Managing diabetes can feel like a full-time job, admits diabetes educator and counsellor Helen Edwards. ‘I’ve had type 1 since 1979 and I still frequently struggle to find a balance between diabetes, my family, career and everything else in my life,’ she says. If that constant juggle sounds familiar, you’re not alone, but there are ways of making it easier. Here, Helen Edwards, along with endocrinologist Dr Sultan Linjawi and dietitian Dr Kate Marsh, shares her advice on getting back in charge of your life – and keeping diabetes in its place.
1. What to do if... your blood glucose levels aren’t where you want them to be
Sometimes blood glucose monitoring can seem like a test of how well you’re managing your diabetes. If you’re not seeing the numbers you want, it can leave you feeling anxious or down about yourself. The temptation may then be to avoid monitoring altogether as a way of ‘rebelling’ against diabetes. If you find yourself in this situation, it could be time to rethink your approach. If you are doing lots of checks, try doing fewer, rather than none. This will give you some time out while still helping you maintain control. It might be worth tuning into the thoughts that run through your head, too. Instead of using words such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when thinking about your numbers, try using ‘high’ and ‘low’ instead.
● Ask an endocrinologist: ‘The most critical thing is not to get too despondent,’ says Dr Sultan Linjawi. ‘Remind yourself that not everything goes to plan. Knowing there is a problem allows you to take steps to correct it. Looking for patterns is a great way to figure out what’s going on with your levels. Is your blood glucose high in the morning? Then it’s not likely to be a food issue as you have fasted overnight. It’s more likely that your medication needs to be reviewed, or that you may need to start taking insulin if you have type 2. ‘Are your blood glucose levels jumping up after meals? Your glucose levels should return to a safe range (say 4-9mmol/L) two hours after eating. If they haven’t, then the kinds of food you’re eating, or more likely the quantity of a particular food, may be responsible. Remember, it’s never too late to make changes!’ he says.
2. What to do if... you’re sick of counting carbs
For people with type 1 and those with insulin-controlled type 2, counting carbs can be a great way of achieving more balanced blood glucose. On the flip side, however, constantly thinking (and worrying) about your next snack or meal and whether it’s going to spike your numbers can feel all-consuming and, ultimately, rob you of some of the pleasure of eating. To help keep your blood glucose levels where you want them – and keep you enjoying what’s on your plate – think like the Boy Scouts and ‘be prepared’ with these food-friendly tips…
● Take a course: If you’re new to carb counting or would like to fine-tune your approach, consider signing up for a Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating program or the teenage equivalent, TEAM T1. Led by medical professionals, these programs will help you adjust your insulin dosage to what you’re eating.
● Check it out: When you’re grocery shopping, make a habit of checking nutritional panels. That way, there aren’t any surprises when you get home.
● Use technology: Planning a visit to a family restaurant or the food court? Head online before you leave the house and check out the nutritional information on your favourite food outlet’s website. Or, you could consult an app such as CalorieKing or MyFitnessPal. These handy helpers include detailed nutritional information on everything from sandwiches to international cuisine, and can be downloaded for free via Google Play or the App Store.
● Read all about it: Diabetic Living takes the guesswork out of calculating the carbs in the food you make at home by doing it for you! Check out our Food section for great meal ideas.
● Ask a dietitian: ‘Consider measuring the carbs in your commonly eaten foods just once, and then keep a list of them handy so you don’t need to measure every time,’ suggests Dr Kate Marsh. ‘If you spend some time up front weighing and measuring, you will get better at judging carbs by sight and carb counting will become less of a chore.’
2. What to do if... you feel alone
No matter how it happens, being told you have diabetes is a shock and can provoke feelings of anger, grief, denial, fear and anxiety. These feelings can increase if you don’t feel that your loved ones are supporting you. Don’t suffer in silence – talk to them about how you are feeling and let them know what support you need. It can also help to reach out to other people living with diabetes. Ask your diabetes educator to recommend a local support group, or join an online community such as DL’s Facebook page.
● Ask a diabetes educator: ‘It’s like driving a car – sometimes you want to put your diabetes in the back seat, or the boot, for a while!’ says Helen Edwards. ‘Other times you are okay with it being next to you in the passenger seat. Getting the right people in the car with you, and making sure you are headed wherever it is you want to go in life, will help you embrace diabetes as a healthy part of your life.’
By Helen Edwards