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Surprising Stay-Well Expert Info

Ann Albright, PhD, RD, is the American Diabetes Association's president of health care and education, and director of the division of diabetes translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and she's dealt with her own type 1 diabetes for more than 40 years.

Here, she explains what you must know about living with diabetes.

Understanding food and diet

"Know about your food. People with diabetes can have sweets," Dr. Albright assures, "but it's the timing and it's the amount." Other items on her checklist:

  • Eat a variety of foods, just as anyone without diabetes should.
  • Know how much to eat, and when to eat different things.
  • Understand you don't have to give up your favorite foods.
  • Work out a nutrition plan, so you can still enjoy the things you like.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes.
Knowing diabetes misperceptions

"The hall-of-famer," Dr. Albright says without hesitation, "is that diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. It's a myth. It is incorrect." Other "wrong" thoughts:

  • Thinking that, since diabetes is a genetic disease, it's inevitable that you will get it. "We now know you can prevent or postpone type 2 diabetes," says the doctor. "But we've only known that we can prevent or postpone it for the past few years. Many people are in life circumstances that make it very difficult for them to make some of those healthy choices. We need to make the healthy choice the easier choice."
  • People think that if you're on insulin, you have the "serious" form of diabetes. "If you have diabetes, it's a serious disease," asserts Dr. Albright. "It's more complicated if you need insulin, that's for sure, but you can't have a 'so what' attitude if you're not on insulin."
Getting exercise

"Think about things you would like to do that are fun, whether it's dancing, brisk walking, mall walking, riding a bike or getting out with your grandkids." She further suggests that you:

  • Incorporate as much movement into your day as you can, such as using the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.
  • Carve out time for physical activity, because you need to get your heart rate up.
  • Pick something you enjoy doing and figure out what's preventing you from being consistent with that.
  • Have a walking or exercise partner so you can keep each other on track.
Making the big mistakes

Some patients, Dr. Albright says, "don't take it seriously. But that's really [just a part of] learning to cope with diabetes." Other potential mistakes:

  • Not learning as much about your food as you should.
  • Not making the daily commitment necessary to manage things.
  • Not learning to understand your medication and why and how you should take it. Don't have the attitude of "If I feel okay, I don't have to take my meds." "The alternative," warns Dr. Albright, "is that you die a piece at a time."

"We need to help people understand their responsibilities," Dr. Albright concludes. "It's a balancing act. You must have ways to cope and to take safe breaks from your routine and then recommit yourself each day to doing the best you can. Never lose sight of trying to enjoy life and doing what you can to have a full and satisfying life. It takes attention, commitment, help, support and access to the right tools."

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