The term diabetes is generically thrown around a lot. Everyone’s diabetes diagnosis is unique, as we discussed last week, so everybody’s method of management is unique, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. That may be part of the confusion, this same disease looks different on different people.
Considering we’re a Pilates studio we’re already in favor of movement as medicine! To help illustrate all the triggers that influence how you manage living with diabetes, Michelle Crawford – T1D, Leah Grant – T1D, and Connie Laux – Registered Dietitian, share their personal and professional experiences.
So how do you manage diabetes?
You learn pretty quickly to take care of yourself. Thankfully there are a lot more methods for diabetes management, now than ever before, not just diet and exercise. Diabetics may use some combination of long-acting and/or rapid-acting insulin, needles, and pens or progress to pump-therapy and may even have the help of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
“A continuous glucose monitor adds on an additional layer of security and awareness,” says Michelle. “You’re not gonna be perfect, you’re always aiming for specific numbers. Finger sticks on paper may look good, but with a CGM you can see a bigger picture to manage and maintain a healthy A1c.”
It’s all about finding the right balance that works for you. That balance is a juggling act with countless internal and external triggers, especially for women with our monthly cycle. They include diet, exercise, hormones, stress levels, work, emotions, and environmental pollutants to name a few.
Some perspective on managing diet.
Nutrition is another common misconception. We all like different foods and how our body processes them is really unique, with or without diabetes. Just to be clear, diabetics can have sugar! But did you know sugar comes in all shapes and forms: fructose, sucrose, glucose. It’s in vegetables and carbohydrates, your sweet potatoes, and your desserts!
Michelle explains, “I’ve had people say to me, You’re not allowed to eat that! I actually can eat this I just have to count it. At Thanksgiving, I don’t skip a piece of pumpkin pie. I just have a smaller piece and I know how to count it and take insulin. I’ve had to learn what works for me and all carbs are not equal, some absorb faster than others and fiber is always a good thing!”
To help give some perspective Leah adds, “I recently learned that the average American’s carbohydrate intake is between 225 and 325 grams of carbs a day. I think I started crying when Siri told me that. I’m barely even allowed 45 grams of carbs. It starts to make you feel like you’re the problem.” Diabetics quickly learn the importance of a personal diet and exercise program through the management of their diabetes.
A diabetic creates their own diet.
The American Diabetes Association encourages the Diabetes Plate Method to prepare properly portioned meals of balanced carbohydrates, proteins, and vegetables. “You can eat carbohydrates, be healthy, and still maintain a good weight and healthy blood sugar,” encourages Connie. “Everybody is different. What I hate to hear is people say I’m on a diabetic diet because there is no diabetic diet. It’s what works for you and how you found a workaround to your disease to eat and still be healthy,” she says.
“I wish other people knew this isn’t easy,” Leah laments. “The kind of dedication to have a perfect number, the self-control to say no to what everyone else is eating. You are burdened with knowing the difference between what you should eat and what you shouldn’t. But no one is immune to this responsibility, it’s just that I get burned if I indulge.”
Despite the difficulty, Connie adds, “Finally finding the balance hopefully gives you the motivation and makes it easier to stick to a diet that works for you. But it does take a lot of work to get to that point.”
Maintaining a diet, whoever you are, requires a lot of self-control. Many of us can empathize with the struggle of understanding and being on a diet. Diabetics have the unique position of consuming food, then reading a number that reflects exactly how they did. It can feel like a constant evaluation. Just like daily testing is one part of diabetes management, sticking to a diet requires a lot of dedication and self-control, especially for long-term success.
How does exercise help?
Another variable to consider when it comes to diabetes management, in addition to diet, is exercise. Healthy movement affects how your body uses insulin, whether it produces it or not. But, just like we’ve been talking about, exercise also affects everybody differently.
Types of exercise, managing the body’s stress levels, and being aware of how your body metabolizes what you consume are all factors that take time to figure out. Then things don’t ever stay the same! From day to day there may be fewer fluctuations but as you age there are big changes that force you to change how you manage.
“Even though exercise is fantastic for diabetics and highly encouraged, exercise is one more thing to manage,” shares Michelle. She describes it as this little Rolodex in her head. She flips to the form of exercise she’s doing and follows her previously used management approach. “I’ve tried a lot of different things and it takes time to learn how your body responds and how to manage your insulin based on the type of exercise. It never works right every single time but you learn to be aware of your body. I had one very scary episode where the paramedics had to be called. And that wasn’t so long ago, so I had lots of practice before that.”
Leah adds, “I can eat the same breakfast, exercise at the same time, do the exact same method of exercise but day to today fluctuation, especially in heat and hydration, can affect how insulin is working in my body.”
This is just the tip of the benefits-of-exercise-iceberg! The overall upshot is that, diabetic or not, exercise helps all the systems of your body work better! We’ve shared some of the benefits of exercise, especially those of Pilates, here, here, and here.
The management takeaway.
Sharing stories of living with diabetes helps to normalize the challenges they face. If you’re in a situation where you need help, mental, physical, or emotional, no one can help you if they don’t know. By talking to others about diabetes management you can share an approach to diet and exercise and it can reinforce what you’re doing.
On the outside, you may not see anything but there’s so much thought, patience, and self-control that goes into taking care of oneself. Whether we’re silent about it or not, this disease and those affected by it, need the support of their community. Diabetics can still feel normal, even on those days when managing stress, diet, exercise, whatever the variable may be, isn’t going so well.
THE INFORMATION EXPRESSED ON THIS SITE IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. WE DRAW ON OUR EXPERTISE AS PILATES AND MOVEMENT SPECIALISTS BY EXPANDING OUR PROFESSIONALISM THROUGH CONTINUING EDUCATION AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCES. WE AIM TO PROVIDE VALUABLE INFORMATION CONCERNING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PILATES, FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT, AND FITNESS. YOU TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ALL DECISIONS NOW OR IN THE FUTURE CONCERNING YOUR HEALTH, LIFE, AND WELL-BEING. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT TO BE USED AS MEDICAL ADVICE EITHER TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE, OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE OR AILMENTS. YOU SHOULD CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE BEGINNING ANY EXERCISE PROGRAM.