Health Blog

Welcome to the ongoing series of blog posts from UTMB Health focusing on key aspects of maintaining your health


Avoiding Diabetes - The Right and Wrong Way

May 16, 2015, 14:57 PM by Lynn Maarouf, MS,RD,CDE

People who are not well informed about diabetes usually don't know that making lifestyle changes  can delay the need for medication for as long as ten years. The Diabetes Prevention Program which enrolled thousands of people across the U.S. showed that making healthy changes in diet and exercise controlled high blood sugars and prevented complications at the same time. For a moment though, let's talk about the wrong way to avoid diabetes.  This is the head in the sand approach. People often walk into our offices  for the first time with their blood sugars in the 300's, and this is a shame. The eye damage that diabetes does frequently starts before the diagnosis. Heart disease, eye disease and diabetic nerve damage, begin before the diagnoses around ten percent of the time. If you let your blood sugars get sky high before you decide to do anything about them you are placing yourself in harm's way.

People can lead a long and healthy life with diabetes when they take care of themselves. Ignoring the symptoms works as well as not noticing that the brakes on your car aren't working.  Not going to the doctor to get diagnosed doesn't mean you don't have diabetes.  It is sad when newly diagnosed patients are showing signs of kidney damage.  If they had been paying attention to their body, they could have gotten their blood sugar under control before the damage started.   The head in the sand approach is as effective as driving your car by looking in your rearview mirror. Ignorance of diabetes  is not bliss, it  just allows a fairly benign condition to wreak havoc on your body.

Then you have a person, we will call Sally Smart. In school she was that annoying girl with her hand always in the air, because she paid attention. Sally is a grown-up now and a stressful job is cutting her time for exercise. She noticed she was getting thirsty, going to the bathroom a lot, and getting sleepy after dinner.  Sally decided to drop by her Aunt Nellie's house.  Aunt Nellie, who already has Type 2 diabetes did a blood sugar check on Sally, which confirmed her suspicions.  Her blood sugar was not in the normal range. It was not high enough to be called diabetes, but blood sugar levels > 140 were causing her symptoms. What to do?  Sally knows diabetes runs in her family. She  decided it was time to make some lifestyle changes.

1) She made a plan to make sure her meals were under 500 calories. She decided to take healthy snacks to work - fruit, unsalted nuts and drink more water. She said good bye to ice cream and scoped out some likeable lite yogurts.

2) Sally also made time for exercise. The neat thing is she realized that doing the exercise even helped with her stress level. She felt better, slept better and these small changes made her less thirsty; she was going to the bathroom less.  In the meantime she scheduled an appointment to see her doctor. 

A second trip to Aunt Nellie's confirmed her suspicions.  In a matter of a weeks, she saw a 25 point drop in her blood sugar levels, with just exercise and diet. If that was not a reward in itself, she also lost five pounds and felt  years younger. Just because she was walking more and eating fewer calories.

The Diabetes Prevention Program worked for thousands of people. The study  showed that in the early stages ( pre-diabetes) making changes in your diet and exercise habits controls your blood sugar better than some medications. What do you have to lose besides some weight and a co-pay or two? Need more information?

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