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Real-Life Ways to Manage Diabetes

It's one thing to know what you should do to control diabetes. It's another thing to actually do it. For people with the disease, too often life seems to get in the way of healthy eating, physical activity, glucose testing, medication regimens, and all those recommended doctor visits.

If managing diabetes seems like a full-time job, keep in mind it's a task that can't be taken lightly. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death by disease in the U.S., based on 2010 figures from the CDC. Without proper self-management, diabetes often leads to serious complications, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, and lower-limb amputations.

Below are some common barriers faced by people with diabetes, and suggested solutions.

Barrier 1: What's expected?

You're not sure what you should—or shouldn't—be doing for yourself. Suppose you wake up hungry, but your blood glucose levels are already elevated. Should you eat breakfast anyway? If so, what foods should you eat? Or, if you travel often on business, what exercise and healthy eating options are available? Is skipping a dose of your blood pressure medication really such a big deal? If you don't know answers to questions like these, your health could be in jeopardy.

Solution: Seek out expert advice now. What you learn will serve you for a lifetime. Find out what you should be doing, why it's good for you, and how to do it. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator to explain in simple language. If you don't receive the answer you need, ask for a referral to another expert, whether it's a registered dietitian, an eye doctor, or an endocrinologist.

For additional personalized care, contact a diabetes education center recognized by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). To find a center in your area, visit the ADA website.

Barrier 2: What about exercise?

Pick your excuse: You don't have time for exercise; you're too out of shape; it's too much of a bother; you don't have the energy.

Solution: Look for a form of activity you enjoy, and then start with baby steps. You'll be surprised how far those steps can take you.

Exercise is especially important if you have diabetes because it can lower your blood sugar and improves your body's ability to use insulin, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Exercise also can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level, lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, and help you with weight management.

Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program. He or she can offer suggestions on how to get started and how to monitor your blood sugar while you exercise.

Barrier 3: What about losing weight?

You may feel helpless about controlling your weight. Sticking with a diet seems too complex, unpleasant, or downright undoable.

Solution: Begin with a reality check. Healthy weight loss actually doesn't have to involve confusing diet plans, complex measurements, or purchasing special dietary food products—just healthy eating.

This basically means eating a balanced diet low in fat, cholesterol, and sugar, and paying attention to portion sizes and total calories. At the same time, you should realize that food can be a critical, ongoing issue for people with diabetes.

If you keep having trouble with weight control, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian who can help you personalize an eating plan. Also, be sure to engage in regular physical activity to help burn the calories you're taking in.

Barrier 4: What about blood sugar?

Your eating habits are causing problems with blood sugar control, but you aren't prepared to change them. Either you don't know what needs adjustment, or you lack motivation.

Solution: Follow your doctor's advice for self-monitoring your blood glucose levels. When you can see more clearly how the foods you eat affect you, you'll be able to gain far more control over your condition.

Barrier 5: What's important?

You'd rather ignore your diagnosis altogether. After all, who wants to deal with a serious chronic illness?

Solution: Discuss your diabetes with your family or with others who have diabetes, and ask for their support.

Barrier 6: What about medical costs?

You need to monitor your blood sugar and manage any medications you take. But to do this, you'll need to buy test strips, a glucose meter, and your diabetes drugs.

Solution: Health insurance usually covers the cost of diabetes supplies, the ADA says. To find out your health insurance options, visit the ADA website.  

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