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Treatments | 3 min. read

How to live life to the full with type 2 diabetes

Have you ever thought type 2 diabetes would make everything in life difficult, painful or both? Have you ever thought it would prevent you from living out your hopes and dreams?

Well, think again – and read on.

From surprise to control

Getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can be a bit of a game changer. This is true no matter what your life has been like and how well you generally deal with change.

You may, for instance, experience a strong emotional reaction to having a doctor describe how the glucose in your blood is unable to enter your cells properly and provide you with energy.

Such a reaction is not surprising. Your own metabolism is probably not something you’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about, so of course it can all be a bit overwhelming at first. It takes time to settle into a new understanding of what you’re up to at a cellular and hormonal level.

And it takes time to find the kind of balance that will enable you to enjoy all the activities that define you and make your life both exciting and meaningful.

So – if you’re newly diagnosed – know that you’re not alone. Any uncertainty and worry you might feel is primarily a sign that you care about your health.

“If you're newly diagnosed, know that you're not alone. Any worry you might feel is primarily a sign that you care about your health”

-Adrian Makuc

Find your own balance

Living with type 2 diabetes is a kind of balancing act where you’re constantly looking for the sweet spot (no pun intended). Managing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes means knowing how to prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking as well as dropping. Learn to do that 24-7, and you will avoid hyperglycaemic and hypoglycaemic episodes.

Some people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes accept the diagnosis itself with relative ease, and only later discover that type 2 diabetes has a number of consequences for their lifestyle. And some of these consequences may feel like unreasonable limitations. Again, feeling this way is perfectly normal.

Living with type 2 diabetes is about adapting to a new reality through countless personal adjustments, and no one does that overnight. It’s about finding ways to do the things you enjoy in moderation, with forethought and pre-planning. And it’s about increasing your understanding of your own body and mind so that over time, you stay in the middle of the road – with less and less difficulty.

In short, we’re talking about a learning curve. Living with type 2 diabetes is a process, and you will get better and better at it as you go along. Achieving balance involves forgiving yourself when you slip up and learning from both your mistakes and your successes.

“Living with type 2 diabetes is about increasing your understanding of your own body and mind so that over time, you stay in the middle of the road – with less and less difficulty.”

-Adrian Makuc

Be open about type 2 diabetes

Talking about type 2 diabetes can be difficult. Not everyone will understand your condition immediately, and they might even have some existing stereotypes about type 2 diabetes. But don’t be shy – it’s important to inform others and help them understand what’s going on with you.

Simply put, it is normal to wish to be seen as completely healthy, especially by colleagues and people we don’t yet know very well. It’s natural to want to hide testing your blood glucose or taking your medication in front of others. And it is very common to think that type 2 diabetes is going to make people treat you differently.

But – there can be great benefits to being as open as possible about type 2 diabetes. Not necessarily to any stranger you meet, but to people you trust and have some kind of ongoing relationship with.

If this sounds impractical, here’s how you might begin. Start by telling yourself that your type 2 diabetes is not an essential part of you. The condition is not your personal problem – it is, rather, one of the major health challenges of our time, affecting some 425 million people worldwide. But unlike the 33-50% of people with type 2 diabetes who don’t even know they have it (true fact!) you are among the diagnosed half. This knowledge gives you the opportunity to manage your condition, to live an active, healthy life and to be an ambassador for a community that happens to be growing.

“Being aware of your condition gives you the opportunity to manage it, to live an active, healthy life and to be an ambassador for a community that happens to be growing.”

-Adrian Makuc

So don’t make type 2 diabetes a secret. Your life with type 2 diabetes is a testament to your strength and resourcefulness. You’re helping your body to do something it can’t accomplish on its own, and for that you deserve respect!

Of course, who you tell – and when – is completely up to you. But don’t keep people you trust in the dark about your condition and your needs. There may be days when you will require their understanding.

Being transparent can come in really handy on the odd working day when you’re not feeling 100%. As most people living with type 2 diabetes know, there may be days when you don’t feel well enough to work – due to stomach ache, for example. General openness about type 2 diabetes will put your boss or manager in a much better position to understand why it’s okay that you work from home on certain days (assuming your job allows it, of course).

If you are already at work when you begin feeling bad, having told your boss about your condition in advance will make it much easier for him/her to respond with kindness and understanding to your sudden need to lie down or have a snack between meals.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should never force yourself to perform at 100% when you’re under the weather. Let people know that there’s a good reason why you are paying slightly more attention to your health than the next person.

You can still go out

If you love a night out on the town every now and then, this next tip is for you!

Living with type 2 diabetes does not necessarily prevent you from dancing and socialising into the wee hours of the morning – including enjoying alcohol.

“Living with type 2 diabetes does not necessarily prevent you from dancing and socialising into the wee hours of the morning. But finding a formula that works for you will be crucial to your success.”

-Adrian Makuc

But finding a formula that works for you will be crucial to your success. For starters, this includes NOT drinking unless your type 2 diabetes and blood sugar levels are well-controlled.

If you are unsure about how to assess the level of your type 2 diabetes control and management, check in with your doctor and have a chat about it.

But suppose you find yourself in a state, time and place where alcohol can be enjoyed without putting yourself at serious risk. Consider the following advice and suggestions carefully before going out.

For starters, when you go out for drinks, avoid anything with added sugar. That means saying “no” to all long drinks and cocktails, at least until you make sure they don’t contain fruit cordial, lemonade, energy drink, syrup, ginger ale, cola or any other kind of soft drink. The reason is that such beverages are rich in simple carbs, and therefore tend to cause a spike in the blood sugar level of people with type 2 diabetes.

To put things into perspective, half a litre of soft drink contributes around 60% of the recommended maximum daily sugar intake – for a person without type 2 diabetes! But if you’re living with type 2 diabetes, health professionals recommend limiting your sugar intake to considerably less than that. Because such drinks “use up” too many of the carbs you can have in a day, your best strategy is to avoid them altogether.

“It is never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach, so don’t let a party interfere with your meal plan. And don’t forget to have a snack every now and then while socialising.”

-Adrian Makuc

Diet sodas may be safely enjoyed by people with type 2 diabetes. However, when it comes to artificial sweeteners, there are good arguments on both sides of the debate so this is not an actual recommendation to drink them.

If you face a choice between different juices, go for tomato or vegetable juices and leave fruit juices along (too sugary). But even vegetable juice should be consumed in moderation. If your drink requires a twist, a little lemon juice is OK.

What about food? First of all, as it is never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach, don’t let a party interfere with your meal plan. And don’t forget to have a snack every now and then. Bear in mind that poor food choices become a bit more likely as a result of drinking. And be prepared for the fact that your general judgment or willpower can also go fuzzy.

If you feel like something savoury at a party, go for peanuts or salted nuts and avoid potato chips and snacks with added sugar. Nuts have a low glycaemic index and generally don’t cause your blood sugar to spike, which makes them a good choice.

“Type 2 diabetes is not a warning that your life as you know it is over. Life on the other side of your diagnosis can be both active, rewarding, meaningful, fun and healthy.”

-Adrian Makuc

Come back to balance

And don’t forget, when you’ve had a big night out, go and get some exercise when you’ve rested and are feeling up to it. Exercise can help bring you back into balance after taxing your system with a few guilty pleasures.

Type 2 diabetes is not a warning that your life as you know it is over. But it is a call for you to change how you go about things. Human beings generally don’t like change that they don’t voluntarily seek out, which is why accepting type 2 diabetes can initially be hard. Fortunately, once you do accept it, life on the other side of your diagnosis can be both active, rewarding, meaningful, fun and healthy.

References
  1. International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas, 9th Edition. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2019.
  2. US Department of Agriculture: FoodData Central: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789510/nutrients.%20Webpage%20visited%20in%20October%202020
  3. Sharma A, Amarnath S, Thulasimani M, Ramaswamy S: Artificial sweeteners as a sugar substitute: are they really safe? Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 48(3), May-Jun 2016:237-240
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/drinks-for-diabetics#best-drinks. Web page visited in October 2020.
  5. David J. A. Jenkins, Frank B. Hu, Linda C. Tapsell, Andrea R. Josse, Cyril W. C. Kendall: Possible Benefit of Nuts in Type 2 Diabetes. The Journal of Nutrition, 138(9), September 2008: 1752S–1756S,

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