7 things to know about type 2 diabetes
Each week, I see patients at Southwest Internal Medicine, many who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. While each patient is unique in their concerns, frustrations and goals, over the past few years I have found a lot of commonalities. I’d like to share seven of them with you:
- First,and most importantly, I would emphasize that metabolic issues (high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.) do not happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning with diabetes. Clinical diagnosis (of any metabolic issue) comes when numbers hit a certain tipping point—but, that doesn’t mean it was less of an issue before. I don’t say this to worry you, I say it to put health and wellness in perspective. Most people can sense their body is overstressed and/or not functioning optimally far before diagnosis. Health happens on a continuum, so don’t wait for a diagnosis. If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.
- It may take some time for your blood sugar levels to come down. That’s OK. Also, medications are useful, but they are used for treatment, not as a cure. The underlying issues will still be present if medication is the only treatment used. Health is determined by healthy behaviors,so health is something you can have right now. At this moment you can tune in to what your body needs, honor it by responding, and therefore move towards health. Health is not a destination. It is a commitment to take care of ourselves each day.
- It’s super common for me to hear,“I can’t be an intuitive eater because I have diabetes.” Wrong! Intuitive eating is absolutely inclusive, given it’s all about taking care of YOUR body and it’s health concerns. When we slow down and listen, we have all the information we need to self-moderate and move toward improved well-being.
- Those with diabetes believe they require a different approach to food than others. While,obviously, their blood sugar will be effected in part by what they eat, so is everyone else’s. We all feel and function better when we have stable blood sugar levels. Eating balanced meals (protein, complex carbohydrate, fat, fruit and/or vegetable) with snacks in between while listening to hunger/fullness levels to guide how much to eat is the best way to regulate blood sugar levels. Fullness is your body’s way of letting you know it’s had enough. If you continue eating, you are over-stressing body functions (digestion, hormone/digestive enzyme production and insulin matching in regards to diabetes). While we all overeat occasionally, consistently doing so can cause metabolic issues (not just diabetes). My experience has been that these issues are caused by ignoring intuitive signals, not by any one food or food group. Slowing down and being more intentional about listening to hunger and fullness signals is the best first step toward more normalized behaviors around food.
- I find most people with diabetes fail to realize that food is not the only thing that effects their blood sugar. Sleep, stress, exercise, mental health concerns, medications, meal timing and patterns, digestion,and rate of stomach emptying all play a role. The good news is that taking a holistic, big picture approach will allow you to avoid extremes and find balance, which is where your body functions at it’s best.
- Diabetes or not, you would do well to find a certain amount of rhythm with food. We are cyclical, rhythmic creatures. We have sleep rhythms,digestive rhythms, seasonal cycles, hormone cycles, etc. While we don’t need anything militant or rigid (given our bodies do not function well at extremes), it’s wise to establish some sort of regular rhythm, which I call a flexible structure. This includes somewhat consistent meal, snack, and sleep times. I think you’ll be surprised at how much more balanced you feel. This is something I see lacking in most of those I work with. A sensitive system needs consistency and balance.
- Last,but not least, you didn’t get diabetes because you gained weight… and it won’t necessarily go away if you lose weight. Health is determined by healthy behaviors, not just a number on the scale. Put energy into taking care of yourself rather than aiming for weight loss. If weight loss happens as a result, you can trust it’s what your body needed.
Diabetes—or any health concern—can be scary, confusing and frustrating. I hope these observations have been helpful in better understanding diabetes and its accompanying beliefs and issues.
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