How To Get Started With Your Diabetes Self-Management
Getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (T2D) can feel scary and isolating. Management and self-care involve many aspects and it might seem like you suddenly need to assume many new roles—doctor, nurse, nutritionist, personal trainer and more—when you’ve barely had time to process your diagnosis. You may not know where to turn to for help or feel like people in your life don’t get it.
Many people newly diagnosed with T2D may feel that way, but it helps to remember a few things:
- You’re not alone.
- Support and resources are available.
- You don’t need to figure it out all at once.
It does help, though, to lay the foundation now for living a long, healthy life with diabetes. (Yes, that’s possible!) This includes:
- Putting together your diabetes care team
- Getting basic supplies to monitor and manage your blood sugar levels
So think of this as your starter kit to help set you up with the support and supplies you need to live your best life with diabetes. You got this!
Self-management and your care team
You are the most important member of your diabetes care team, which means you can assemble your team with the right members based on your unique needs. You know your own body best; telling your care team members how you feel will help them provide you with the best possible care.
What your care team might look like
Your diabetes care team can include many health care professionals—based on your unique goals and needs—such as:
- A primary care provider—a doctor or a nurse practitioner—for routine care
- A nurse, who helps coordinate your health care needs
- A pharmacist, who can give you information on your medicines and how to take them
- A dietitian, to help you with nutrition information and meal plans
- A variety of specialists—including an endocrinologist (diabetes doctor), a nephrologist (kidney doctor), an optometrist/ophthalmologist (eye doctor), a cardiologist (heart doctor) and a podiatrist (foot doctor)—to help prevent or manage diabetes complications
- An exercise physiologist or physical therapist who can develop the right movement routine for you
- A social worker or mental health specialist, to help you deal with the emotional challenges of living with T2D
- A diabetes educator—a nurse or other health care professional who specializes in diabetes—who can help you with challenges in your day-to-day life, including managing your blood sugar levels
You don’t need to have your whole care team assembled right away. Start with your primary care provider and over time you can add team members as needed. Use this table to keep track of the members of your care team and their contact information.
Supplies to help manage your blood sugar levels
Managing your blood sugar levels is a key component of diabetes care. That’s because keeping your blood sugar levels within or close to the target range you and your provider set can help delay or prevent complications.
Monitoring blood sugar levels helps you:
- Determine when you have low or high blood sugar levels
- Make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan
- See how your lifestyle, medication and other factors affect your blood sugar levels
How to check
You can check your blood sugar levels at home with a blood glucose meter (BGM). Before using your meter, make sure your health care provider trains you on how to use it.
You can get blood glucose meters, strips, lancets (devices that prick your finger) and alcohol wipes at most pharmacies or from your diabetes educator.
Two newer types of devices are available to measure your blood sugar levels:
- Flash glucose meters, which use sensors instead of finger pricks. To learn more about flash glucose meters available in Canada, you can contact www.myfreestyle.ca.
- Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), which check blood sugar levels throughout the day and can be integrated with insulin pump devices. Dexcom and Medtronic are companies that offer CGMs in Canada. (Diabetes Canada does not recommend or endorse a particular device)
This comparison chart can help you and your health care provider determine which glucose monitoring option is right for you.
Staying on target
Your target A1C levels (your average blood sugar levels over three months) can vary based on your age, medical condition and other risk factors. Ask your health care provider what your target range is and when you should have your A1c levels measured.
Whatever your ideal blood sugar levels are, following a nutrition plan, getting daily movement and taking medication—which can include insulin—will all help you hit your target range.
Supplies for insulin injections
If you require insulin for your diabetes management, that’s okay! Insulin is just another tool in your toolbox. You can take your insulin with different types of pens, syringes or pumps based on your preference. Newer syringes and devices have shorter needles to make injections easier and as painless as possible. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator which device might be right for you. You can also consult this guide on getting started with insulin for more information.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as healthy snacking and snacks can help you manage your blood sugar levels, especially the lows.
Easy healthy snacks that can be eaten on the go include:
- Nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew)
- Plain popcorn
- Whole-grain crackers
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
As someone living with T2D, getting snacks right is especially important because the type of snack, portion size and timing all may affect your blood sugar levels.
Stephanie Boutette, a registered dietitian and education coordinator with Diabetes Canada, recommends talking to a dietitian about snacking. “A dietitian can help determine what would work [for you] in terms of meal spacing and controlling blood sugar levels, while also preventing overeating and weight gain,” she says.
Here are some healthy eating tips if you can’t see a dietitian.
Learning to manage T2D is a lot to take in at first, but building your support system and getting basic supplies to manage your blood sugar levels will take care of a lot of immediate concerns. One day at a time. The first step is always the biggest and hardest: congratulations on taking it!