Meal planning can help you avoid stress and manage your disease.
TWO-THIRDS OF PEOPLE with Type 1 diabetes say that living with the disease makes everyday situations challenging, according to an online survey by the Harris Poll. More than half avoid going out to eat and one-third say they feel like a burden to their partners. People with diabetes may also avoid vacations, social events and driving. This is no way to live.
As a person who’s lived with Type 1 diabetes for the past five decades, I get it. Managing diabetes – both Type 1 and Type 2 – is a 24/7/365 reality. To keep blood sugar in a healthy range, you have to constantly monitor not only what you eat, but also your physical activity, stress, hormones, medications, sleep patterns and illness.
But while many daily challenges of diabetes are unavoidable (it’s a good idea, of course, to avoid driving if you have diabetes-related vision problems), the disease does not have to – and shouldn’t – keep you from living your best life. Here are three strategies for managing diabetes instead of allowing your diabetes to manage you.
1. Don’t deprive yourself.
Effective diabetes management is about averages and balance with food or activities, not deprivation. The “trick” is to be proactive and consistent in managing your diabetes most of the time. Know what foods have carbohydrates and how to portion, prepare and pair them to keep your blood sugar stable. For example, try an open-faced sandwich to spare one slice of bread; choose foods that have a bigger portion size for a moderate carbohydrate amount (try 3 cups of low-fat popped popcorn or two mandarin oranges – both offer a 15-gram carbohydrate serving); add healthy fat like pistachios, almonds or peanuts as your dessert. Pair your carbohydrate foods with healthy fat or lean protein foods – eat nuts with your apple or an egg with your oatmeal, for instance – to help blunt spikes in blood sugar readings
Focus on a healthy plate most of the time – 50 percent vegetables, 25 percent protein and 25 percent healthy carbohydrates. Look for healthy recipes that are also delicious, so you enjoy eating them without feeling like you’re missing out. Check your blood sugar frequently to get real-time feedback. Use these blood sugar readings as a guide on where and when you need to adjust your eating pattern, exercise or medication regimen, but not as a grounds for feeling guilty.
2. Stay ahead of the game.
Let’s face it, no matter who you are, everything is less stressful if you’re prepared. But if you have diabetes, planning ahead isn’t just a stress-avoider, it’s also necessary for successful disease management. Here are some of my top plan-ahead tips:
- Plan (or even prepare and freeze) your meals for the week before the start of the week.
- Always have two types of snacks available in your house, work and car – one type for treating low blood sugar (if you tend to have hypoglycemia or blood sugar readings at 70 mg/dL or below) and others with carbohydrate and protein for in between meals or as a meal replacement if necessary.
- Schedule time to do physical activity most days of the week. You can start with five- to 10-minute bouts of activity with a goal of at least 30 minutes three days per week.
- Check your blood sugar regularly so you can make more informed decisions about your food intake, exercise and medication dosing.
3. Keep a positive mindset.
Our minds drive our behaviors, and our attitude can certainly throw us on or off track. Use the “I think I can” motto from the 1930s fairy tale “The Little Engine That Could.” If you are feeling stumped on how to manage your diabetes, tap into a certified diabetes educator or connect with a diabetes support group. Support is a very valuable resource that can help with problem solving and not feeling alone. And, never forget that the small inconveniences of daily diabetes management accumulate into huge benefits to your long-term health and well-being.
Whether you’ve had diabetes for many years or have been recently diagnosed, feelings of deprivation from food or daily activities do not need to be part of the plan. The path to good health is all a matter of balance – even if you didn’t have diabetes that would be the case. Chronic condition or not, there is always room for modifications, tweaks or adjustments to fit in food and activities you enjoy.