I’ve been a type 1 diabetic for 25 years now. It’s taken me a long time (that’s an understatement) to really get a hang of my daily blood sugar control. I’ve learned through trial and error and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned from those mistakes and now have the best control I’ve ever had over my diabetes! Here are my tips for improving your blood sugar control and making your diabetes management a little easier…
1. Eat the same foods every day. This may sound boring and redundant. But it works. The key is finding a couple of meals that you enjoy and rotating between them. Eating the same (or similar) foods on a regular basis takes a lot of the guesswork and uncertainty out of blood sugar management. You’ll start to figure out exactly how your blood sugar responds to each meal and you’ll be better able to predict how much insulin will be needed to cover each meal. In the long run, you should see improved numbers since you’ll know how your body responds to the meals and be able to dose correctly without having to think twice about it!
2. Exercise on a daily basis. You’ve heard this before. But again, it works. As diabetics, exercise is a great way to help manage blood sugars, improve insulin sensitivity, and stave off other health complications. For me, what my daily exercise looks like has changed dramatically throughout the years. Growing up, I played hockey, soccer, and ultimate frisbee and even went on to play Division I hockey at Ohio State! After college, I competed in CrossFit at an elite level for 5 years. Now, I’m a competitive weightlifter. All of the daily training for each of these sports is different, yet they all have helped with my diabetes control. An additional perk to daily exercise is that I can reduce the amount of insulin I need to cover my food intake, thus saving money because I don’t need to buy insulin as often! Sports has also been an important motivator for me to really focus on good diabetes control because if my blood sugars are too high or low, I won’t be able to perform to the best of my ability! The important thing is to find a type of workout that you enjoy, no matter if its a 20-minute workout or 2 hours long, being consistent with daily exercise will have long-term payoffs for your diabetes management.
3. Limit certain types of carbs. Carbs are important for energy levels, but some types of carbs can be especially hard on diabetics. I’m talking about processed or refined carbs- the carbs that have basically been stripped of all nutritional value. Examples include cereals, white bread, pizza, desserts, and sodas. These types of carbs are not good for anyone, but diabetics should definitely avoid them as they are all high on the glycemic index. These foods are easily digested and thus, can cause spikes in a diabetic’s blood sugar. By substituting processed carbs with complex carbs. These include your whole grains, vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, and beans. These are all lower on the glycemic index as they take longer to be digested, and thus diabetics should not experience the same spikes in their blood sugars when compared to processed carbs. They also can help with weight management as they take longer to be digested and should, therefore, keep you feeling fuller longer!
4. Find low carb snacks. This has been greatly helpful for me, especially as an athlete. I train for a few hours every day. I have found that low carb snacks are great during my workouts to keep me fueled while simultaneously allowing me to not have to do insulin to cover for them! My go-to for a mid-workout energy boost include Shrew Food Protein Puffs, which are packed with protein, but contain very few carbs! These have greatly helped my blood sugars stay stable through training while giving me that extra fuel to finish my workouts strong.
5. There is no such thing as a perfect diabetic! Diabetes is an incredibly frustrating disease that requires constant, daily monitoring, and affects nearly all aspects of a diabetic’s life. To make things more challenging, there are so many factors that can affect your blood sugar that it can feel overwhelming at times. For me, I strive for perfection in my career and as an athlete, so not being able to be a perfect diabetic has been difficult for me to come to terms with! However, I have learned that finding consistency in my daily routine with sleep, exercise and diet has greatly improved my blood sugar management and has made my life with diabetes easier overall. It is important to keep in mind that a diabetes diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore! Diabetics can now not only survive, thanks to artificial insulin but THRIVE in our society today! Your path may look different than others, but your success is still very much in your control. I’ve found that it’s all about mindset when attacking life as a diabetic. You can look at yourself as a victim, or you can see the opportunity you’ve been given to continue chasing your dreams and to inspire others to do the same!
Kelly Wild (@kellywild8) is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy. She also is a National level Olympic Weightlifter and former 3 time CrossFit Games athlete. Kelly also played Division I ice hockey at The Ohio State University. Kelly believes that health care should be proactive, not reactive. This mantra has inspired Kelly to publish a number of online fitness protocols at Californiastrength.com that anyone can use to reduce injury risk and improve strength in order to continue to pursue all of your athletic and fitness goals!