Staying healthy and living with type 1 diabetes presents some challenges. However, it’s possible to manage your diabetes with lifestyle changes and a built-in support system.
Chances are good that you know someone living with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 29 million Americans are living with the disease. Of that number 1.25 million children and adults have type 1 diabetes.
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, usually in childhood, means your pancreas is unable to produce insulin, a hormone that’s needed to get blood glucose (or blood sugar) from your bloodstream into the cells of your body. The right amount of insulin keeps your glucose levels from becoming too high or too low. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes. The good news is that it’s controllable.
To manage type 1 diabetes, you’ll have to work closely with your doctors, take medication, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, and have a support team of educated family members and friends.
Your doctor will show you how to use a meter to check your blood glucose levels, which you will have to do every day or possibly more than once a day. Blood sugar levels should be between 70 and 130 pre-meals, and under 180 about two hours after eating a meal.
You’ll also learn how to monitor your blood glucose levels with an insulin pen, syringe, or insulin pump. According to the ADA, there are more than 20 different types of insulin sold in the U.S. Your doctor will work with you to find the one that will manage your diabetes and tell you when and how often you need to take insulin. It’s a good idea to keep a log of your results and bring them with you to your next doctor’s appointment.
In addition to monitoring your blood sugar levels and taking insulin, it’s important to go over your diet and exercise routine with your doctor. Margaret Eckler, RD, certified diabetes educator at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, N.J., believes what you eat, how often you exercise, and how much insulin are all equally important. “All of these steps relate to one another,” she said. “For instance, exercise lowers blood sugars. So you’ll need to know what is the right exercise for you in relation to what you’re eating and how much insulin you’re taking. That’s why you’ll want to work closely with your doctor and diabetes educator.”
They’ll also help you with meal plans. You can eat a vegetarian diet, if that’s what you prefer. You’ll have to monitor your carbohydrate intake. Still confused? If you’re unsure of what you can or should not be eating, visit the ADA’s website. It’s filled with many options for delicious meals. The site also has a menu makeover where you can substitute healthy options for your favorite meals. Your doctor and diabetes nutritionist will also have meal plans that they can share with you.
In addition to working closely with your doctors, enlist help from people who are close to you. According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, studies indicate that those who manage their diabetes care best are the ones who get support from family and friends.
Have a spouse or close friend go with you to the doctor. Share information about your care and symptoms with family, friends, and co-workers. By educating others who care about you, you will be able to better manage your type 1 diabetes.
Getting a type 1 diabetes diagnosis means a change in lifestyle habits. “We know so much more about the disease than we did 30 years ago,” said Eckler. “People are living longer and well when they properly manage their type 1diabetes.”
February 28, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN