The impact of diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed at first. To help understand how both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can affect everyday life, we talk to two people living with the conditions.

While it’s important to note that we’re all different and will have different experiences, it can be helpful to hear other people’s experiences.

First we speak to Charlotte, who has type 1 diabetes.

Hi Charlotte, can you tell us how old were you when you were diagnosed?

I was diagnosed at 17 years old. I remember it was the Friday before my psychology A-level exam. My parents were going on holiday the next day, luckily my neighbour is a paramedic so he kept an eye on me whilst they were away, he was a superstar!

How were you supported when you received the diagnosis?

I was kept in hospital only for the day, whilst I was waiting for my medication to be prescribed. When discharged I was just told to reduce my carb intake a bit and take the units discussed with the consultant each meal time. I then had follow up appointments for the next few months, these were helpful however I still feel the information I know now has been through my own research and talking to other diabetics. I now only see a consultant every six months and only contact the diabetic specialist nurse if I need the help.

What do you need to think about in terms of your diet that those without diabetes don’t?

Everything I eat, I have to take into consideration. I have to consider how many carbs are within my meal and take the insulin to counteract that, however, it’s not always that simple. I also have to consider what I’ll be doing in the hours to come. For example, if I’m exercising after eating I will reduce my insulin as exercise lowers my blood sugars (everyone is different, it can have the opposite effect).

Many people think it’s only sugar that affects my blood sugar, but it’s carbohydrates in anything, yes – including vegetables, even protein can raise my blood sugars if consumed in a large quantity.

I usually eat a low carbohydrate diet, luckily my partner is supportive and follows my diet, so I don’t get tempted by sweet treats!

How does diabetes impact your daily life?

I like to think it doesn’t impact my life too much. Injecting insulin and doing finger pricks to check my sugars is now second nature.

I sometimes get frustrated by the unpredictability of my diabetes, for example, if I have a hypo (low blood sugars), I can’t drive for 45 minutes minimum and this can be annoying when I have places to be! Or if my blood sugars are high, I feel tired and just want to take a correction dose and sleep it off, but that isn’t always possible!

What advice would you give to someone who’s just been diagnosed?

Not to strive for perfection. It’s very easy for a diabetic nurse/consultant to say control is key and keep harping on about your Hb1ac. Yes, it is important to keep your blood sugars in range to avoid complications, but it is also important to live your life! A few highs aren’t going to jeopardise your health. Just take each day as it comes. If you have had a bad blood sugar day, tomorrow is a new day, start fresh.

Get support from others too, there are many websites such as DiabetesUK which can give advice on how to cope with the condition. They even have a helpline you can ring when in need of advice. The support of your family, friends and workplace is also important, be open about how you are feeling and how your condition can affect you. The more people understand the more help they will be able to give.

Finally, you control diabetes, it does not control you! You can still do everything a ‘normal’ person can do, don’t let anyone tell you different. I have learnt to love my broken pancreas and be positive about my condition. It is also an excuse to always have jelly babies on me… yum!

Next we ask Bryan (who has type 2 diabetes) the same questions.

Hello Bryan – can you tell us how old were you when you were diagnosed?

Yes of course, I was 56.

How were you supported when you received the diagnosis?

After having a blood test, my doctor called me (the same evening) asking me to come to the surgery to collect medication and to confirm I was diabetic. A couple of weeks later I saw the practice diabetes specialist nurse, who gave advice on diet, lifestyle, etc. She became my source of help and advice going forward, and in fact she still is! My own GP has also seen me several times to establish levels of oral medication.

What do you need to think about in terms of your diet that those without diabetes don’t?

Type 2 diabetes, once established, is progressive. I coped with oral meds until I was 66, then needed to commence insulin injections, which means I now have to be far more aware of the amount of sugar released by everything I eat and drink – including Mars bars, beer, wine, Coca Cola, as well as bread, rice, cereals, spuds, etc. I also need to think about my general fitness levels, and targeting 10,000 steps a day (Fitbit) and regular gym sessions help enormously.

How does diabetes impact your daily life?

The impact on my daily life is actually minimal now, other than being aware that I am insulin-dependant and must be aware of the dangers of low blood sugar levels leading to ‘hypos’. I have learned to live with it, and not beat myself up for getting it in the first place!

I may have brought it on by being overweight and under-exercised, or I may have been destined to get it anyway.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just been diagnosed?

If someone has just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I would say not to worry about it being a terrible incurable affliction that will lead to you going blind, having your legs amputated, etc. but learn what is happening to your body.

Your pancreas has either stopped making enough insulin, or your body has stopped using the insulin produced properly… educate yourself!  

There is so much you can do do minimise the effect the illness will have on you, for example if you are overweight you will help yourself immensely if you lose the excess; if you are unfit you will help yourself through exercise and strengthening your body.

If you smoke, stop immediately, and really do cut out all the stuff that diabetics shouldn’t have – puddings, fizzy drinks, puddings, lots of beer, puddings, white bread, and… puddings.

I do (mostly… well, sometimes) stick to this advice myself, and I really never do let diabetes affect my normally happy life. In fact, if I didn’t have it, I doubt very much that I would be as healthy and fit as I am now.

If you’ve been diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, know that support is available. If you’re worried about how your diet needs to change, consider speaking to a nutrition professional.

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Written by Katherine

Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.

Written by Katherine

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