Simple Tricks for Living Well with Diabetes—from People Who Have It
Accepting a diabetes diagnosis can be difficult, especially when you must change previous habits and adapt your lifestyle. But there’s good news: millions of people live full, happy, active and healthy lives, even with diabetes, and they’ve shared their best advice for doing the same.
Stay active and track your reactions
When David Weingard was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 36, he faced with some tough adjustments. From taking his new medication to monitoring his blood sugar, he fought to stay active and fit, eventually founding his diabetes coaching company, Fit4D. For Weingard, exercising had to remain a part of his life and he encourages other diabetics to do the same.
“Exercise is critical to long-term physical and mental health. Mentally, we need positive energy (and endorphins) to combat the 24/7 strain of the condition. Physically, we need to help our bodies stay strong and avoid the long-term effects and complications of diabetes,” he says.
But to figure out how much you can withstand and what works for your body, he also notes that keeping track your reactions will help create a plan that works uniquely for you. “Detailed record keeping is a key factor in realizing the benefits of exercise and minimizing blood sugar swings—especially highs and lows. You can reference these records to repeat workouts and your body should yield similar results most of the time,” he says. Find out what the best exercises are for people with diabetes.
Build a support system
Though Rachel Zucker is only 24 years old, she’s been managing her type 1 diabetes diagnosis since she was four years old, making her quite the expert. She described diabetes as a full-time job: She had to accept that there are no days off, no breaks or vacations. That’s why she recommends having supportive friends and family around you who will move with your highs and lows—they’re essential to keeping a good attitude and mindset. Instead of hiding your diagnosis, Zucker says wear it with pride. “I tell anybody and everybody close to me that I’m diabetic. Making sure people around you know you’re diabetic can be life-saving in an emergency situation. In college, I made sure everybody around me knew I had type 1 diabetes, so when I went out to a party or to a sorority fundraising event, there was always someone looking out for me. Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell others about their medical condition; I would highly encourage them not to be. Nobody has to do this alone,” she says. Find out how fruit can lower your diabetes risk.
Don’t be overwhelmed
Now 67, Carol Gee wasn’t diagnosed with type 2 diabetes until her late 50s. Although her new life was scary at first, she says that leaning into the unknown helped her manage her new lifestyle and adjust her habits, ensuring that she lived vibrantly throughout middle age. “Diabetes is scary, but with knowledge comes power. Take the medications the way you are supposed to and it will get easier. I was afraid of needles, so I considered it a great victory when I injected myself without passing out. Know that you ‘can’ survive and thrive with diabetes. You just have to say it—and more importantly—believe it.” (Learn what interval training can do for diabetes.)
Don’t let it define you
Author and diabetes advocate, Quinn Nystrom first watched her younger brother get diagnosed with type 1 diagnosis. Then, two years later, she got the news herself at the age of 13. While that day was one of the worst of her life, she says, it’s taught her many life lessons and led her to help others. Even though living with diabetes is a 24/7 job, she encourages those who are newly diagnosed to not let it define them. Instead, she says, allow it to refine you. “We are not just a broken down pancreas. We’re more than a label that a doctor gives us, society tells us, and even sometimes what we tell ourselves. Seek to understand how the diagnosis of diabetes has brought light into your life. Find the positives,” she says.
Set attainable goals
Right before he started college, Joshua D. Miller, MD, couldn’t stop losing weight and was thirsty all the time. These symptoms led to a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and would serve as the turning point in his life, leading him to become an endocrinologist and diabetologist and the medical director of Diabetes Care at Stony Brook Medicine. One way that he manages his condition (and helps his patients) is by focusing on small, achievable goals. “When it comes to diabetes, it is very difficult to reach all of your goals at once. From blood sugar monitoring, attention to a healthy lifestyle, medication management and physician visits, overcoming the disease’s challenges can seem daunting. Pick one or two small goals with your physician to help you move in the right direction. You will be surprised at how much success you can truly achieve,” he shares. (Do you know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?)
Manage your entire health
Though it can be difficult to focus on anything but your blood sugar, Mella Barnes has found that keeping all parts of her health top of mind helps keep her more satisfied and balanced. She discovered her type 1 diabetes at the age of eight, and has been managing the illness ever since. She says that focusing on each day has been helpful. She also discovered that staying in touch with her emotions is crucial. “Take care of your mental and emotional health. This impacts your diabetes more than you think! Stress causes a lot of issues as well as a lack of sleep. If you’re depressed or anxious about your diabetes, find a therapist or free support group. Do something that makes you happy every day,” she says. (Watch out for these diabetes symptoms that people typically miss.)
Find support among other people with diabetes
Fred Winchar discovered he was a type 2 diabetic six years ago and has worked hard to manage his diagnosis. A successful businessman who knows the importance of good advice, he quickly realized that he needed to talk to someone who had been through the struggle. “When I first was diagnosed, I told a friend who was a type 1 diabetic, and he helped me learn how to test and monitor my sugars. He was one of the most energetic and happy people I have ever met. He was delighted to help another person on the same journey. Not only did I learn but I was able to bond in a special way with someone who knew what I was going through,” he says.