stated, managing diabetes can be confusing and overwhelming. When you feel that way, remind yourself of what is important to you, and what you want your life to be like in the future. You may want to travel, be at your child or grandchild’s wedding or graduation, or hold that great grandbaby someday or simply be able to garden, walk or work! Whatever it is that you envision for your healthy future, can help you continue to take steps forward, even on the challenging days.
Crawling, pulling up, holding on, taking steps-one step at a time can help you live long and healthy with diabetes!
The Diabetes Association of Atlanta (DAA) provides screening, education, and medication assistance to individuals at risk for and living with diabetes. Call DAA to learn more at 404-527-7150 or visit their website http://diabetesatlanta.org/.
Author: Sarah Piper, MPH, CDCES
Diabetes Training and Technical Assistance Center, Emory University
Diabetes Association of Atlanta -Member of the Board of Directors