Learning to manage your diabetes

The latest approach to diabetes management puts you in control. You take control of your diabetes care, tracking your progress and keeping your eyes on the ultimate goal – your health and well being.

Managing diabetes can be a challenging task; it is not simply a matter of keeping your doctor’s appointment and taking pills. Diabetes affects many aspects of your life and since nobody knows your life better than you do, you must step into the role of the ‘boss’ of your diabetes care in order to get your treatment needs met.

Measuring blood sugar

Nurse Karen Clayton-Babb, left, measures the blood sugar for Elizabeth Brown during a workshop sponsored by the Public Health Departments. Photo: Submitted

Managing your diabetes involves:

Dietary modifications

Weight control and physical activity

Monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly

Oral medications and or insulin injections

Eat according to a healthy meal plan

Smart food choices help keep blood sugar, weight and cholesterol in better control. Focus on fewer calories, and eat less fat (especially saturated fat). Enjoy more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and legumes instead.

The amounts of fat, carbohydrate (fruits, vegetables, breads and grains) and protein (meat, fish, milk, nuts) you eat depend on your calorie needs and goals for weight control. A healthy diet usually includes 10-20 per cent of daily calories from protein, 30 per cent or less from fat, and the rest from carbohydrates.

Always read the labels before trying ‘low fat,’ ‘light,’ or ‘no fat’ foods. Some of these specially-labelled foods are ‘dietetic’ because they’re sugar free. Others are lower in calories. Some mention that they’re good for people with diabetes. But many diet foods that use sugar substitutes are high in fat and calories. Words like ‘light’ or ‘low’ can be deceptive. Try to read the fine print.

Alcohol can affect blood glucose levels and cause you to gain weight. Talk to your healthcare professional about whether you can include alcohol in your meal plan and how much is safe.

Limit sugars and sweets such as sugar, regular pop, desserts, candies, jam and honey. The more sugar you eat, the higher your blood glucose will be. Artificial sweeteners can be useful.

Always ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian to learn about healthy eating.

Weight control and physical activity

You should do at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. You may need to start with as little as five to 10 minutes per day of brisk walking.

Exercise usually lowers blood sugar. It can help insulin work more effectively and improve your health and energy.

Ask your doctor about the right kind of exercise for you. Get a check-up if you’re starting out, and avoid overdoing it. Gradually increasing your levels of physical activity helps prevent injuries while maintaining your enthusiasm to continue exercising.

Check blood sugar levels before and after you exercise. This helps avoid low blood sugar. Monitoring your blood sugar can also help determine how different types of activities affect sugar levels.

Exercise one to three hours after a meal. If you take insulin, avoid exercising immediately after an injection or if you have not eaten for several hours.

Try walking, swimming and light weight-lifting exercises for physical activity.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will help you control your blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fat levels.

Monitor your blood glucose regularly

Self-monitoring your blood glucose is important whether you are taking medications or managing your diabetes through diet and exercise alone

A blood glucose meter is used to test blood glucose at home and determine whether blood glucose levels are in the target range.

Meters can be purchased at most pharmacies. Testing glucose levels helps put the person with diabetes in control and be more active in managing their condition. Using blood glucose meters to determine the effects of certain foods on blood glucose levels can also help a person with diabetes to choose appropriate foods more carefully.

Review your home glucose monitoring record with your doctor regularly.

Take your medication as ordered by the doctor

There are many kinds of medications available to help control high blood glucose. All of them work differently, but each lowers blood glucose.

When you’re taking several medicines, it can be hard to keep track of them. But you’ll feel better if you take steps to manage your medicines.

Know the basics about your medicines, such as what they’re for and when to take them. Take your medicines as recommended. Tell your health care providers which medicines (prescription and nonprescription) and dietary supplements (such as vitamins) you use.

Get the support you need

You might have a hard time accepting that you or a family member has diabetes. It is not unusual to feel scared, shocked, overwhelmed or even angry.

A positive and realistic attitude towards your diabetes can help you manage your condition. Talk to others who have diabetes or join the Cayman Islands Diabetes Association for support.

Karen Clayton-Babb is Nurse Manager, General Practice Clinic and District Health Centres, Cayman Islands Health Services Authority

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