Wdowik nutrition column: Diabetes management and prevention are in your hands

What if I told you there is a disorder you are likely to get, one that will cost you thousands of dollars and is not guaranteed to be covered by insurance? What if I further told you this disease, if untreated, could cause short-term inconveniences like fatigue, skin infections, blurred vision and mood swings, as well as long-term issues like heart disease, stroke, kidney problems and nerve damage? Fortunately, this disorder is both preventable and manageable!Preventing and Managing Diabetes graphic

November is National Diabetes Month, an effort to draw attention to the millions of people who have diabetes, do not know they have diabetes, or are at risk of diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 30 million Americans have diabetes, but 7.2 million (almost 1 in 4) do not know it. Another 84 million have prediabetes, a condition that leads to type 2 diabetes if not treated.

That means one-third of the U. S. population has diabetes or prediabetes.

Do not stop reading. It seems to be quite common to ignore one’s risk of diabetes, thinking it is inevitable and not a big deal. It is a huge deal, and it isn’t inevitable.

Let’s start with misconceptions.

  1. Diabetes is not that serious. In fact, it is a leading cause of complications and reduced quality of life. As noted above, it can cause both short-term and long-term problems.
  2. Diabetes is inevitable. It might seem out of your control, but it isn’t. Lifestyle changes can help prevent it, and lifestyle changes can help manage it, so even if you are diagnosed with diabetes, you can prevent the complications by being proactive.
  3. People with diabetes have to go on a special diet. This, of course, is the part I am most passionate about. Nobody should feel isolated or singled out to eat particular “diabetic” foods or sugar-free everything. Instead, a healthy eating plan benefits everyone (more below).
  4. Eating too much sugar or being overweight causes diabetes. While both of these increase one’s risk of prediabetes and diabetes, lifestyle and genetics contribute as well.

On a positive note, there is much you can do to help with diabetes prevention and treatment.

  1. Make an appointment with your health-care provider today. Find out where you stand, no matter your age, background or weight.
  2. Increase physical activity. You don’t have to start running or join a gym, and it does not have to be overwhelming. Decide to start getting out of your chair every hour, on the hour, to walk around for 5 minutes. Add 10 minutes after each meal. Then add activities you enjoy, such as pick-up basketball or riding your bike. Put something on your calendar every day so you eventually work up to an hour of movement.
  3. Eat better. Like activity, you do not have to overhaul your diet all at once. Start by leaving food on your plate at every meal. Smaller portions will give you a solid start to reducing your calorie intake without even counting calories. Next, add vegetables to almost every meal or snack. These will fill you up and give much-needed fiber. Then, eliminate sugar-sweetened drinks and fried foods. Sure, there are other things you can do, but keep it simple.

While you are the most important advocate and manager of your own health, you are not alone. Get support from health-care professionals, family and friends. The Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center offers ongoing classes as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program, as do other health providers throughout the state. The KRNC also offers a new, evidence-based eight-week program called Diabetes Empowerment for those with type 2 diabetes. Be sure to explore your community resources and get on track now to prevent, manage or just learn more about diabetes.

Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.