By: Susan Watkins, RD, CDE
Many people with Type 2 diabetes blame themselves for their condition. But even though being overweight and not eating healthy can bring on diabetes earlier in life, it is not the sole cause.
You may also wonder why you can’t control or reverse diabetes even if you are eating right. It may be a surprise to you that a controlled diet isn’t necessarily what it takes to control diabetes.
A lot of factors go into developing diabetes, as well as controlling blood sugar levels once you have it.
You may know people that are over the age of 50, very overweight and still have perfect blood sugar levels. This is because if everything is working normally the body makes enough of a hormone called insulin to cover any amount of carbohydrates or sugar a person eats – so this is normally a perfect match to keep blood sugars levels in a certain range all day.
For some overweight people, this process still works perfectly, but if you are overweight and have a family history of diabetes, it can increase your risk.
So your genetics play a role in developing diabetes and some families are just more likely for this perfect insulin/food balance to not work correctly – even if they already do eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
The Good News
The good news is that the recent DPP or diabetes prevention research study found that if you are overweight and lose 5-6% of your body weight (which is only 10-12lbs if you weigh 200lbs) you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
This is good news for those that have some pounds to lose.
There are often diabetes education programs through your medical group or in your community that can teach you the skills to make a positive change in a fun, interactive way.
But, unfortunately, there are still people that are not overweight that can develop this condition and even for this population, strategies such as stress management, exercise, spreading out certain foods can help – but often in these cases, medication is still necessary and essential.
Why Is Medication Necessary?
Once you have diabetes, you may eat healthier than your friend with diabetes but still need medications or insulin when they do not.
Why would that be?
Because some Type 2 diabetics still make a good amount of the hormone insulin that is responsible for helping sugar go from the blood into the cells (lowers blood sugar).
So if you still make an appropriate amount of insulin and your body is just not using it correctly, which is called insulin resistance, lifestyle factors can work miracles.
Losing weight, spreading out carbohydrate-rich foods, exercise, reducing stress and managing pain can all have a big impact on lowering your numbers or and possibly even getting off of medications.
But if you do not make enough insulin, you still may need medication or insulin injections, even if you are eating right or at a normal weight.
Following the lifestyle strategies already mentioned are still important in these cases, but may not be enough to 100% control your numbers.
Think of it as a deficiency in something, without replenishing the body with medication or insulin it cannot function properly.
Your doctor and diabetes educator can be a guide to the best plan for your specific needs.
Having Diabetes and Not Knowing It
Unfortunately, high blood sugars often go unnoticed until you get your blood drawn from your doctor.
Most people cannot feel that they are having high blood sugars. So it is important to go to your doctor regularly for blood work because the sooner you catch it and get it controlled the better.
If you ignore diabetes and let your blood glucose levels run high, over time, it can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney damage, eye disease, nerve damage with extreme cases even leading to amputation.
It is extremely important to learn skills to manage your own condition.
Because diabetes is being caught earlier on, people with managed or controlled diabetes often live 50 years or more without any health problems.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or look online for diabetes programs in your area. You can also ask your medical team about meeting with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator, to help you develop a plan to meet your specific needs.
Susan Watkins is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is the manager of the Center for Health Promotion at St. Joseph Health. She is the coordinator for St. Joseph’s ADA recognized diabetes program. She also manages their HMR weight program, which has been nationally recognized by US World News and Report as a best, fast weight loss diet in the country for the last 3 years. In addition to her focus on diabetes, she creates programs and educates patients on a variety of conditions such as IBS, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver conditions. In her free time, she loves paddleboarding in the ocean, riding her bike and listening to music.