Do’s and Don’ts of Diabetes

Everything Impacts Diabetes Just about everything we do, from what we put in our mouths to how much we sleep, impacts diabetes. These do’s and don’ts will get you on the path to better diabetic health.

Do: Exercise

A Picture with diabetes written on a postcard, on the postcard is a glucometer.
A Picture with diabetes written on a postcard, on the postcard is a glucometer.

Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, decrease your risk of diabetic complications and keep your diabetes under control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity (like brisk walking), five days a week. Choose activities you enjoy so that you can easily make your activities a habit. Exercising with friends makes activity social, more enjoyable and provides accountability. If you prefer to be alone, put on some earphones and listen to a podcast or music with your chosen activity.

Do: Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is probably the single best thing you can do for your health. Diabetics have an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and smoking increases your risk even more. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about a plan to quit.

Do: Get a Flu Shot

Diabetics are three times more likely to require hospitalization or die from flu than non-diabetics. Symptoms and complications of diabetes increase your chances of suffering from influenza and its effects. For example, high blood sugar levels decrease the ability of your immune system to fight infections. Plus, nerve damage (a complication of diabetes) increases the likelihood that you will injure your feet, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter your body. Getting a flu shot at the beginning of flu season is the best way to prevent a flu infection.

Do: Take Your Medication Regularly and Check Your Blood Sugar

As many as 50% (or more) of all diabetics in the U.S. fail to take their medication regularly. There are a number of reasons why this occurs, such as poor understanding of instructions or side effects, lack of follow-up, or financial concerns. However, understanding why you need each of your medications and knowing how to take them is essential to good diabetic control. To control your diabetes, you need to regularly check your blood sugar levels and determine how things like exercise, stress, and certain foods impact those levels. If you do not understand your medical regimen than you need to speak up and tell your doctor.

Do: Get More Sleep

Sleep hygiene and blood sugar go hand in hand. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will feel tired, hungrier, and eat more. In my own practice, I find that patients who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to make unhealthy food choices and go for fast food options that are likely not on their diabetic diet. Poor sleep is associated with increased weight and is thought by some to contribute to a pre-diabetic-like state. Additionally, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to less sleep because of frequent awakenings to urinate. Try to get seven or more hours of sleep per night.

Don’t: Drink Sugary Beverages

Soft drinks, iced teas, sports drinks and energy drinks tend to be chock-full of sugar and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. These beverages can have more than 40 grams of sugar in each serving! Plus, people that consume a large number of sugary drinks are more likely to be overweight and may have a harder time losing weight. Artificially sweetened diet soda is a much better option for your blood sugar, but consuming lots of diet sodas may also lead to problems with weight control. Plain old water will keep you well hydrated and quench your thirst.

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Don’t: Eat Out of a Bag

We all lead busy lives and need to eat on the go. However, grabbing a bag of chips can be really bad for your diabetes. Even a small amount of chips can have a large amount of carbs. And we all know that it’s easy to accidentally eat half the bag in one sitting. If you’re going to eat chips, grab a bowl and dole out a small portion.

Don’t: Eat Large Amounts of Pasta and Other Carbs

If your main course consists of a large amount of rice or pasta with a small amount of protein, you could make better nutritional choices for your diabetes. Not only will carb-heavy meals likely leave you hungry and wanting to eat again soon, the carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar. And it’s important that your meals include vegetables, fruits, and other healthy components for successful diabetes management. Consider getting a referral to a diabetes educator or nutritionist if you need help with your meal planning.

Don’t: Skip Meals

Skipping meals can potentially lead to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia if you are on certain types of diabetic medications. While diabetics need to eat at least three meals per day, many patients find that eating smaller, more frequent meals not only helps them manage their blood sugar, but also helps them better control their eating.

Don’t: Be Afraid

I have some patients that totally change their lifestyles after getting a diabetes diagnosis. Others just need to make a few important adjustments. Diabetes does not have to limit you, but you do need to increase your knowledge and understand the disease. Make sure you always have some sort of sugar (e.g. hard candy) handy in case you develop symptoms of low blood sugar. Testing supplies, needles, and insulin can all be stored discreetly, allowing you to travel. Most of my patients learn quickly how to give insulin shots and treat themselves anywhere. My patients that control their diabetes well live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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