Living with type 1 diabetes will never be easy (until they find that cure, of course), but there are definitely things we can do to make it a little easier.
Here are 7 things that help make my life with type 1 diabetes easier. These 7 things help me stay in my goal A1c range without making diabetes management the center of my universe.
Let’s take a look.
Use the same size containers or bowls for starchy foods
Don’t like measuring every single thing you eat? When it comes to the starchier foods — like rice, oats, veggie medleys including corn, etc. — you can remove that measuring step without sacrificing the accuracy of your carbohydrate count by using the same container or bowl for that meal.
Example: For breakfast lately, I eat a big container of frozen “veggie medley” (corn, peas, carrots, green beans) with 3 or 4 breakfast chicken sausage. It’s easy for my on-the-go mornings (I’ve got two little kids) and I microwave it for a few minutes before I leave the house. By using the same microwavable container and filling it to the same level every time, I know that I need 4 units of insulin for that breakfast. Easy peasy.
Exercise before you eat
We were all taught at the doctor’s office that you have to feed your exercise by eating beforehand and reducing or skipping the insulin dose for your meal. Instead, exercising before you eat your next meal means that you don’t have a big bolus of insulin onboard in your bloodstream. This way, aerobic exercise is far less likely to drop your blood sugar as significantly.
This approach can free you from the constant worry of low blood sugars during exercise.
Example: I prefer to exercise right before dinner, around 7 p.m. In order to make this as simple as possible in terms of blood sugar management, I try not to eat between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to ensure I don’t have much rapid-acting insulin still active in my system by the time I get to start jumping rope.
Usually, I find that I can start my 30-minute jump-rope workout at an in-range blood sugar (even as low as 90 mg/dL) and I’ll finish with a blood sugar still in that range because there was little-to-no rapid-acting insulin onboard.
Eat the same thing (mostly) for breakfast, snack, and lunch
I’m certainly not suggesting you eat the same foods every day, all day long. That’s boring. But eating generally the same thing every day for 2 or 3 of your meals can make blood sugar management much easier because you know exactly how much insulin you need for those meals.
And that doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up. Maybe you eat the same thing for breakfast for 3 weeks and then switch to something different.
And dinner (and dessert) could be the meal you have more fun and flexibility with since we usually eat dinner at home, and those other meals are on-the-go and a little more rushed.
Example: Lately, my go-to breakfast is a big Tupperware of frozen veggies and chicken sausage, followed by a vegan strawberry protein shake for my next meal, then an apple and raw pecans, then a dinner that usually consists of meat + veggies…and of course, homemade desserts!
For 3 out of 5 of those meals, I know exactly how much insulin I need, so major fluctuations and predictability in my blood sugars are less likely.
Use very specific foods to treat low blood sugars
Well, this one is easy: don’t treat low blood sugars with foods you’re reaching for impulsively.
When we aren’t prepared with fast-acting carbohydrates, we end up choosing things that contain far more carbohydrates than we need, too much fat or protein for fast digestion, and more actual calories than we need for that low.
Instead, choose a couple of “treatment” foods that you’ll think of as medicine for lows. And put those foods in your purse, your desk, your nightstand, and your car.
When you aren’t prepared for lows, you’ll probably over-treat the low…and end up on that nasty blood sugar roller coaster.
Example: Right now, I’m using gummy Lifesavers to treat lows because I know I only need 3 or 4 to treat the average low blood sugar. A mild low, I know I can eat 1 or 2 and be on my way. By using this as my treatment for lows, I avoid the risk of over-eating and over-treating the low.
Read “How to Treat Lows as Quickly as Possible” for more info about treating low blood sugars
Include the carbs you care about most
If you don’t love cereal…stop eating it! You don’t have to cut all the carbohydrates in order to benefit from a lower-carb diet, but you’ll certainly make blood sugar management easier if you think about which carbs you won’t miss, and which carbs you love the most.
Make room for the carbohydrates you love the most by reducing your carb-intake at other meals. Crazy about bread and butter at dinner? Okay, then avoid bread and other sugar-laden or starchy foods at breakfast and lunch.
Don’t wanna give up ice cream? Okay, then make sure your dinner is protein, fat, and veggies, so you can save your carb-count for dessert!
Example: I don’t care one bit about cereal or oatmeal or waffles, etc., but if you told me I had to give up all desserts, I would feel extremely deprived and rebound instead — wanting all the desserts!
Instead, I make sure to avoid sugar and starchy processed carbohydrates throughout the day, and save those yummy carbohydrates for homemade, gluten-free desserts!
Pinpoint your worst “insulin dosing” habit
Is there something you keep doing during the day in your diabetes management that always seems to set you up for a blood sugar roller coaster or super highs or super lows?
Pinpoint that pesky habit — maybe you’re binge-eating during lows or under-bolusing for your breakfast or drinking extra coffee without dosing for that extra caffeine.
Whatever your habit is that seems to sabotage your blood sugar goals, identify it and come up with a strategy to change it.
Example: I hate high blood sugars, so my worst habit is to over-correct high blood sugars with too much insulin and then go low. Those lows can get exhausting!
So I have to remind myself: do your correction math — you only need one unit of insulin to correct this high! Then be patient!
Let go of extreme food rules
Constantly putting yourself on a low-carb or ketogenic diet that you struggle to stick to for more than 13 days?
Let go of the extreme food rules that aren’t working for you. Just because you lost weight during those 13 days doesn’t mean the diet “works” if you can’t follow it for more than 13 days.
As people with diabetes, we are inundated with rules and “bad foods” and things we ought to avoid. At the end of the day, we all need the same thing non-diabetics need: mostly real food.
More vegetables. Less processed crap. More real food.
What would happen if you let go of all the rules, and simply worked on making more “real food” choices every day while actually giving yourself permission to eat the one thing you’re constantly trying to avoid?
Example: I can eat whatever I want — I’m the one who chooses what foods I put in my mouth. But I know I feel best when I start my day with vegetables, fat, and protein. I know I feel fantastic when I eat bacon and a plateful of broccoli for lunch or dinner. I know I feel the most balanced when I don’t eat sugar until after dinner.
These aren’t “rules.” They are simply things I’ve learned about my body’s nutritional needs by experimenting and listening. My goal every day is to simply eat mostly real food. Period.
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Lisa Zakas says
Thank you so much for such great tips!! I have always had a healthy low carb diet but since being diagnosed with LADA 6 months ago I find I try to skip carbs almost altogether but go for “free” foods that don’t require units (like butter, cheese, bacon etc). Now I’m having trouble maintaining my weight. Think I need to follow your advice and go back to eating healthy, whole, real foods!
Dr Mandar Joglekar says
I am a practising dentist for last 21 years and on daily basis , I see a lot of patients who are struggling to keep their Diabetes under control!!
Though these patients are guided by their MD doctors for sugar maintenance, they are also looking for some advice for their oral health in general and especially gum care!!
I suggest some of these patients to read these blogs !! The advice is in detail and my patients are getting benefits by following some of these suggestions!!
Thank you for sharing these tips!! Really helpful for my patients!!
Christel Oerum says
Thank you so much for this kind feedback. I’m thrilled that the content is helping your pateints
Jennifer Flick says
I want to thank you for this content. I have successfully managed my T1 for 35 years physically, mentally and emotionally (since age 14), using logic of observing my own blood sugars to make changes aligned with what you say here. I avoid “typical” T1 diabetes input, because I find it negative and victim-oriented – assumptive of many negative effects that I have no sign of – and generally full of commiserating about feeling sorry for oneself. Little discussion of learning empowering info about nutrition and impact of food and changing life-habits that EVERYONE could benefit from (people with and without a diabetes diagnosis). I have far better long-term results having been a “loner” with T1 than by identifying with the herd.
What Ginger writes here is refreshing and brings to my consciousness that I have found my way to many of these tips as well. Thus far, Diabetes Strong is one of the few sites I have found that seems to respond to the challenges of T1 as I do… I know I’m HEALTHIER as a result of my diagnosis, forcing me to read labels starting at age 14, and observing myself as a loop feedback system.
Ginger Vieira says
Thank you for this powerful comment on real life with T1 and taking ownership of our habits! I hear you on the self-pity victim game. Thriving means doing the best you can every day with realistic expectations and owning our choices.