Diabetes Basics
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Dear Diabetes: It’s Complicated

Juggling the many factors that affect daily highs and lows

If you’re one of the 21 million people in the U.S. with diagnosed diabetes, you may have days when everything goes as expected with your blood sugar levels and days when, no matter what you do, you just can’t make sense of the highs and lows. Many factors can contribute to blood sugar levels, and we’ve examined a number of them in detail here on The DX.

Diet and meal plans

What you consume, when and how much, can play a huge role in life with diabetes, which is why The DX has an entire section of the site devoted to food and nutrition.

People living with diabetes may grow more comfortable with blood sugar management by learning how food and drink can affect their blood glucose levels. That may mean reading nutrition labels, limiting portion sizes, choosing diabetes-friendlier alternatives to favorite dishes or cuisines and learning about alcohol and diabetes.

Carbohydrates become a big part of understanding food consumption – whether it’s the basics of counting carbs, how the body reacts to starches vs. sugars, or trying out lower-carb eating. (Make sure you talk to your healthcare team before making any changes to your meal plan.)

Added to the challenges of everyday meal planning are life’s special occasions, many of which revolve around food. These could include holiday get-togethers, birthday parties, travel and vacations, weddings, Halloween, Game Day gatherings,  a group lunch in the workplace or even as simple as a meal out at a restaurant with friends or family. The DX shares many tips and tricks for handling these situations.

Along with understanding food options, it may help to learn tips for eating mindfully and being fully aware of the food choices you make, while recognizing any emotional eating triggers you may have.

Activity or fitness routine

Activity levels also play a role in managing blood sugar levels. The DX section on health and fitness includes tips to help you realize your goals – whether you’re looking to get started getting fit or need ideas to be active as a family. (Just be sure to check with your healthcare team before trying any new activities or changing your exercise routine.)

It isn’t always easy to be motivated to exercise, but it may help to learn how burning calories and losing and keeping off extra weight may benefit blood sugar levels. Even making a habit of moving more – including smaller steps like stretching and learning a few tai chi exercises – may have an impact on overall fitness.

Stress and mindfulness

Paying attention to overall health also means learning to recognize the signs of stress. Too much stress may throw blood glucose levels out of whack and increase the risk for anxiety, depression, fatigue and sleep issues. Learning to practice mindfulness techniques may help reduce stress levels. (Read what it’s like to participate in a mindfulness-based diabetes management course.)

Issues specific to women

Did you know that diabetes affects men and women differently? For women, the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which regulate the menstrual cycle, may also increase insulin resistance. Hormonal fluctuations following ovulation and during menopause may also impact blood sugar levels.

Environmental variables

There are also a number of other variables that may affect blood sugar management. For example: hot, cold or humid weather; changes in altitude; a seasonal cold, flu or other illness; even traveling. Supplies such as insulin may react to changes in temperature.  (Learn more about storing insulin.)

Your support team

Living well with diabetes may mean juggling the factors listed above, as well as others. And keeping the balls in the air at once may feel like a lot to handle, even when things are going smoothly. The good news is that there is no shortage of help, support, tools and community available for people affected by diabetes.

For starters, a diabetes healthcare team consists of specialists that are knowledgeable in specific areas of physical and emotional care and who can each play a role in helping you live more healthfully with diabetes. They can also provide information on diabetes self-management training and education and monitoring blood glucose levels at home.

Diabetes support organizations – from awareness and advocacy organizations to online groups – may also be a good resource. The diabetes online community (DOC) in particular was created by  – and consists of – many kinds of people who share their journeys and experiences juggling the factors of life with diabetes.

Loved ones and spouses, whether longtime life partners or recent newlyweds, may be a source of support and strength. And family members, friends and even co-workers may play key supportive roles. The DX shares a number of tips for nurturing and maintaining these relationships – whether you’re the caregiver or person living with diabetes.

Yes, life with diabetes may feel complicated at times – and daily highs and lows may not always make sense even when closely tracking and managing food, activity, stress and other factors. That’s why living well with diabetes may sometimes mean being sure to set aside that extra minute each day to take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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