Controlling Type 2 Diabetes Without Insulin
When Cheryl Brensinger learned she had type 2 diabetes 18 months ago, she enrolled in classes at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Helwig Health and Diabetes Center. There she learned how to manage her condition through diet and exercise to avoid going on insulin.
Today Brensinger, 58, of Slatington, has lost 30 pounds, and her hemoglobin A1C (a blood test that reflects your average blood sugar) has dropped from 13.7 percent (well above average) to 5.3 percent (below average for people with diabetes). And while she’s used an oral medication (metformin) to help control her diabetes, she doesn’t need insulin.
Now she has a new outlook on life. “I’m proud of my accomplishments and new look,” Brensinger says. “It’s really changed my life.” Here are her six New Year’s resolutions for managing type 2 diabetes:
1. Read food labels religiously. “I thought I only had to watch my sugar intake, but sugar is just one type of carbohydrate. All carbs should be eaten in moderation. Once I learned how to count carbs and watch serving sizes by reading food labels, things started falling in place. I limit myself to 25 carbs per serving (usually a half-cup) and try to stay at 200 carbs or less per day.”
2. Shop the perimeter of the store. “That’s where you find fresh produce and unprocessed foods that are low in carbs and rich in nutrients. I avoid the aisles with canned and packaged foods that are high in carbs, sodium and fats. I shop at farmers markets for local and fresh foods whenever possible, and I can or freeze produce for winter.”
3. Eat several smaller meals a day. “To keep my blood sugar steady, I have five smaller meals instead of three large ones. I eat low-fat meats, including boneless white chicken, pork chops and lean beef. I can eat as many nonstarchy veggies (no potatoes or rice) as I want. For snacks, I have fruit, sugar-free gelatin or a low-carb, puffed multigrain cake spread with homemade, sugar-free apple butter.”
4. Enjoy an occasional treat. “I avoid fried foods, but if I want French fries or cake I treat myself to one helping and walk away. You can cheat a little to satisfy cravings, but you have to count carbs. I keep a daily diary. If I’m going to a party or restaurant, I adjust things during the day to stay within my dietary schedule.”
5. Get moving…every day. “I walk 1 1/2 miles most days, which also helps my heart problem that I learned about after I was diagnosed with diabetes. It’s tough because I also use a cane due to an unrelated leg problem. If it’s raining or too cold, I’ll do laps at work in a tunnel between two buildings. I also do an extra lap around the store when shopping.”
6. Pay it forward. “Co-workers with diabetes often ask my advice about talking with their doctor and how to eat better. I like to help because I’ve seen what managing diabetes has done for me, and I know what it can do for somebody else.”
Why taking charge is important
Medication can’t always be avoided for type 2 diabetes. Even so, it’s important for people to take charge of their health. Consistency in diet and exercise are key, says internal medicine doctor Larry Levin, MD, with Lehigh Valley Health Network. “Many people can manage type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise alone,” he says. “And if medication can’t be avoided, lifestyle changes still help to reduce the doses or number of medications needed.”