Millions of people are diagnosed annually with diabetes mellitus, or type 2 diabetes. The first few weeks after receiving this diagnosis can be a very difficult time in a diabetic’s life.
Here are some strategies a newly diagnosed diabetic can explore in order to transition into his or her new reality.
If current trends continue, millions of people around the world will be diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, more commonly called Type 2 diabetes. For many of those people, the news that they have indeed contracted a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition will also create confusion, feelings of hopelessness and even depression. However, there are steps newly diagnosed diabetics can take during the first few weeks after the diagnosis that can make the transition easier. The lifestyle of a diabetic may never be quite the same as it was before the news.
Type 2 diabetes does not have to be viewed as a death sentence, either.
Many people are familiar with the warning signs of diabetes, such as excessive thirst, frequent urination and general lethargy, but many people are also eager to write off their own symptoms as something other than diabetes. Some view diabetes as a disease reserved for the morbidly obese, or those who insist on eating an unhealthy diet of junk foods, sugary drinks and processed carbs. In fact, diabetes mellitus can develop in people who follow normal diets or get a fair amount of exercise. The body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas in order to properly break down excessive carbohydrates during the digestive process. Excessive weight, stress and poor diet can indeed increase the chances of developing diabetes, but so can family genetics.
The diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes more than likely came from a physician who ordered a specific blood test for insulin resistance. This is most often expressed in terms of blood sugar levels, a number diabetics will become very familiar with. Type 2 diabetics cannot bring their blood sugar levels back down to normal without the assistance of additional insulin by injection or a combination of strict low-carb dieting and exercise. This is the reality every newly diagnosed diabetic must face. Either the blood sugar level can be controlled through a more disciplined lifestyle, or daily injections of insulin (or an internal insulin pump) will be required. This is often one of the most difficult realizations a diabetic must face immediately after the diagnosis– he or she must make serious and ongoing adjustments to his or her lifestyle or face any number of complications.
One strategy to follow is developing a support network of friends and family.
Many recently diagnosed diabetic patients feel isolated or depressed, as if they have suddenly become “victims” instead of the regular people they were before the news arrived. Compassionate friends and family members can act as both cheerleaders and defenders for their diabetic loved one. If an exercise program is suggested, finding at least one exercise partner should be motivational. Friends can suggest meals that are more diabetic-friendly, or adjust their own lifestyles to take bad food habits out of the equation. There may be times when a diabetic friend becomes angry or frustrated by a lack of immediate improvement, or needs to vent over an unexpected emotion or temptation. A diabetic may not want to share his or her condition with everyone, but there should still be a core group of people who understand his or her medical situation and can provide immediate treatment if that person suffers a drop or spike in his or her blood sugar levels.
Another strategy to consider is a responsible purging of the home kitchen and pantry. While the temptation to throw away everything that contains sugar is understandable, some products can still remain on the shelf or in the refrigerator without harm. The idea is to remove those food items that are easily overeaten or clearly have little to no nutritive value. Processed foods high in carbohydrates, not necessarily sugars, should be thrown away or limited to an occasional splurge day. This includes most snack chips, sweetened breakfast cereals, pancake mixes, sugary soft drinks and other high carb products. Some of these items can be replaced with sugar-free or low carb alternatives. Alternative milks such as almond or soy milk work well as substitutes for higher carb dairy milk. The act of purging the home kitchen and pantry can help a newly diagnosed diabetic regain a sense of control over his or her life.
The first few weeks following a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes should also be dedicated to research.
Knowledge is power, but it can also be a great comfort to people trying to cope with a serious medical condition. There are numerous websites available for those seeking more information about the disease and blood sugar control and diet programs. A number of hospitals offer diabetes support groups for those who seek real life answers from people who are experiencing the same challenges. There are also periodicals and magazines which cater specifically to the diabetic community, so a newly diagnosed diabetic may want to seek out back issues or obtain a subscription.
Many people find comfort in learning all they can about their medical conditions, as well as keeping track of any new treatment options or research towards a cure.
There is no doubt that the first few weeks and months following a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes can be both scary and frustrating for the sufferer. Very few people would willingly accept the news that they now have a chronic medical condition capable of shortening their lives. They may have also seen the devastating effects of uncontrolled diabetes on others and worry if they face the same inevitable fate. In reality, the majority of diabetes mellitus patients who make a conscious effort to keep their blood sugar levels under control do indeed live happy and productive lives for years after the initial diagnosis.
Some may not see or believe that prognosis immediately after the first test results, but with the help of friends and family they will readily do whatever is required to cope with their new reality.
Marc Dressen, MSc
Personal Trainer in London
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