If you’re living with diabetes mellitus, you’ve probably gotten an earful of advice from your doctor, from “take your meds on schedule” to “eat right” to “get more exercise.” But sticking to doctor’s orders can be a challenge no matter how forceful or reprimanding your doctor is — which could be part of the problem.
Registered dietician nutritionist and diabetes mellitus educator Susan Weiner agrees: “Putting people down for not following a health professional’s advice doesn’t lead to positive and long-term changes.”
So what does? The answer may lie with diabetes mellitus patients themselves.
Diabetes mellitus experts are discovering that how diabetes mellitus patients view their condition and symptoms can have a big impact on their health and well-being. After all, the mind is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to disease. Negative thinking can lead to negative behaviors and poor health.
Fortunately, the mind can be trained to think differently. In fact, evidence suggests that a change of mindset might be one of the most effective medicines for diabetes mellitus yet. The best part? A doctor won’t get on your case for making positive changes to your health.
Incorporate these six mental strategies into your diabetes mellitus treatment plan, and make managing diabetes mellitus — and improving your health — as simple as mind over matter.
1. Stop Obsessing Over Glycemic Index for Your Diabetes Mellitus
For many diabetes mellitus patients, following a proper diet means avoiding foods with high glycemic indices. But using glycemic level as a tool to decide what to eat has a downside: you miss out on foods containing important nutrients that won’t do any harm and may even be beneficial to your overall health and help treat your diabetes mellitus.
Glycemic index measures how carbohydrates in food increase blood sugar levels, and is ranked on a scale from 0 to 100. Common high-glycemic foods (those with a 70-plus index) include white bread, potatoes, cereals, and pretzels. While glycemic levels of foods can be a helpful tool in controlling blood sugar, obsessing over the ranking of a food on the glycemic index can be pointless and unnecessary.
Some high-glycemic foods, for example, are perfectly acceptable for diabetes mellitus patients — like pineapple and watermelon. Not only do these foods contain important nutrients, they’re tasty and convenient to eat and, as part of a healthy diet, don’t cause adverse effects.
Furthermore, how foods are cooked and prepared can alter their glycemic level. By itself, a baked potato has a high glycemic index, but put it in a casserole with vegetables and meat and the GI drops.
Focusing too much on glycemic indices can lead to more than unnecessary food restriction and missed nutrients; diabetes mellitus patients may set themselves up for a tedious routine at mealtime, making eating a rigorous battle that depletes the fun and joy of food.
In an article published in Food & Nutrition, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Marina Chaparro suggests that diabetes mellitus patients stop obsessing over the glycemic index of foods, and concentrate on glycemic load instead. Glycemic load takes portion size into account as well as eating wholesome food and being carb conscious. Sensible eating is part of an overall wellness plan for diabetes mellitus patients, and they can make positive changes to their food choices by simply viewing food, nutrition, and GI differently.
2. Adopt a New Weight-Loss Mindset for Your Diabetes Mellitus
While maintaining a healthy weight may help stave off and control diabetes mellitus type 2, how weight is assessed can have a negative impact on health. Some experts recommend using BMI, or body mass index, to determine how much a person should weigh. BMI is calculated by measuring body fat based on height and weight.
The problem with using BMI to gauge healthy weight in diabetes mellitus patients is that some people with BMIs in the obesity range of 30 or higher actually have normal blood lipids, blood sugar, and insulin levels, while others with normal BMIs can be underdiagnosed.
That may be because people can have high BMIs due to muscle mass rather than body fat, just as they can have normal BMIs with a lack of muscle and too much body fat. Other factors, like age, race, gender, and genetics, also play a role in BMI, making it a less effective strategy for assessing healthy weight.
Enter the “weight-neutral” mindset. This approach holds that diabetes mellitus patients focus less on BMI and more on body image and lifestyle changes, as well as address emotional eating issues. Proponents of the weight-neutral model believe it helps alleviate problems associated with BMI-centered weight maintenance, like dietary restriction, which can lead to weight cycling. Weight cycling, or repeated weight gain and loss, has been linked to all kinds of health problems, including inflammation, hypertension, insulin resistance, and emotional distress.
The Health at Every Size (HAES) program supports a weight-neutral philosophy. HAES favors caring for and nurturing your body and adopting stable, healthy habits to keep weight within its natural range. Using five key principles — weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement — HAES celebrates body diversity and individual choice.
But not everyone agrees with HAES. Critics argue that it encourages people to be fat. Advocates say no, HAES promotes trusting in your body and avoiding the negative health consequences of weight cycling while pursuing healthier, more sustainable weight loss practices. It’s also an effective program to follow for diabetes mellitus patients, insists Linda Bacon, nutrition professor, researcher, and HAES author.
Bacon believes a targeted effort to lose weight, while it can improve blood glucose in the short term, may do more harm than good in the long run by distracting diabetes mellitus patients from the things that really improve health, such as learning to eat well, being physically active, and developing a positive sense of self.
In an article published in Diabetes Self-Management, she and her co-author explain how shifting from “dietary control and weight loss to the HAES mindset, with an emphasis on wellness, will put you in charge of managing your diabetes mellitus and altering your choices as necessary.”
Bottom line? Instead of fixating on being thin and losing weight, diabetes mellitus patients may find better results — and improved health — by adopting a positive, weight-neutral mindset about eating, health, and body image.
3. Recognize and Manage Stress With Mind Work for Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes mellitus patients have plenty of reasons to avoid stress. Not only does it cause blood sugar to rise, it can result in poor sleep, high blood pressure, weight gain, and insulin resistance. What’s worse, stress is easy to create with diabetes mellitus, since there are so many reasons to worry. Diabetes mellitus patients are faced with questions and concerns on a daily basis: Are my blood sugar levels too high? Are they too low? Did I eat the wrong thing? Should I confide in friends or coworkers about my condition? Can I afford my medical bills? Will I be able to manage my health day in and day out?
What diabetes mellitus patients may not understand is that the first step to alleviating stress is to recognize it for what it is — a figment of the mind. Having worries about diabetes mellitus is normal, but that doesn’t mean those worries are valid or life-threatening. Although stress can be scary and frustrating, it doesn’t have to ruin your health. Most worries that come with diabetes mellitus can eventually be put to rest through good healthcare practices and common sense.
In the meantime, there’s plenty you can do to reduce day-to-day stress that threatens your health and happiness. Try these mental stress relievers to help manage diabetes mellitus symptoms:
- Meditate. Any form will do, but mindful meditation is especially effective for diabetes mellitus management. Mindfulness involves an awareness of present thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in a nonjudgmental way. According to research published in Health Psychology, mindfulness is associated with a reduced level of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Do deep breathing exercises. Not only does deep breathing reduce stress, it can help you sleep better. Not getting adequate sleep can impair glucose tolerance and worsen diabetes mellitus type 2. How’s it done? Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and breathe out through the mouth. Repeat several times.
- Journal. Writing in a journal can be highly therapeutic because it allows you to unleash thoughts and solve problems on paper, thereby releasing stress. Find a quiet spot inside or out where you can free mental blockages and write. Many diabetes mellitus patients find that journaling helps give them a clearer, more refreshed mind and a better life perspective.
- Bond with a dog. Dogs make great companions for diabetes mellitus patients — they’re loyal exercise partners, can be trained to detect when your blood sugar is low, and help keep you on a schedule. And, according to studies, dogs can reduce stress. Spend time cuddling together or try doga, yoga with a dog, for relief. Don’t own a dog? Cats also have a calming effect.
- Relax to soothing sounds. Ever notice how you can fall asleep more quickly when you listen to the sounds of the ocean or a gentle rain? The same noises can quell and eliminate stress. If you can’t get relief from the real deal, consider investing in a noise machine that offers a range of soothing sounds to put your mind in a restful, stress-free state.
- Use muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing certain muscles groups while breathing in and out. While it may take some time to master, progressive muscle relaxation can be an effective way to relieve tension and eliminate stress. Guided instructions will help you better learn this technique.
- Tap into your spiritual being. Studies have shown that spirituality plays an important role in managing chronic disease, like diabetes mellitus. The reason? Getting in touch with a higher power brings a sense of peace and comfort that alleviates anxieties related to illness. If church isn’t your thing, spend time reflecting in a quiet outdoor setting or practice tai chi or yoga.
- Think of something funny. Laughter may not cure diabetes mellitus, but it can certainly help treat symptoms. When you laugh, you release endorphins — the hormones that eliminate pain, make you feel good, and relieve stress. Use your mind to stir up funny memories or find something humorous to read or watch, and laugh your worries away.
- Focus on your senses. When time is limited and you need immediate stress relief, the quickest way to get it is to engage one or more of your senses, according to the Phoenix VA Healthcare System. Examples? Close your eyes and picture a pleasing scenario, smell flowers, hold a favorite object or memento, or sip on a refreshing drink.
- Get sleep. People who are tired or sleep-deprived often put their minds in overdrive, making it more prone to worry and anxiety. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and helps refresh and relax the mind. Even a short nap can provide relief. If you suffer from insomnia, establish a relaxing bedtime routine and get professional help if necessary.
4. Cultivate Positivity for Diabetes Mellitus
Research has shown there’s a positive link between optimism and the outcome of all kinds of health conditions, including diabetes mellitus. One study reports that the most optimistic diabetes mellitus participants had a 27 percent lower risk of dying than their peers. A positive mindset doesn’t just lead to better health habits; it reduces anxiety, improves coping skills, and boosts happiness, all which help enrich a diabetes mellitus patient’s life and make it healthier and more manageable.
Cultivating positivity isn’t difficult to do, but it does take practice. Positive self-talk is a good place to start. You can begin by thinking of yourself as you would a good friend. If that good friend were feeling down about something, you would likely offer encouragement, point out the friend’s strengths and skills, and tell your friend how special he or she is. Giving yourself the same treatment is both uplifting and motivating, plus it can influence your well-being.
The American Diabetes Association agrees that how you talk to yourself makes a difference when it comes to how you feel and act. Negative self-talk can keep you from following a wellness plan and harm your health. But you can turn that around by simply substituting negative self-talk with positive alternatives. For example, rather than calling yourself an exercise failure because you didn’t walk today, remember the days you did walk and tell yourself any exercise is better than none.
Another activity to try is to take note of the little things that have a positive impact on your health. Looking at the big picture can be overwhelming, especially when you’re dealing with health issues, like your diabetes mellitus. Instead, consider all the small achievements in your day-to-day living. Getting good blood sugar readings, taking an exercise class, eating a nourishing meal, adopting healthy sleep habits — these are baby steps to better health. Concentrate on the little accomplishments every day, and the bigger ones, like improving and reversing diabetes mellitus type 2, can be achieved.
Gratitude also cultivates positivity because it takes your mind away from you and your worries and puts more productivity on others. Plus, feeling and expressing gratitude releases feel-good hormones, which means you’re doing something healthful for yourself too. Gratitude can be shown in many ways, from a simple thank you for advice from a loved one to making a meal for a friend to donating your time to an important cause.
Finally, try forming relationships with people who are optimistic and fun to be around. Being with positive people is a good distraction from your health woes, and their optimism will rub off on you. Seek out others who you enjoy spending time with, who lift your spirits, and who care about you in a deep, meaningful way. Your mind will grow more positive about everything in your life, including your health and diabetes mellitus.
Diabetes mellitus patients who suffer serious stress and stress-related conditions, like depression, may find help through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Specialists trained in CBT help diabetes mellitus patients deal with feelings of failure, loss, and helplessness. This therapy can also help treat minor conditions associated with diabetes mellitus, including insomnia and anxiety. For more information on CBT and to find a therapist, visit the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.
5. Sharpen the Brain for Diabetes Mellitus
Recent research suggests that there’s cause for concern when it comes to diabetes mellitus and its effect on the brain. Scientists from Ewha University Brain Institute in South Korea found that people with diabetes mellitus type 2, especially those who were overweight, had thinner gray matter in the brain, a sign of deterioration. Further, memory and thinking skills were decreased in diabetes mellitus type 2 patients regardless of their weight — and the longer someone had diabetes mellitus type 2, the likelier they were to have brain changes.
The good news is, learning and using your brain can help keep the mind sharp and improve diabetes mellitus symptoms, including spikes in blood sugar levels. So what can you do to get your brain working at top capacity? Here are five ideas that will keep you thinking and engaged:
- Read, read, read. It’s one of the best ways to stay sharp and work areas of the brain related to memory and deep thinking. Read a variety of material, including poetry, which has been shown to stimulate areas of the brain that tap into emotions.
- Do puzzles. Although research has been mixed on whether doing puzzles benefits the brain, there’s no question they require brainwork. Puzzles involve problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, creativity, and memory. The more complex the puzzle, the better for the brain.
- Take a class and learn. Taking a class promotes concentration and focus, plus it’s a great way to engage in social interaction and networking — all which benefit the brain. Classes abound on all kinds of subjects and they can be found online, through local colleges and universities, and via lifelong learning programs in the community.
- Play challenging games. Card games and board games, played alone or with others, can give the brain a rigorous workout that’s also fun and satisfying. A University of Iowa study found that playing video games can benefit the brain, too, by reversing mental decline in aging adults.
- Listen to music. Listening to music has many brain benefits, including improved brain function and memory, better sleep quality, and increased mental alertness. Some say that classical music tops the charts for improving brain health, but go ahead and listen to your favorite artist; any music can boost your physical and mental well-being.
6. Get Mindful About Diabetes Mellitus
The more you know about diabetes mellitus — or your potential to develop it — the better equipped you’ll be to manage symptoms, handle complications, and reverse or prevent the disease. You might begin by researching your family medical history. Heredity plays a definitive role in diabetes mellitus, so genes matter.
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes mellitus type 2 and 1 have different causes yet they share two factors: you inherit a predisposition to diabetes mellitus and something in the environment triggers the onset.
Find out which, if any, family members have diabetes mellitus or pre-diabetes. Include both living and non-living relatives in your search. Then ask questions. Get to know their lifestyle and what it’s like to live with the condition day-to-day. Learn about individual symptoms and how they’re managed, what therapies work best, and at what age they developed diabetes mellitus.
Move on to acquiring general information about diabetes mellitus. Get to know the differences between diabetes mellitus type 1 (which is insulin-dependent and usually develops during childhood or adolescence) and diabetes mellitus type 2 (commonly known as “adult onset” and is not dependent on insulin to control blood sugar). Research your own symptoms and see how they compare with other diabetes mellitus patients’. Look into all your options for treatment and disease management.
Remember, knowledge is power, and there are numerous resources available for diabetes mellitus patients to get educated. Besides your primary doctor, other medical experts with backgrounds in diabetes mellitus include nutritionists, endocrinologists, eye doctors, podiatrists, nurse practitioners, and heart specialists. You might also consult a personal trainer or exercise coach.
Literature on diabetes mellitus can be found through medical staff, but you can do research on your own, either online or at the public library. You might also consult diabetes mellitus associations for information and a list of contacts for any questions you might have. Many medical and health-related associations that are not diabetes mellitus-specific but that address other health problems associated with the disease can be useful, too. For a comprehensive listing of organizations related to diabetes mellitus, check out this Directory of Diabetes Organizations.
The important thing is to learn all you can so you can make informed decisions about your personal and unique health situation.
Diabetes mellitus is a common, chronic disease that can be a daily challenge to manage. Staying on top of your medication, weight maintenance, and exercise isn’t just a constant worry; it can drain your energy and make your symptoms worse. Fortunately, you have the power within you to treat your illness using one of the most effective tools around: your mind. Don’t overlook this valuable asset. It can be the ticket to better overall health and a longer, more comfortable life with diabetes mellitus.