Top 3 Things You’ll Learn
- The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
- The health risks that come with high blood sugar
- Easy ways for coworkers, HR directors, and partners to support a Type 2 diabetic
Type 2 diabetes is a big diagnosis for someone who might actually have felt fine up until then – it suggests that a critical process in their body is broken, and now they have to figure out what that means for their day-to-day life. These patients will have so many questions.
Understanding the diagnosis
Type 2 diabetes was originally called non-insulin-dependent diabetes to distinguish it from Type 1 diabetes, where the patient’s pancreas doesn’t function properly, and they have to inject insulin to make up for it. With Type 2 diabetes, the patient’s pancreas still works and produces insulin, but it can’t produce enough to offset the sugars the patient consumes. (These can include glucose in the form of straight sugar, but they can also include carbohydrates like bread and pasta, fructose from fruit, and lactose from dairy products.) This leads to higher-than-normal blood sugar, which can have a serious health impact over time.
All this excess sugar is not a good thing for your kidneys, eyeballs, and circulation to your hands and feet. You may remember from biology class that capillaries are only one-red-blood-cell wide. Sugar molecules are kind of large and jagged. Too many of those sugar molecules banging around in our capillaries, the smallest of our blood vessels, can form tiny holes in the vessel wall.
Think of it like holes in a water hose. If we can’t get proper blood flow to our extremities due to leakage from the vessels, then those tissues eventually die. It starts with foot ulcers that won’t heal and may even end with amputations, as well as serious conditions like diabetic retinopathy, blindness, chronic kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease that requires dialysis. This can be a scary diagnosis and may leave patients wondering what to do next. You can reach out your hand to help them navigate this new world.
One of the most common and most effective approaches to treating Type 2 diabetes is an eating plan, which unfortunately is often the hardest part for most people. A newly diagnosed patient will need to be mindful about everything they consume if they want to be successful.
So, what can you do to help support them on this difficult but important journey?
- You’re a coworker, and lavish lunches are a workplace tradition, be the friend who encourages healthy choices for your newly diabetic work buddy. A low glycemic index lunch would include a source of fiber and some healthy fats. A salad with protein, avocado, veggie toppings, and a reasonable amount of oil/vinegar would be a great choice. Studying the ADA recommendations can make you their personal lunch hero. And as an added bonus, you’ll also likely benefit from joining your co-worker on this new adventure – one that’s less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.
- You’re an HR director, encourage wellness programs that include standing or walking meetings instead of seated ones. These are particularly great for smaller groups discussions. All that sugar will be burned in the form of calories while they’re standing or walking, thus fewer molecules will hang around that will require an insulin offset. A cool side effect is that standing or walking meetings usually end sooner.
I will explain the glycemic index in a future blog. This important measurement for sugar is an important part of diabetic health.
- You’re a life partner of a newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetic it will be important to encourage them to go see a dietitian for a few introductory sessions. Registered Dietitians are rich with practical experience and have a ton of tips and tricks to make mealtime decisions easier for individuals and families. They can provide resources, recipes, education on how to measure portions, and education on how to make choices at the grocery store. RDs will teach a patient how to snack smarter, too, so they don’t undo a day of great choices with a bag of baked chips. As the partner, it will be a good idea for you to attend these sessions too, especially if you share shopping and meal planning and cooking responsibilities.
No matter what your relationship is with a Type 2 diabetic, being well informed is a great way to be helpful. Here are some resources to learn more:
- Don’t forget about pre-diabetes! The sooner we can help patients and friends get ahead of Type 2 diabetes, the better. The CDC estimates that 96M American adults have pre-diabetes and 80% of them don’t know it. These patients can and should follow the ADA diet mentioned above to prevent themselves from crossing that finish line.
- I love this glycemic index chart from Canada – for most people a red/yellow/green chart can be easier to digest (including me), than a list of numbers. Green foods are to be chosen most of the time, yellow foods sometimes or minimally, and red foods never if you can help it.
You may be thinking, “What about counting calories, though?” – are all carbs the same? That makes you a smart bran-fiber cookie. If you want to help someone take meal management to the next level, help them consider the glycemic load in their foods. Glycemic load indicates how carb-laden food is, and how fast it could raise a person’s blood sugar, on a handy 0 – 20 scale. GL incorporates the concepts of fiber and carb calories and glycemic index into one number between 0-20. Here’s a pretty comprehensive chart for reference. It might be a good idea, though, to save that discussion for a few months after diagnosis – the newly diagnosed diabetic is dealing with a lot of change all at once. But understanding things like the glycemic index and glycemic load will be crucial to keep them on a the path to long-term success.