If you’re feeling overwhelmed by diabetes, don't worry. Instead, take clear, precise actions that help you thrive. Living well with diabetes means focusing on seven behaviors: eating, physical activity, monitoring, medications, problem solving, coping and reducing risks. "You won't learn everything you need to know about managing your diabetes by reading one book or having one appointment with a certified diabetes educator," says Patti Geil, R.D., C.D.E., co-author of What Do I Eat Now? (American Diabetes Association). “Learning about successful diabetes management is a lifelong process.” In the meantime, here are nine actions to take right now.
Stop the blame game. “Some people will get into self-loathing and say, 'I caused this. This is all my fault,' " about type 2 diabetes, says Theresa Garnero, A.P.R.N., , C.D.E, author of Your First Year with Diabetes (American Diabetes Association). "Realize that you have it now, and the steps you take now will affect your future health. Dwelling on the past is not going to help your future health."
View having to manage diabetes as an opportunity, not a crisis. Learning to eat more healthfully, exercise more and take better care of your health is good for anyone—with diabetes or without. "This is a healthy lifestyle," says Garnero. "This is a chance to turn your life around. You can do this with the right information and the right support."
Put yourself in charge. For Michael B., 54, of Cincinnati, taking responsibility for his health after his diagnosis set the stage for success. "Our doctors, nutritionists and endocrinologists are all consultants," he says. "We are the ones in charge. We need to know how to adjust our diet, exercise and meds to create a healthy balance that allows us to function, feeling well."
Read up. "It's not possible or practical to ask for medical advice every time one plans to eat, take medication or deal with minor illness," says Tami A. Ross, R.D., C.D.E., co-author of What Do I Eat Now? (American Diabetes Association). Boost your know-how and your confidence by learning more about how to manage your diabetes. Browse this website and those of reputable organizations such as the American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org) and the American Association of Diabetes Educators (diabeteseducator.org). But don't forget to take a day off from learning, says David W., 40, of Denver. "I realized that I had reached overload when I lost touch with my life enjoyments," he says.
Make changes slowly. It's tempting to want to make several changes at once, but it's really not necessary, says Kate C., 56, of Williams, Arizona, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2005. "Take your time and learn as you go," she says. "You'll get there. I still slip up now and then, but I keep on moving forward."
Set SMART goals. Create goals that are specific (S), measurable (M), achievable (A), realistic (R) and time-bound (T), says dietitian and diabetes educator Patti Geil. "SMART goals give you a framework for accomplishing your goals," she says. For instance, instead of saying, "I'll lose weight by eating more fruits and vegetables," tell yourself, "I'll have a medium fresh orange for breakfast three days this week."
Know there will be setbacks and accept them. Don't expect perfection every day. "There will be days when I'm more on top of my game, and there will be days when there are slip-ups," says diabetes educator Theresa Garnero. Prepare for those so you can take things in stride.
Have backup strategies for tough situations. Holidays and parties can derail the most determined plan to eat well and exercise regularly. Your best ammunition is to have a plan for dealing with these occasions. "If you know it's Thanksgiving and someone will insist you try her pie, how will you work that into your day? Make a plan so you know ahead of time what you'll do instead of reacting," Garnero says.
Get psyched. "Try to remember you can be a healthy person living with diabetes," because the emotions of your diagnosis can derail even your best intentions, says Kim DeCoste, R.N., C.D.E., a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).