When you are first diagnosed with diabetes, it is often overwhelming. There is so much you need to know and do. Often, the pills or insulin the doctor prescribes are the easiest part of the “self-management” regimen.
The American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) has condensed all the things someone with diabetes needs to do into seven self-care behaviors: healthy eating, being active, monitoring, taking medication, problem solving, reducing risks and healthy coping.
1. Healthy Eating
This means having foods that provide all three nutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat in reasonable quantities to help you maintain a healthful weight.
It means eating regular meals that are low in saturated fat and excess sodium and controlling the amount and type of carbohydrate you eat at one time. What it doesn’t mean is that you have to give up all of your favorite foods or that certain foods are taboo.
In order to do this you need to know the nutrient (especially carbohydrate) content of foods, how to read labels, how to cook foods to maintain nutrient content and avoid adding extra saturated fat and sodium, and how to choose appropriately in restaurants.
2. Being Active
This means engaging in aerobic activity, strength building and flexibility training most days of the week. Being active can help control blood glucose levels if you have type 2 diabetes and improve cardiovascular health and assist in weight loss or control for both type 2 and type 1 diabetes.
You need to know what activities are appropriate for you to do, how often and how forcefully you need to do them and how to handle the possible side effects of exercise (hypo- and hyperglycemia.)
Checking your blood glucose allows your health care provider to see how your blood sugars are responding to the medications and lifestyle regimen you are following and whether changes are needed.
How to monitor, how often to monitor and how to interpret the results of blood glucose checks are all things you need to know in your search for good control.
4. Taking Medication
If you have type 1 diabetes, you will be taking insulin for the rest of your life. If you have type 2 you may initially be able to control your blood glucose levels with lifestyle or with oral medications. The longer you have diabetes the greater the chance that your beta cells (the cells that make insulin in the pancreas) will fail and you will need to take insulin. This is part of the natural progression of the disease and is not in your direct control. It is important to understand how the medication you are taking works, how to properly take the medication, and what side effects it may have. Knowing these things will make it easier for you to determine if your medication is working properly.
5. Problem Solving
The nature of the disease is chronic and progressive. Diabetes is affected by everyday activities, such as eating and exercise, illness and stress. This means that people with diabetes are continually solving problems. You need to know how to respond to high and low blood sugars with appropriate changes in activity, food and medicine.
6. Risk Reduction
In order to take care of yourself fully, it is necessary to know what preventive care is required. Regular blood pressure checks, eye, foot, and dental exams are essential. Also, there are other laboratory tests like microalbumin, cholesterol and lipids that must be performed regularly. You need to know what these tests measure, what the therapeutic goals are, and how frequently you should get them checked to help you plan your care more responsibly.
7. Healthy Coping
Because diabetes is a chronic disease that is progressive and requires so much patient involvement, it affects your psychological state as well as your physical being. Often, the whole family is affected. Having the skills to maneuver awkward social situations in a positive way, to stay motivated to engage in behaviors such as healthy eating, or physical activity, and to avoid letting the disease dictate your entire life requires the development of lifestyle coping skills.
The Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at Desert Regional Medical Center provides a variety of diabetes self-management education programs. For more information about classes, individual training, and community programs such as Just A Start, please call (760) 323.6881.