You’ll have a hard time finding a single person who hasn’t vowed to eat better and exercise more in 2016. We all do it. But if you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, improving your diet and exercise means much more than skinny jeans and extra energy. It could help you manage and even reverse your condition.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Diabetes means your body either doesn’t make insulin or can’t use it well because you’ve become resistant. You need insulin to pull the simple sugar glucose out of the food you eat and turn it into energy. Without insulin, you’re body can’t use glucose and your blood glucose level spikes.
Those spikes can cause the warning symptoms of diabetes:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Increased hunger
- Weight loss
- Lack of interest and concentration
- A tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Slow-healing wounds
- Vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu)
(From the International Diabetes Federation)
Everyone is different, so if you have some of these symptoms, see your doctor for a blood glucose test right away. If you have a family history of diabetes, check with your doctor even if you don’t experience symptoms.
And don’t take these symptoms lightly. Diabetes damages your blood vessels, which can cause heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, poor circulation, and vision problems.
How can diet help?
Eating better will help you lose weight and maintain a steady blood sugar level. Experts note that, for type 2 diabetes, losing weight can improve how your body uses insulin and actually make you less dependent on injections.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid sugary or high-fat foods like cake, candy and white bread.
- Focus on high-fiber, whole grain cereals and pasta.
- Eats lots of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy.
- Choose water or low-calorie drinks rather than soda or fruit juice.
One of the best ways to improve your diet is to control your portion size. Spend some time weighing and measuring your food until you get a good idea of what a cup of food looks like on your plate. And learn a few rules of thumb. For instance, 3 oz. of lean meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
It’s also important to eat regular small meals. This helps you keep your blood glucose levels steady and prevents bingeing.
How can exercise help?
Physical activity burns extra calories, which will help you lose weight, an important factor for managing diabetes. However, exercise brings other benefits as well.
It helps relieve stress. Stress alone can raise your blood sugar level, but walking, gardening, or dancing helps you relax and let go of frustrations.
Exercise has also been shown to improve your mental outlook and fend off depression. Many who deal with a chronic condition like diabetes face depression as well, which makes it harder to keep up your good habits. Regular exercise can keep you out of that downward spiral.
What else can I do?
If you’re still smoking, get help and quit. Smoking compounds the damage from diabetes. So take whatever steps you can to stub out the habit.
Also, don’t have more than two alcoholic drinks a day; don’t binge drink; and skip alcohol altogether if you’re pregnant.
Finally, find as many ways as possible to reduce stress. In addition to exercise, try meditation, soothing music, or a fun hobby.
How do I get started?
If you’re thinking that controlling your diabetes is going to take a lot of work, you might feel overwhelmed. But don’t worry. First, get some help from a nutritionist or exercise trainer who specializes in diabetes management.
Second, don’t try to change everything at once. Make small, regular improvements. For example, start by just switching out soda for water. After you get used to one change, add another small one, like taking a 15-minute walk every morning.
Get friends and family to help you keep on track and celebrate your victories. Over time, those little changes can add up to better diabetes management and a longer, better life.