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My Top 5 Diabetes Game-Changers

Living Well

December 11, 2023

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Photography by Cara Dolan/Stocksy United

Photography by Cara Dolan/Stocksy United

by Mary Van Doorn

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Medically Reviewed by:

Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C

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•••••

by Mary Van Doorn

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C

•••••

•••••

Diabetes management is so much more than finding a diet and exercise routine. Here’s what makes a difference for me.

When people ask me what it’s like living with type 2 diabetes, I share that it’s like a science experiment where I’m the subject. There are unlimited variables, the data changes all the time, and my hypothesis is always wrong.

Yes, I know that sounds dramatic, but with over two decades of living with this disease, I’m still learning new things about my body and how to manage my type 2 diabetes best.

Over the last several years on my journey to becoming my best self, I’ve discovered true game-changers for my life with diabetes, and they might not be what you think. I’m not talking about the latest diet trend or the best workout.

When it comes to the true lifestyle changes we need to make when living with type 2 diabetes, to me, diet and exercise is the easy part. Here are five things that made the biggest difference in my diabetes management.

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I stopped dieting

I know it’s contrary to everything we read when we’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but I found with every new diet I tried, I’d end up in this never-ending cycle: restriction, weight loss, binging, weight gain, repeat.

It was exhausting and defeating. I knew I needed to dig deeper into how I ended up here with behaviors that led me to almost 300 pounds and a diabetes diagnosis. No “approved food list” was going to help me understand my toxic relationship with food.

I won’t lie. This part was wildly uncomfortable for me. I don’t think anyone enjoys looking at the imperfect parts of themselves, but doing this work and breaking the hold that diet culture had on me was empowering and liberating.

These days, I focus on making mindful choices when it comes to food. I ask myself questions like, “How will this food make me feel after I eat it?” and pay attention to my hunger and satiety cues.

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I set activity-based goals

The first thing I did when I decided to work on my health was sign up for a triathlon. Crazy right? But here’s the deal: I knew I couldn’t just show up and do it the day of. I’d need to prepare myself mentally and physically.

For me, that meant fueling my body properly and endurance training. I swam, biked, and ran almost daily for months. My two goals on race day were to finish and not be last. Check and check.

Once I tackled the triathlon, I signed up for something else. And then something else. I’m always working toward an active goal.

Over the last decade, I’ve completed a handful of half marathons, fitness certifications, and even earned my black belt in Tang Soo Do. It can be a dance class, walking a mile every day, signing up for a 5k, or taking on a challenge at the gym. These types of goals help me stay motivated and show up for myself.

I became a detective

My continuous glucose monitor and my journal became my diabetes besties. Using the two together, I uncovered patterns in my behaviors and blood sugars and learned how my body responded to different activities and foods.

For so much of my life, I chose foods based on someone else’s rules and guidelines, never questioning how my unique body and diabetes reacted. Becoming a detective meant learning how my body works and making decisions accordingly.

When it comes to the type of journal to choose, I think it depends on whether you want something on your device or a physical book to hold in your hands. I enjoy being able to flip back and forth through my book-style journal to compare information. For me, it’s just easier to discover patterns, successes, and areas in need of improvement.

But I know not everyone enjoys a paper-and-pencil “old school” journal and prefers an app instead. I had lots of success with My Fitness Pal, mySugr, and Glucose Buddy when I tried them, but ultimately, I always go back to paper and pencil.

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I started being honest

I had to be honest with myself and my medical team to create real change in my life. I began getting my blood work done on a regular basis and stopped canceling appointments because I was scared of the results.

When the doctor asked me how I was doing, I decided to start answering truthfully instead of with my standard reply, “I’m fine.” I had to be OK with the realization that I wasn’t always fine, diabetes wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, my blood sugars were sometimes a roller coaster, and I needed help.

Once I got real with myself and my team, we could brainstorm solutions and make plans, and my management became a whole lot easier. I finally felt like a partner in my own healthcare, and that made a world of difference.

I found support

I grew up with two parents who lived with type 2 diabetes, so I was familiar with the traditional diet changes and medications for this disease. When I was diagnosed, I talked to my mom about my treatment plan and my fears.

As time went on, I realized I needed people my age to talk to about what was going on in my life and how challenging diabetes and motherhood could be. I sought out support in the online space and didn’t really find what I was looking for.

I needed a positive place that lifted me up, encouraged me when times were hard, and people who shared their experiences and answered questions without being judgmental. Eventually, I decided to start my own community to create the vibe and support I was missing.

Support, whether online or in-person, is my biggest game-changer. Having people I can turn to for compassion — people who really “get it” — makes a huge difference in my motivation and accountability.

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The takeaway

Diagnosed in 2020, I thought the game-changers for my type 2 diabetes were going to be finding the right diet and workout routine. The reality is diabetes management is about so much more than that.

Healing my relationship with food, setting goals that motivated me, learning more about my unique diabetes diagnosis, being honest with myself, and surrounding myself with a supportive circle have made the most substantial impact in my life with type 2 diabetes.

Medically reviewed on December 11, 2023


Join the free T2D community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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