Type 2 diabetes is a hard disease to beat. However the consequences of not doing so are horrendous: a slow, painful and messy end to your life. Here are some of the things you must do as a minimum to beat your diabetes.
To beat diabetes, you need to keep your blood glucose levels under strict control. This is relatively easy provided you know what you have to do.
However it does require that you exert discipline over your food and exercise. The discipline is the hard part.
Knowledge is power
If you are serious about beating your diabetes, the first thing you must do is bone up on the disease, ie learn everything you can about diabetes, how it is caused and how it can be controlled.
Glucose is a simple sugar which is produced in your stomach during digestion and then absorbed into your bloodstream which delivers it to your body’s cells. Glucose is fuel for your muscle cells and provides you with your energy. But first it has to get into your cells.
Insulin is a hormone that is released by your pancreas into your bloodstream where it meets up with the glucose. The insulin attaches itself to a receptor in the surface of the cell and causes the cell membrane to allow glucose to enter the cell. The cell can then use the glucose as its fuel.
For most people this glucose-insulin system works just fine.
The problem in type 2 diabetes is that the insulin is not able to attach itself to the cell receptors. According to scientists this is because the receptors are blocked with fat.
Thus the key to beating your diabetes is to eat a very low fat diet so that eventually the receptors become freed up.
In addition, of course, you must also reduce the sugar in your diet. Some form of physical exercise will also help.
The above description of diabetes and what needs to be done to beat it is very much simplified. A more in-depth understanding of diabetes will help you make better decisions about how to monitor and control it.
In addition to a basic understanding, you need to research the foods you should eat to ensure that your diet is low in fat and sugar, as well as the kind of exercise regime you should follow.
Remember that as a type 2 diabetic you are your own doctor most of the time. By this I mean that you, not the doctor, diabetes nurse or dietician, are responsible for eating the correct diet, exercising frequently and taking your medications (if any) on schedule.
To that end, knowledge is power.
There are many ways you can gain the knowledge that will give you the power to beat your diabetes. You can read books, research the disease on the internet (exercising plenty of scepticism and caution), and join diabetes classes.
Classes on coping with diabetes are often run by diabetes clinics, though not always. They are an excellent source of knowledge about diabetes and diets.
In addition, classes often act as support groups by bringing people with the same problems together so that they can talk with each other. As well as being helpful in building your knowledge, swapping ideas and experiences can also be very reassuring.
You also need to build a team around yourself in your domestic and social life. Explain to your family, friends and colleagues that you are diabetic and how you are setting out to control it. That way you can build a buddy system to support you in your efforts to beat your diabetes.
You diet will be crucial and the cook in your family will need to understand why you can and cannot eat certain foods and to adjust menus accordingly. It’s vital that this person is on your side, on your team in other words, and does not tempt you with ‘forbidden’ foods.
Exercise too can be important and having exercise partners can prevent slacking off.
A diabetes-beating diet
For a type 2 diabetic, the only way (in my view) to control your blood sugar is to eat a plant-focused diet that is low in sugar, low in fat, low in salt, and high in fibre.
You also need to reduce processed foods to a minimum (it would be impossible to eliminate them entirely!) and, as far as possible, only eat foods that have low glycemic index (GI) values. In addition, you must drink lots of water.
You need to make this diet your everyday diet and get rid of unhealthy eating habits.
The core problem with the standard Western diet is that it contains too much fat and too much sugar. To keep your blood glucose in line you have to control both these.
In order to reduce the fat and sugar you ingest to a minimum, you need knowledge of the foods you can eat and those you cannot eat. There are plenty of books and websites where you will find analyses of various foods with lists of their nutrients.
It may take time to build up your knowledge but that knowledge is vital if you are to beat your diabetes.
Once you have decided what kinds of foods you will and will not eat you need to buy suitable food. To make sure you buy the right foods you must be able to read food labels, a skill that is easily learned.
You should, of course, check you blood sugar levels about two hours after each meal to ensure that your glucose is within the range your diabetes care team will have suggested. If your levels are too high, you’ll have to adjust your diet.
In this regard, if you use a diet diary to track what you are eating then you will be able to compare you after-meal glucose test with what you ate two hours previously. This should give you a deeper insight into what you are doing (right or wrong) and enable you to fine-tune your diet for optimal control over your blood glucose levels.
Medications for diabetes
If you follow a low fat, low sugar, etc diet, you are unlikely to need medications for your diabetes, unless the disease is very far advanced. At least that has been my experience.
Once I had started the diet I am using to beat my diabetes, I was able to give up taking my diabetes medications.
It is not true to say that medications are better than diet and exercise in controlling diabetes. Indeed most people can successfully control their blood glucose by diet alone with some help from exercise. That said, however, some type 2 diabetics do need daily medications.
For diabetics who do require medication, it is important not to miss your regular doses. The occasional missed dose, say once a month, will not matter that much. But to miss taking your regular medications often, for whatever reasons, will wreck your control over your glucose levels.
If you find you are missing doses fairly often, you should try to analyse the cause. Perhaps the timing your doctor has set is inconvenient. If this is so, you should discuss the matter with your health care provider who may be able to revise your schedule so that it fits in better with your life-style.
Other problems, besides diabetes, can have a negative effect on blood glucose levels. Examples include depression and stress.
An estimated one in three diabetics suffers from depression, about twice the average for healthy persons. The lethargy accompanying depression can be extremely discouraging and the danger is that it will induce the sufferer to stop bothering to take care of his or her diabetes.
This of course will make their diabetes worse which may, in turn, intensify their depression, creating a vicious circle. If you are prone to depression you need to be aware of this danger and seek medical help.
Constant stress can also play havoc with your blood glucose levels, by creating hormones that hamper the ability of insulin to do its job.
Anything that relieves stress … exercise, meditation and massage … will improve blood glucose levels.
Sticking to your plan
When I realised that, despite my medications and the diet I had been following, my average glucose levels were trending ever upwards I became very worried and decided that I would research, devise and follow a life-style regime that would work to bring my blood sugar down to acceptable levels.
It took me at least three months to research the matter and decide on the diet I should use to beat my diabetes. I switched over to my new low-fat, low-sugar diet in one fell swoop. But nothing happened for weeks.
There was no reduction in my average blood glucose levels. I almost gave up.
Then I noticed that my weight was starting to go down. This was four or five weeks after I had started the new diet. And it continued to drop by one to two kilograms a week.
At the same time my average glucose levels started to drop dramatically and I was soon down well within the range recommended by my healthcare advisors.
My experience suggests that the biggest problem faced by diabetics, once they have researched the matter and have decided on a course of action, is sticking to their plan. They tend to expect too much too soon, and when it doesn’t happen they get disheartened and give up.
When trying to beat your diabetes, you have to have faith in your research and your plan and stick to it if you want to succeed.
Remember, it took you 10 or 20 years to develop your diabetes, so don’t think you can reverse it overnight.