The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 422 million people worldwide have diabetes mellitus. There are many people who have undiagnosed diabetes and do not know the health risks that they face every day. However, understanding your diagnosis of diabetes type 1 or diabetes type 2, makes you much more equipped to care for your own health.
Bad habits are an innate part of every person’s life. We all struggle in some way to change or break behaviors that we know do not serve us well. Unfortunately, some people are not even aware of their own bad habits and vices.
For patients with diabetes, breaking bad habits can drastically change their physical and mental health.
Are you looking to figure out your own bad habits? Do you want to change your behavior to set you up for success in the best ways possible?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Diabetes?
Most people know that eating foods high in carbohydrates and high in sugars can lead a person to develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes mellitus.
The reason for such a phenomenon is that when a person consumes large amounts of sugars and carbohydrates frequently, their body begins to become insulin resistant. Insulin is the pancreatic hormone that the body uses to break down carbohydrates and sugars into glucose stores.
Glucose is then transferred from the bloodstream into the body tissue, facilitated again by insulin. Such glucose stores act as stored energy, so if a person exercises or exerts themselves (or is in a situation of starving for a few days), the body can utilize these stores to thrive and survive.
However, when the body receives many more carbohydrates and sugars than it needs, insulin starts to fail. This is called insulin resistance. Your body becomes less sensitive to the need to transfer glucose into the tissues, and therefore glucose stays in the bloodstream.
Glucose= broken down sugars.
Failure of glucose to leave the bloodstream due to lack of insulin/insulin resistance= diabetes.
Therefore, this is why people with diabetes end up having high blood sugar AKA high blood glucose.
Unhealthy Eating Habits
BAD: Inconsistent Eating Habits
Skipping meals is one of the more dangerous habits of diabetes management. A person with diabetes most likely follows a prescribed medication regimen to control blood sugar (prescribed synthetic insulin or anti-diabetes pills). These medications lower a person’s blood sugar.
When a person with diabetes skips a meal, especially skipping breakfast, their blood sugar significantly drops. Blood sugar already drops while we sleep. Furthermore, blood sugar will drop even more when that person takes their morning diabetes medication.
The combination of factors can lead to a severely low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, and cause multiple side effects: shakiness, weakness, headache, slurred speech, confusion, seizures, and even coma or death.
Furthermore, binge eating can have the opposite effect. Binge eating, especially at night, can lead to high blood sugar spikes. In the most severe cases, high blood sugar leads to diabetic ketoacidosis and needs to be treated at a hospital.
GOOD: Snacking Occasionally Instead
Rather than skipping any meal completely, it is better to have a healthy snack. The snack can be small if you are not hungry. Try a healthy snack instead: veggies and hummus, almonds or cashews, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, edamame, or peanut butter with celery sticks/apples.
Snacking can also prevent binge-eating because it reduces your cravings. Trying to maintain strong willpower, a positive and optimistic mood, and remembrance of your healthy food goals will also help you curb binge-eating.
BAD: Drinks that are High in Sugar
This is a very difficult bad habit to break: the consumption of delicious, sugar-y drinks. Sadly, soda, milkshakes, slushies, sweetened coffee drinks, sweetened iced tea, and even sweetened lemonade can be dangerous for diabetics and prediabetics.
Most drinks from fast food joints are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, which greatly increases the risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.
A typical 12-ounce can of soda has 30+ grams of carbohydrates (derived from high fructose corn syrup, leading to 30+ grams of sugar too). A Lipton Iced Tea can contain 45+ grams. A Wetzel’s Pretzel’s lemonade can contain 50 grams. A medium blended Frappuccino or frappe can contain upwards of 50+ grams.
In comparison, a kit kat contains 27 grams carbs (a Kit Kat mini contains 8 grams). Drinking sugar-y drinks can literally account for double the carb/sugar intake of a candy bar.
These sugar-filled drinks also provide nearly no nutritional value, meaning they lack good vitamins and minerals. They can be difficult for the kidneys to filter over time. And alternative drinks can be similarly satiating.
GOOD: Replace with Water and Low-Sugar Drinks
So what alternatives should you look for?
While water is widely considered the best drink to consume (highly valuable to our bodies, easy to process and filter, cheap, and hydrating), water does not need to be your 24/7 drink. You can still enjoy many drinks that are low in fructose and low in carbohydrates.
One such alternative is seltzer waters. These waters, such as LaCroix or Bubly, offer a hint of natural flavor and that satisfying crisp bubble of carbonation. Almost every brand of seltzer water has 0 grams carbs and 0 grams sugar.
If you really crave an occasional sweet beverage, look into 100% fruit juices with no added sugar. These juices usually cap at around 26 grams of carbs from natural fruit sugar. While this may still raise blood glucose levels, a small glass of real fruit juice is healthier than a soda or added-sugar drink. You can even dilute the juice with water or seltzer water.
The most important way to pick your beverages is by checking the nutrition label on the back and look for 3 signs: zero or low carbs, zero or low sugar, and no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list.
BAD: High Carbohydrate and Highly Processed Foods
One of the hardest bad habits to break is eating junk food. Highly-processed foods and high-carbohydrate foods are both very bad for diabetics.
Foods that should be avoided include fast food meals, frequent TV or microwave dinners, and carb heavy foods. Carb heavy foods include breads (especially white-breads), battered/fried foods, pasta, potatoes, potato chips, corn, foods heavily cooked or lathered in butter, and large servings of starchy rice.
GOOD: High Fiber Foods
In contrast, foods high in fiber are greatly beneficial. Make a good habit of eating high-fiber foods, including loads of vegetables. Leafy green vegetables, beans, legumes, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and broccoli are all loaded with vitamins and nutrients that protect the body. Vegetables can promote intestinal health and reduce insulin resistance.
Fruits and berries can also reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control. Blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries are particularly chock-full of antioxidants which help fight infection, reduce inflammation, and control diabetes.
Although fish is not known for being high in fiber, it is advised to mention that prediabetics should incorporate fish into their diet. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acid which helps promote artery and vessel health, leading to lower cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention.
Unhealthy Physical Activity Habits
BAD: Staying Sedentary
Prolonged periods of resting and sitting can be detrimental to even the healthiest of individuals. Sitting around often stiffens and weakens the muscles, leads to obesity from unburned calories and carbohydrates, and sometimes even causes pressure sores. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests that all people try to break up their days with movement.
One way to do so is by monitoring your own behavior. If you know you will be sitting for a long time, whether working from home, on your computer, or watching television, set your timer for every 30 minutes, and get up to walk around when it goes off. Even light exercise and casual stretches or walks can help break up this sedentary bad habit.
GOOD: Moving and Exercising Often
Along with moving around at regular intervals, every person should strive to incorporate exercise into their weekly routines. This is a key factor for a person with diabetes or prediabetes, but can apply to anyone.
Although exercise can be daunting, it is one of the most important parts of managing diabetes. It is one of the best habits a person can form.
Start small if necessary. Do aerobic exercises like going for walks, swimming (easier on the muscles and bones), pacing, treadmill jogging, and yoga.
Some people prefer group exercise classes to motivate them to (1) show up to class, (2) participate in the activity with peer support, (3) stick through a full 45 minute to 60 minute workout that maybe would’ve been harder to finish on their own.
Others find joy in specific sports: soccer, football, basketball, dancing, ice skating, tennis, baseball, or more. By exercising, you can help control or get rid of diabetes, and you also release endorphins (happy hormones) that make you feel satisfied. Getting your blood pumping and finding a new hobby is a win-win.
BAD: Staying Up Late
Many people do not know that staying up late can alter your sleep hormones, since your body has an internal clock that is aligned to the rhythm of sunlight/day and darkness/night.
Surprisingly, not only does staying up late lead to late night munchies (think: fatty foods) but the disruption in sleep hormones can make it harder for the rest of your body’s hormones to function properly. Insulin, a pancreatic hormone, controls blood sugars.
By altering your sleep schedule, you indirectly alter your insulin resistance and blood sugar control.
GOOD: Sleep When Your Body Needs It
Instead, set a sleep schedule and stick to it whenever possible. Doctors recommend over 6 hours of sleep a night.
Furthermore, listen to your body. When you feel fatigued or sluggish, check your blood sugars and correct them according to your blood sugar plan. Maybe that means eating a healthy snack as necessary or following your medication regime.
After you control your blood sugar as normal, allow yourself to rest or sleep. This can promote wellness, as long as it is balanced with exercise.