Dealing With Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious problem that millions of people in the United States must face.

Nearly 17 million Americans suffer from diabetes, and almost the same amount stand on the verge of developing the disease. With more cases being diagnosed each day, more patients and their families are finding that they need help coping and living with the diagnosis.

Cathy Feste, a diabetes life counselor and the co-author of "101 Tips for Coping with Diabetes," visited The Early Show to give tips – and hope – to those living with diabetes. Feste has been living with diabetes for about 45 years.

She explains some people develop the illness at childhood (Type 1 Diabetes), but 90 to 95 percent of the cases are the Type 2 version of the disease, which strikes later in life.

Feste says as a result of poor eating and exercise habits, diabetes has become what the Center for Disease Control calls "the epidemic of our time." About 16 million Americans have what is called "pre-diabetes," which, if left untreated, has a 50 percent chance of becoming full-blown diabetes.

Feste says "101 Tips for Coping with Diabetes" has tips drawn from the personal experience and expertise of people with diabetes and health care professionals. She says the book is designed to answer the most common and uncommon questions about how to deal with diabetes in order to manage glucose control and more without sacrificing quality of life.

Feste says some patients cope well with all the scheduled and unscheduled demands of the disease — using three key elements: knowledge, skill and support.

She says "101 Tips for Coping with Diabetes" stresses management, healthy eating, weight control, exercise, monitoring blood glucose levels, managing high and low blood glucose, health care, support and information, and dealing with emergencies, travel and illness are addressed in a way that is easy to understand and follow.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body cannot use food for fuel. In a healthy person the body converts food into glucose (sugar), this glucose remains in the bloodstream until a substance called "insulin" whisks that glucose to the body's cells to be used for energy. Insulin is like the "key" that opens the cells and allows the fuel to enter.

A person with diabetes either does not produce insulin (Type 1) or has trouble regulating their insulin levels (Type 2) and so the glucose remains in the blood, unable to get into the body's cells to be used as fuel. Thus, sugar levels build up in the bloodstream and cause damage.

People who have Type 1 must inject insulin because their body does not make any insulin at all. Those with Type 2 manage their diabetes with pills or, sometimes, with diet and exercise alone.

There are both acute and long-term complications associated with diabetes. An acute complication of Type 1 occurs when the blood sugar gets so high (often this occurs prior to diagnosis) that the person goes into a diabetic coma. This can be fatal. Long-term complications of diabetes usually occur after many years. They can happen sooner and it can be more severe if blood glucose has not been managed. These complications include blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage sometimes leading to amputation of limbs.

Studies in recent years have shown that people with pre-diabetes can prevent getting the disease if they lose 7 percent of their body weight and keep it off and exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week. But, as a nation, Feste says, we are overweight and inactive.

Feste says diabetics don't necessarily have to give up sweets. She explains that each person has a different recommended carbohydrate intake level. Once you know your intake, you can make adjustments accordingly. If you know you are going to be exercising and burning a bit more carbohydrates, you can have a few more sweets if you want.

Feste warns that some sweets may not be recommended for diabetics, such as chocolate. She says chocolate is high in fat and fat slows the absorption of sugar into your system. If you have low blood sugar you want to raise your sugar level as soon as possible and chocolate will take a while to kick in. She says a better way to raise your blood sugar is to eat something that is pure sugar, such as lifesavers or jellybeans. Also, if you are home, you can drink juice or milk.

Diabetics don't need to exercise to keep diabetes at bay. Feste says you just need to increase your activity level. Any old kind of physical activity is good enough, if you do it regularly. Some ideas are walking the dog, dancing, playing with a child or grandchild or gardening. And several short bursts of activity can be just as beneficial as activity that is continuous. People are surprised and often pleased to discover that three ten minute walks throughout the day give them the benefit of one longer walk.

Feste says parents can help diabetic children by encouraging them to be active. She says activity is healthy for everyone and spending time together as a family is a tremendous investment in your loved ones. She also says parents should start cutting back on portion sizes at meals. Substitute healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables for the typical high salt, high fat chips and snacks.

Feste explains that she can still eat out at restaurants and parties and yet still be in control her diabetes. She says diabetics can bring an appetizer or snack food and dessert that fits their meal plan. Bringing a healthy dessert is also a great way to avoid the temptation of eating too much unhealthy fare. Feste says there are tons of wonderful cookbooks out there with delicious desserts. And when you eat out in a restaurant, she says, it is a good idea to share food. Offer to split an entree that way you can taste a variety of yummy food and cut down on the quantity consumed. If you eating alone, ask the server to put half the meal in a doggy bag right away so that you are not tempted to overeat.

Feste warns people can have lots of diabetes complications without feeling anything. People can have silent heart attacks, nerve damage in feet, or eye complications without knowing it. She says that is why it is so important for people to get regular check ups to see if their blood sugar is OK.

For people with Type 2 diabetes, Feste says, prevention is the key. She says millions of people could avoid needless suffering with the right knowledge. Feste also says if we can be more supportive of people with diabetes trying to control their diabetes we can also minimize the damaging effects. Once you have diabetes it is not reversible but with Type 2 - you can use diet and exercise to wean yourself off having to be on medication. Type 1 is permanent and lifelong medication is a necessity.

Surprising Facts About Diabetes

  • Stress hormone cause blood sugar to go up. This could be dangerous in diabetics because the sugar remains in the blood and causes damage.
  • Sex is a great way to control diabetes. Lovemaking burns 250 calories/hour.

To reach the American Diabetes Association anywhere in the United States, call 1-800-DIABETES