And while hardened habits can be difficult to break for just about anyone, having diabetes means the stakes are even higher. Here are nine unhealthy tendencies you should try to shed ASAP — and strategies to help you get there.
Skipping meals. “In our society, people skip breakfast and are too busy at work to eat lunch,” says Sethu Reddy, MD, MBA, chief of the Adult Diabetes Section at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. “They get home at 6 p.m. and are starving.” What happens next? An all-out feast that can spike blood sugar and also lead to weight gain.
"Instead of a binge at the end of the day, eat three meals throughout it to help keep your blood sugar levels in the normal range and maintain a healthy weight," says Dr. Reddy. Skipping breakfast, in particular, can negatively affect blood sugar levels for the rest of the day, according to a study in the July 2015 issue of Diabetes Care. Participants with diabetes who skipped breakfast had lunchtime blood sugar levels that were 37 percent higher than when they had eaten breakfast, and their blood sugar levels remained elevated at dinnertime.
Late-night snacking. Eating a heavy snack while watching TV late at night is a double whammy, Reddy says. “You are mindlessly eating, so you may not even realize how many calories you are consuming,” he says. Plus, snacking after your main evening meal, especially on high-carb foods like cookies and chips, can result in high blood sugar levels the next morning.
Not checking your blood sugar. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), keeping tabs on your blood sugar levels — and tracking your results — is your best tool for checking your type 2 diabetes management. Knowing your levels can help you keep your doctor informed so, together, you can assess your condition and make changes to your treatment plan if needed. Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all plan for checking your blood sugar levels. The right routine depends on what works for you, based on what you eat, how much you exercise, the medications you take, and how you feel. Your doctor can help you determine a testing schedule that’s right for you.
Binge drinking. Moderate consumption of alcohol — one drink a day for women and two for men — can be part of a healthy lifestyle for some people. But anything more than that can be risky, especially if you have diabetes, Reddy says. Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and be toxic to the liver, which is a reservoir for the body’s blood sugar (glucose) stores. Alcohol can also cause low blood sugar for up to 24 hours after drinking. People with diabetes shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach or when their blood sugar is low. “Drinking alcohol with food is better because it is less likely to impair your judgment,” he says. If you’re drinking, he says, you might be less likely to realize your blood sugar is plummeting.
Smoking. Smoking is associated with all sorts of health risks, but it can be especially dangerous if you have diabetes. “People with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease already; smoking increases this risk even further,” says Arti Bhan, MD, head of endocrinology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. People with diabetes who smoke are more likely than nonsmokers to have trouble with insulin dosing and with controlling the condition, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports. They're also at a higher risk for poor blood flow in the legs and feet, which can lead to infections, ulcers, and possible amputation, as well as blinding eye disease and nerve damage.
Yo-yo dieting. Fad diets are just that — fads, Dr. Bhan says. And yo-yo dieting can cause you to repeatedly lose and regain weight. “This can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes, as it can affect your blood sugar levels,” Bhan explains. Aim for a healthy, well-balanced diet and discuss any weight-loss goals with a registered dietitian, who will help you meet your goals without sabotaging your health.
Skimping out on exercise. “People who have type 2 diabetes should aim for 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week to reduce insulin resistance (so their insulin works better), improve cardiovascular fitness, and help maintain a normal weight,” Bhan says. The ADA suggests activities such as jogging, brisk walking, biking, swimming, playing tennis, or stair climbing. And strength training matters, too; it makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood sugar levels. Aim for some type of strength training — such as lifting weights or doing pushups and squats — at least twice a week in addition to aerobic activity, says the ADA.
Staying seated. We sit a lot — too much, in fact. And all of this downtime raises the risk of complications — even dying — from all types of diseases, including diabetes, according to research published in January 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Exercising once a day doesn’t mitigate this risk, the study showed, but standing and moving around during the day instead of just parking yourself at your desk or on your couch can make a difference.
Sweating the small stuff. When you’re overextended, stress can seem to make everything worse — and that includes your blood sugar. Bhan explains that stress hormones, which the body releases in response to high tension, can alter blood sugar levels directly. Plus, when you're stressed out, you're less likely to take good care of yourself with healthy lifestyle habits like eating a nutritious diet and exercising. Instead, some people try to cope by smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating high-fat comfort foods. Find positive ways to manage life’s ups and downs, whether that's practicing meditation, taking deep breaths, or listening to your favorite music, Bhan suggests.