While a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes — a disease in which your body isn’t properly using insulin, resulting in high blood sugar — can feel overwhelming, managing the chronic health condition doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are several choices and behaviors that can help improve your health and make you feel more empowered.
Dr. Sheila Perez-Colon, a pediatric endocrinologist at Kidz Medical in Doral, Fla., who often counsels families about how to handle a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, tells Yahoo Life that even small lifestyle changes, such as watching portion sizes and being physically active, can be instrumental in feeling more in control of a diabetes diagnosis.
“Managing diabetes is a learning process,” says Perez-Colon. “The most important factor is to be open to learning new things and recognize that every day is not the same in the life of a diabetic patient.”
Having a good support system — whether that’s family and friends, online groups, or in-person communities who are also navigating type 2 diabetes — is also key. “Living with diabetes is not easy and requires the support of the family,” says Perez-Colon. “It’s important that other family members get educated on diabetes so as to understand the disease and the affected family member.”
Here, seven strategies — including what’s worked for patients with type 2 diabetes — to help manage the chronic health condition.
Know how different foods affect your blood sugar
Eating healthy, balanced meals is essential when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes. Talk with your doctor or dietician about their recommendations. One switch to consider: adopting a Mediterranean-style diet — heavy on vegetables, fresh fruits, and fish — which some studies show helps lower blood glucose levels.
It’s also important to know how different foods impact your blood sugar levels. “Learning what foods spike quickly, while others don't, was a very tedious process, but it was absolutely necessary,” Francis Midlyn, who shares her type 2 diabetes journey on Instagram @frannythecook, tells Yahoo Life.
Midlyn says that knowing how different foods affect her blood sugar not only benefits her health, but also helps her when dining out with friends or family. “This way, I'm not stuck just eating at home,” Midlyn says. “If I know what foods spike my numbers, I can use that knowledge when eating out at a restaurant and not have to pay the consequences later.”
Exercising regularly is another key way to help keep blood sugar levels under control. “When you exercise, your muscles use sugar (glucose) for energy,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Regular physical activity also helps your body use insulin more efficiently.”
However, adding more movement to your day doesn’t need to mean taking a daily Zumba class or an all-out session on the elliptical, if that’s not your thing. Studies have found that walking for 30 minutes most days can improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, as well as help reduce excess weight, which is also a type 2 diabetes risk factor. Before starting a new exercise plan, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Find a health specialist who supports you
When it comes to navigating type 2 diabetes, it’s critical to find a doctor who listens to you and can help you develop a lifestyle strategy and medication management plan that works for you. For some, “there is a stigma with medication, so being able to find someone that helps me see the value of the meds I am on has really helped me,” shares Jennifer Clark, who shares the lessons she’s learned while managing her type 2 diabetes under @jens_gettin_healthy on Instagram. “Finding a healthcare specialist that supports me has made all the difference.”
Get into a sleep routine
“Sleep is vital,” Melissa Slemp, who coaches people navigating a diabetes diagnosis under @bloodsugarboss on Instagram and has type 1 diabetes herself, tells Yahoo Life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting less than seven hours of sleep each night can make diabetes harder to manage, such as by increasing insulin resistance and making you more likely to reach for junk food that is high in carbs and sugar. If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, consider prioritizing a healthy sleep routine: Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, avoid screens and bright lights 30 minutes before bed, and consider talking to your doctor about enrolling in a sleep study if you or your partner continue to notice sleep irregularities or middle of the night wake-ups.
Find your reason
Whether it’s living longer for your kids or having more energy, finding a reason to prioritize your health can help you stay motivated. “When everything got locked down during COVID-19, I decided to make a massive move and attack my type 2 diabetes,” Dan Denton, who shares his diabetes management strategies under @diabetesarmy on Instagram, tells Yahoo Life. “I wanted to make changes in my life and influence others as well.”
But that wasn’t the only reason Denton, a former professional wrestler, decided to make his health a priority: “I had two friends lose limbs to [diabetes], and they both ended up passing away,” he says. “It was time to change.”
Denton started counting carbs, and after eight months, added in intermittent fasting. He also did yoga on a regular basis. By sharing his health journey on social media, Denton not only found support and encouragement but also helped inspire others. “I get a lot of diabetics reaching out to me for help,” he says. “I figure if I can just get one person to change their lifestyle, then I have won.”
Use an app
If you always have your smartphone in hand, consider adding a diabetes management app to your phone. Not only can you easily log meals and check blood sugar, but you can also share the data with your doctor and dietician to help you recognize patterns. While some apps sync to your glucose monitor, even having apps that can help educate you on carbohydrate and sugar counts, physical activity, or diabetes management can be helpful. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Talk it out
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can take a psychological toll and is not something you have to go through alone. While your doctor can help you map out lifestyle shifts to help control the progression of diabetes, it can also be helpful to speak with a counselor, therapist, or local support group. Research shows that having diabetes can cause emotional strain, which can negatively affect self-care. Addressing a patient’s psychological needs — not just their physical health — on the other hand can help them improve blood sugar control.