Receiving the Diabetes Diagnosis
“Did anybody ever tell you that you have diabetes?” Since you are reading this, my guess is that somebody gave you this diagnosis.
On February 7, 1994, Dr. Joseph Blum, my primary care physician at the VA Clinic in Santa Barbara, California, broke the news to me with those words. He added that my A1C level was 14.4. Before that nobody had even hinted that I had diabetes.
I didn’t know enough about diabetes to be shocked, to panic, or go into denial. These the reactions that many people have when they learn that they will have to live with this disease for the rest of their lives.
Since I am a journalist in love with learning, my reaction instead was to find out everything I could about diabetes. As I started to know about diabetes from my own experience and from talking with experts and reading what they write, my goal became not only to heal myself but also to pass on what I know to other people with diabetes. That’s why I’m here.
When you learned you have diabetes, you were probably surprised. You might have even doubted your diagnosis. But eventually you wanted to know how to handle your diabetes. You decided that 15 minutes or so with your doctor every three or four months was hardly enough, so you became your own teacher, looked around, and eventually came here. So here are the basic facts about your diabetes diagnosis:
Your diabetes isn’t your fault. Studies show that this is true even if some people tell you that your weight caused you to get diabetes. People who are obese don’t have a protein that is essential for regulating blood glucose levels, according to a study that the journal Cell Reports published last week. Because of this genetic difference they have a higher risks of developing diabetes.
1. What you think is the first of the five keys to managing diabetes. While uncontrolled diabetes can affect every organ of your body, your mind is the organ that you can use to control your diabetes. When you use meditation and mindfulness to control your stress, depression, and hostility, you can reduce your blood sugar level.
Yes, it’s true that stress, weight gain, and lack of activity can lead to diabetes. By the same token this means you can use these factors as tools to manage it and be to healthier than you ever were. If you were to panic, your mind would not work as clearly as it does now.
2. What you eat and how much of it is important. Eating fewer calories improves our blood glucose even when we don’t really have to lose weight. Every pound you take off gives you better control over your diabetes.
You don’t need add any special foods, but you do need to limit carbohydrates, which are the only foods that have much impact on your blood sugar level. People with diabetes need to eat the same way that everyone would eat if they really wanted to be the most healthy they could be.
3. Being active helps. You don’t have to run a marathon. Most of us prefer to walk. But for people with leg problems, swimming may be the best alternative. You almost certainly have a nearby health club that you can join. You can start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Years ago one doctor suggested to me that I go up the one flight of stairs to my apartment as fast as I could, and I’ve done that ever since then. You can park your car at the far end of the lot just to get a few more steps that way. Being active has will not only help you to lower your blood sugar level, particularly right after eating, but it will also strengthen your heart, bones, and muscles. Even though it can feel like work, you will also feel better.
4. You are not alone. You have joined an on-line community here, and you can also look for a local support group. You can benefit still more from the guidance of a Certified Diabetes Educator in many communities. You can find one at the website of the American Association of Diabetes educators. Many insurance programs cover diabetes education.
5. For most, but not all, of us this is still not enough. Take the pills or insulin that your doctor prescribes. You may not have to take this medicine once the effects of exercise and of diet kick in. But your doctor will almost certainly prescribe it now to help you get your blood sugar in control as soon as you can. This timing is important, because it’s the cumulative effect of high blood sugar that we need to avoid to be as healthy as we all really do want to be.