Understanding Diabetes as Holiday Challenges Draw Nearer
3 min. read
Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute
Think you know all about diabetes? You can always learn more.
Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States. In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An estimated 37.3 million people have diabetes today in the United States, representing about 11 percent of the population. About 1.4 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in the U.S. yearly. Studies project that the rate of diabetes in the U.S. could double or triple by 2060, especially if obesity rates continue to climb.
November is National Diabetes Month, a time when communities across the country seek to bring attention to diabetes — how to prevent it, how to treat it, and how to maintain the best possible health if diagnosed. This year’s focus is on taking action to prevent diabetes-related health problems. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
Research shows that managing diabetes as soon as possible after diagnosis may help prevent problems. In the case of Type 2 diabetes, which is a metabolic disorder affecting the vast majority of diabetes patients, careful weight management and a low-carb diet could even put the disease in remission. (Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder affecting about 5 percent of diabetes patients, cannot go into remission, although it can be managed.)
Amy Kimberlain, registered dietitian and diabetes educator with Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute
“It's important to know your numbers and check in with your doctor — to have those visits, to stay on top of it, to heed the early warning signs,” says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator with Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. The Institute’s comprehensive Cardiometabolic Clinic takes a multidisciplinary approach to treatment at the intersection of cardiac care and metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin, a hormone produced by cells in the pancreas. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels by helping turn the energy in the food we eat into fuel for our bodies. If insufficient insulin is made, or the insulin produced cannot be used efficiently, sugar remains in the blood rather than being converted into fuel.
In addition to those who have diabetes, about 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, representing another 38 percent of the population. Prediabetes is often a precursor to a diagnosis of diabetes. It is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
To promote better understanding and awareness, Ms. Kimberlain recently teamed up with registered nurse Tatiana Mullins, also a diabetes educator, to present a Resource Live broadcast on managing diabetes.
Among many topics, Ms. Mullins, who has Type 1 diabetes herself, discussed navigating the holidays while maintaining healthy blood sugar targets.
When faced with the challenges that celebrations can present, Ms. Mullins says she tries to be kind to herself while remaining vigilant about her health. “I'm more mindful, but I also give myself a little bit of slack,” she explains.
No one can be perfect all the time, she notes. “There is such a thing as diabetes burnout, and it is very prevalent in the diabetes population,” Ms. Mullins says. “Whenever you are closely monitoring a disease like diabetes, it can become taxing. You do get that fatigue.”
If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, sweets and carbs can be consumed by people with diabetes. The key is to have small portions and save them for special occasions.
In addition to food, many other factors can affect blood sugar levels during the holidays, including stress, sleep and activity levels. “You need to be forgiving of yourself,” Ms. Mullins says. “It's not a complete forgetfulness of the disease, but it is allowing yourself to be human.”
At the same time, it’s important for diabetes patients to continue monitoring themselves, even if they are worried their numbers won’t be where they should be. “Don't judge the number,” Ms. Kimberlain advises. Instead, use your readings to better understand your body and move forward.
“Food is so much more than just fuel — it's cultural, social, celebratory, all of those things combined,” Ms. Kimberlain says, conceding the holidays “can sometimes make navigating the condition of diabetes a little tougher.”
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