As American diets continue to contain high levels of processed and sugary foods, the prevalence of diabetes has been steadily increasing across America. With over 34 million Americans living with diabetes every year, providing education about this condition has never been more important.
With this in mind, we sat down with Angela Spencer, a registered dietitian and the diabetes program manager at Vera, to learn more about the condition.
Here is what we want you to know about type 2 diabetes:
An Interview with Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Specialist Angela Spencer
Q: What is diabetes?
Angela: Diabetes is a condition that affects your blood sugar (or glucose) levels. While sugar is essential for your body to have energy throughout the day, having chronically high sugar levels can be very dangerous. Our pancreas is the organ in our body that creates insulin — the hormone responsible for reducing our blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, insulin cannot properly do its job, resulting in our blood glucose levels remaining high. If this is left untreated, the excess glucose in the blood can cause damage to the kidneys, blood vessels, and nervous system.
Q: How common is diabetes in America today?
Angela: Unfortunately, diabetes has become incredibly prevalent in the United States. As per the CDC, over 34 million Americans live with diabetes every day, and over 7 million of them don’t even know they have the condition. On top of that, it is estimated that 88 million Americans are living with pre-diabetes, meaning that they are at a high risk of developing diabetes in the future. America is one of the leading nations when it comes to people diagnosed with this condition.
Q: How is diabetes diagnosed?
Angela: There are different blood screening tests done to diagnose diabetes. A common one is the fasting blood sugar level. This blood test is taken after you have not eaten or drank anything for 8 to 12 hours. A normal range for this test would be under 100. A result above 100 can indicate pre-diabetes, and a result above 126 is considered to diagnose diabetes.
Another test that is commonly done is the hemoglobin A1C blood test. This test shows the average blood sugar levels over a three-month period by testing the sugar concentrations attached to the hemoglobin on red blood cells. Results of 5.7% to 6.4% are considered pre-diabetic, and above 6.5% are considered to diagnose diabetes.
Q: Is there a stigma when it comes to being diagnosed with diabetes?
Angela: Definitely. Many people experience denial and shame when they first get diagnosed with diabetes. It is very common for newly diagnosed patients to have negative emotions about their situation like guilt, worry, anxiety, and even anger. And while there definitely is a genetic component of this condition, I like to work with my patients to empower them to make healthier lifestyle choices. That can be very helpful in reducing the severity of their symptoms.
Q: What types of lifestyle changes are the most beneficial for managing diabetes?
Angela: A common piece of advice people with diabetes receive is to lose weight. But that is such vague advice! So I try to give advice to my patients that is more realistic and measurable. Studies have shown that if people with prediabetes lose 5-7% of their current body weight, they can reduce their risk of getting diabetes by 58%. That’s a very significant change!
The key areas to target when making lifestyle changes are diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management. Having poor control over these areas of your life increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and, eventually, diabetes.
Q: Is there a way to take a preventive approach to diabetes?
Angela: This truly depends on where you are at with your health and wellness. For those diagnosed with pre-diabetes, staying up to date with regular appointments with your provider is a great way to prevent the progress of the disease. For those who are not diagnosed with diabetes, living a healthy lifestyle and knowing your risk factors are important preventive steps to take.
Q: What are some helpful tips for those looking to better manage their diabetes?
Angela: Diet is definitely very important to properly manage your diabetes. And while there is no “one size fits all” diet for people with diabetes, there are a few big concepts that can be helpful. Eating a reduced carbohydrate and sugar diet can be very helpful for people with this condition, as it prevents sharp spikes in their blood sugar levels. The American Heart Association recommends that women reduce their daily sugar intake to less than six teaspoons a day and men to less than nine. Unfortunately, it is very easy to go over those values with the modern food that we have access to today.
Increasing your daily fiber intake can be helpful as our bodies cannot absorb or digest it, which allows for many health benefits. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are all whole foods that are high in fiber, which can feed the healthy bacteria in our gut.
Exercise is another important component of living a healthier lifestyle. There is no need to try to jump into strenuous exercise if that isn’t something you are used to — simply breaking up sitting time, stretching, walking, and other light aerobic activities can have a powerful impact.
Overall, my big tip for people trying to manage their diabetes is not to strive for perfection. It’s all about progress. Deciding to make the conscious effort to integrate healthier choices into your lifestyle is not easy, and you aren’t going to be perfect every time. Just keep working at it, and your progress will start to yield results.
Q: How does Vera help people better manage their diabetes?
Angela: Getting a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes can be a scary and emotional experience, especially if you are told that you need to figure out how to make significant lifestyle changes that you aren’t used to. Working with a Vera health coach is a fantastic option for people looking for support as they come to terms with their diagnosis. They can help their patients make realistic and reasonable lifestyle changes that benefit their health and aren’t incredibly daunting. We also have group-style educational sessions available that many people enjoy. We’ve had great feedback from these sessions so far!
Most importantly, I just want to let anyone with diabetes know that they are not alone. Getting the diagnosis can be very scary, especially when you are expected to change your lifestyle and learn how to manage your blood sugar seemingly overnight. Stress is a major component in the worsening of diabetes symptoms, so being cognizant of this and finding resources is very helpful. Our health coaches are available to help you learn healthier coping mechanisms and make healthier lifestyle choices that fit your unique needs.
Are you interested in learning more about our health coaching services? We would be happy to help! Feel free to contact us to schedule a 15-minute introduction call with one of our health coaches. We would love to help you start your journey to better health with Vera health coaching!