Lifestyle Changes To Make After A Diabetes Diagnosis

If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, it might come as a bit of a shock. 

If you already had prediabetes and knew it could be coming, it’s still something that nobody wants to find out.

Not everyone who is diagnosed with diabetes has to take diabetes medication. It depends on how high your blood sugar level is at diagnosis, along with your risk factors for other complications like heart disease.

The good news is that you can make healthy lifestyle changes to help manage your blood glucose levels. Not only can these lifestyle changes help you manage your diabetes, but they can help improve your overall health as well. 

Lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy eating are still beneficial even if you end up taking diabetes medication

7 Lifestyle Changes To Control Your Diabetes

1) Get regular physical activity

We all know the health benefits of exercise. Being physically active provides numerous health benefits and can even improve your mood. 

Getting enough exercise can help you manage your weight, lower cholesterol levels, improve overall blood sugar control, and promote healthy blood pressure levels.

Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Pick something you enjoy, whether it’s walking, doing group exercise classes, swimming, or working in your garden.

Physical activity helps improve insulin resistance, which is the leading cause of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. When your body becomes more sensitive to insulin, blood sugar levels improve.

2) Focus on healthy carbohydrates, not getting rid of all carbohydrates

Carbohydrates (carbs) are in fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, and dairy products like milk and yogurt. They’re also in sugar-sweetened products like desserts and sugary drinks.

Carbohydrates aren’t bad, but they do have a big impact on your blood sugar level. When you eat carbohydrates, they break down into glucose in your bloodstream.

Not all carbohydrates are created equally. Carbs from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and unsweetened dairy products are much better for you than refined carbs like sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and grains made from enriched flour.

Instead of cutting out carbs or going on a very low carbohydrate diet, try to improve the quality of the carbs in your diet. 

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3) If you’re not already, start reading food labels

This goes off the previous tip of making healthier food choices. Food labels help you identify products that have sneaky hidden added sugar. 

You’ll probably be surprised to learn how many foods have added sugar. Condiments, salad dressings, soups, yogurt, cereal, bread, and many others contain added sugar.

Aim to keep your added sugar intake under 24 grams per day for women and less than 36 grams per day for men. Most of us have a lot of room for improvement in this area!

4) Try to stay away from strict diets

You might be tempted to try one of the popular fad diets you’ve heard everyone talking about. Many of these diets claim to reverse diabetes or help you lose weight fast.

Strict diets usually don’t end up working long-term. In fact, people who follow overly restrictive diets usually end up regaining the weight they lost and then some. 

Strict diets (and their associated weight loss and regain) can also increase the risk for eating disorders and mental health issues like depression, so it’s best to stay away from them.

A healthy diet doesn’t have to exclude foods like sweets, carbs, or red meat. While it can be easier said than done, the goal is to aim for balance. 

You don’t need to be hard on yourself for eating ice cream once in a while if you’ve been working consistently to improve your overall diet in the meantime. Healthy eating can include broccoli and a cheeseburger!

5) Mediterranean diet, anyone?

Speaking of non-strict diets, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent example of an overall healthy diet that isn’t restrictive. There aren’t calories or points to count, and no food is considered “not allowed.”

A Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based, high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. For protein, fish and chicken are eaten more than red meat. Added sugars are eaten the least frequently, and regular physical exercise is encouraged.

Having diabetes puts you at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease. A Mediterranean diet can help improve cardiovascular outcomes, which means things like improved cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of other chronic diseases.

6) If you can do it sustainably, try to lose weight.

Losing weight if you’re overweight can help improve blood sugar levels. You might notice weight loss just by making some healthy lifestyle changes. Sustainable, non-restrictive habit changes that result in weight loss are the best way to go about losing weight. 

Weight loss of 5-10% of your initial body weight can help people with prediabetes avoid developing diabetes and can improve blood glucose control in people with existing diabetes. For a 200-pound person, that would equate to a 10-20 pound weight loss.

7) Get enough sleep

Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your health, including your blood glucose. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is a risk factor for sleep apnea, which is a condition where sleep is disrupted by interrupted breathing. Being overweight is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, so these two factors can fuel each other.

Aim to get more than six hours of sleep but not more than nine hours per night, which are both (too little sleep and too much sleep) associated with insulin resistance and increased diabetes risk.

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Making healthy lifestyle changes can help improve blood glucose control for people with a new diabetes diagnosis. Not only can these changes benefit blood sugar levels, but they can improve your overall health.

These lifestyle changes should be sustainable and enjoyable when at all possible. Making small, realistic changes will be more helpful to your overall health, including your mental health, in the long term.

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  1. Martínez-González MA, Gea A, Ruiz-Canela M. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health. Circ Res. 2019. ​​
  2. Ogilvie RP, Patel SR. The Epidemiology of Sleep and Diabetes. Curr Diab Rep. 2018.

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