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Understanding diabetes

Managing diabetes starts with understanding it. Diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin, makes no insulin at all, or doesn’t respond to insulin properly.

Turning food into energy

Our bodies were designed to convert the food we eat into energy, and insulin is a key part of this process.

First, here's what happens with sugar:

  • When you eat, some of your food is broken down into sugar
  • Sugar enters your blood
  • Then it travels in your blood to all your body's cells. Your body needs the sugar for energy

Next, here's what happens with insulin:

  • Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells in your pancreas
  • Insulin acts like a key to help unlock cells and let the sugar in to the cell to provide energy
  • When sugar moves out of the blood and into the cells, the amount of sugar in your blood goes down

Why it’s important to get diagnosed

Millions of people are undiagnosed and don’t know that they have diabetes. Finding out if you have diabetes is important because high blood sugar can damage your body and lead to other health problems if left untreated. When you know about the condition, you can take steps to manage it. Speak with your health care provider about testing for diabetes and getting treated, if necessary.

Managing diabetes around your needs

There are common goals for managing diabetes, such as controlling blood sugar and living a healthy, active life. But people who have type 2 diabetes also have special needs when it comes to diabetes care. It is important that you work with your health care providers to build a personalized diabetes care plan that includes healthy eating, physical activity, tracking your blood sugar, and taking your medicine.

If you feel frustrated by the details of coping with diabetes, you're not alone. It’s important to learn to recognize these feelings and find ways to manage them.

Work with your care team to create a care plan

There are different types of health care providers ready to help. They are there to help you get the care you need to manage your diabetes. Together, they form your diabetes care team. Stay involved, especially with your primary health care provider, as you create a personalized diabetes care plan that can help get you to your goal and keep you there. The same goes for your family and friends, who are also part of your support team, and can provide support in many different ways.

The emotional side of diabetes

Learn about the emotional side of diabetes—and what you can do about it.

Taking control of your diet

For many individuals with diabetes, the most challenging part of their treatment plan is determining what to eat and following a food plan.

Tips for eating healthier

Changing the way you eat is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you prepare for the obstacles that may get in your way, you are less likely to be discouraged. Here are some tips and suggestions from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Talk to your health care provider before starting any diet plan.

Start small
Focus on 1 or 2 changes at a time. Eating regularly and balancing the amount of carbohydrates you eat during the day should come first. Then you might try to cut down on the amount of fat you eat. After that, check your portion sizes. Next, try to use less salt. Small steps. Once you’ve made those changes a routine part of your meal plan, you will likely be feeling proud of yourself and be ready to move on to more changes.

Get support from others
Healthy eating is good for everyone, not just people who are living with diabetes. It can be helpful to ask your family or others you live with to eat better with you. When everyone is following a healthy meal plan, you can support each other.

If you slip, get back on track
If you go off your plan, get back on track as quickly as you can with more determination. Talk to your diabetes care team if you are concerned about sticking to your meal plan.

Pat yourself on the back
When your new meal plan is going well, you should be proud of your progress. You may notice some weight loss, a boost in energy, and even blood sugar levels moving into your target range.

The more you see results from healthy eating, the more you’ll want to continue.

Reading a nutrition label

Don’t let nutrition labels confuse you.

Overcoming healthy-eating challenges

It’s important to be prepared for anything that could keep you from finding the meal plan that works for you. Here are some suggestions for overcoming some of the eating challenges you may face:

  • You can save money by adding whole grains, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables to your plan instead of food labeled "low-fat." Also, cut down on meats, processed or prepared foods, and sugary or salty snacks—not just for your health, but also because they often cost more
  • You can eat smaller portions of the foods you love or swap ingredients with a low-fat substitute. Discover what you’re able to create
  • Make a plan when you’re going to be eating away from home. You may need to eat a snack before you leave home. Look for healthy menu options. Or ask for a substitute. Share a meal with a friend to help you get the right portion size
  • After eating healthier foods for a while, you may start to like them. You may start to choose healthier foods because you actually prefer them, especially once you see how much better you feel on your new meal plan
  • You might not have to completely cut certain foods from your meal plan. But you may need to adjust how much you eat them based on their effect on your blood sugar. So if you love home-baked cookies, for example, speak with your diabetes educator or dietitian. He or she may be able to give you ideas on how to work this treat into your meal plan
  • Remember the goals of a healthy meal plan:
    • Keeping your blood sugar within your goal range
    • Managing your weight
    • Reducing your risk of diabetes-related health problems

Meal planning is very different from a diet. Dieting is short-term. Meal planning is a way of life with a long-term goal—managing your diabetes.

Dining out?

Learn how to practice healthy eating when dining away from home.

Being active in your daily life

Physical activity is important to your health and blood sugar control. Even a small increase in physical activity may help to make a difference in your diabetes. In fact, some people with type 2 diabetes with a physical activity program may be able to manage their blood sugar better. Be sure to check with your health care provider before you start any plan to increase your physical activity.

Do what you love

Your physical activity program should include activities that you enjoy and that are convenient for you. If being active is more fun for you when you do it with someone else, ask a family member or friend to join you. You may also want to vary your routine to keep it interesting.

The ADA recommends being active for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week, or a total of 150 minutes a week. Your diabetes care team will help you develop an activity plan that is right for you.

If you haven’t been active in a while, the ADA suggests these tips:

  • Keep sessions short; 10 minutes at a time is a good start
  • As you move forward in your activity plan, you may want to try adding a few minutes to your routine
  • While you’re active, if you can’t talk without getting out of breath, slow down or take a break
  • Always talk to your health care provider when you start or change any activity

Additional safety tips for physical activity

  • Bring a carbohydrate (or carb) snack with you in case your blood sugar drops too low. These are foods that are easily converted into sugar in the body (such as an appropriate sports drink, regular soda, or glucose tablets)
  • Take a day off if you’re not feeling well
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace
  • Protect your feet. Wear comfortable shoes and socks that fit
  • Check your feet after being active for any bruises or blisters
  • Always check with your health care provider about how to treat your low blood sugar. If you feel shaky, sweaty, dizzy, or have other signs and symptoms of low blood sugar, tell your health care provider how often these things happen. He or she may need to change your diabetes care plan

If you’ve got these tips down, you’re off to a good start. But the key is to make your activity plan a regular part of your diabetes management. So stay with it, and stay active.

Keeping your feet healthy

Learn some activities you can do to help prevent problems with your feet.

Staying on track with your care plan

There’s a lot to consider with diabetes. You may find that you need to make some changes to your daily life. You will need a diabetes care plan that guides you through healthy eating, activity, and how to take medicine you may need. But you are not alone in managing your diabetes.

Remember, diabetes may change over time, even if you are doing everything right. As time goes on, your diabetes care plan may need to change, too. But it doesn’t mean that your diabetes is getting worse. It just means your body is making less insulin.

Your health care provider may recommend you start, change, add, or increase a medicine if healthy eating and being active aren't controlling your blood sugar. By adjusting to the changes that need to be made in your diabetes care plan over time, you may be better able to manage both your diabetes and your long-term health.


Anthony Anderson's diabetes story

Diabetes is diabetes, even if you’re a celebrity. Hear Anthony Anderson’s story of how he got real about healthy eating, being active, and taking his medication.

Start your own story

Are you ready to put what you’ve learned into practice? Register for Cornerstones4Care® to get more content and resources to help you get started.

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