The Importance of GOOD Diabetes Education

Guys, I want to add a disclaimer. Remember, I am not a profiessional, and I am not writing this as medical advice! These are simply things that work for me in my own diabetes control – remember – your diabetes may vary!

As I go throughout my day most days, I find myself recalling some thing I learned early on in my diabetes experience. Now, a lot of PWD’s I talk with were diagnosed before a lot of the technology and understanding we have today. But I was lucky-ish. I was diagnosed in 1998. 1998 was post carb counting but pre lantus – I was on NPH and regular like everyone who was diagnosed pre-2000. But that aside, I should have gotten decent diabetes education, especially considering I was in the Children’s Mercy of Kansas City system until I turned 17 and moved on to my current, adult endocrinologist.

The educators I had told me a lot of good things. They taught me a simpler way to count carbs (one I have abandoned due to higher carb sensitivity in my “old” age and heavier weight). One “carb” was 15 grams of carbohydrates. This was easier to an 11 year old.

But some things I learned throughout my diabetes education have harmed me more than they helped me.

1. You can eat as many vegetables as you want.

While this may be true now, when I can really see what each vege does to my blood sugar and know which ones are good or bad for me, then it wasn’t so much the case. Carrots raise you blood sugar. Is corn a vegetable? (how many 11 year olds know that corn contains starch?) Baby carrots are something I could munch on all day long – but watch out – one serving has 7 grams of sugar, and I usually eat two servings – and see a nice little rise in my blood sugars after. But I still eat them – they are tasty and good for you.

2. You can eat all the cheese and meat you want.

This one I really wish wasn’t true. I eat far too much cheese. When I can get my hands on it, I eat it all! I can’t buy 24 packs of string cheese because I eat it all in days. And the meat thing is a myth too. Ever eating a 16 oz T bone steak and found yourself rising afterward, or harder to come down off your post meal spike? (Ok I’ve NEVER eaten a sixteen ounce piece of meat, but probably a ten ouncer). One word: FAT. That painful little thing that packs on the pounds. It helps your sugar stay up as your body attempts to metabolize it, and it also adds to your waistline – not so good for people who have more of a reason to be concerned with heart disease.

3. You can have as much diet soda as you want.

You can. Except that caffeine likes to effect blood sugars in its own way. And these myths that artificial sweeteners make you crave sugar? They’re true. I spend my days daydreaming about candy and cakes and sweet things. I haven’t had a coke yet today (yesterday, as this will post in the morning) and my cravings have pretty much been under control today. Well, being sick with a cold helps, when you can’t taste food it becomes less appealing.

4. Multiple Daily Injections means you can eat as many carbs as you want, as long as you dose for it.

This was probably the biggest reason I put on so much weight both in high school and college. I guess I kind of wanted to “catch up” on everything I couldn’t eat when I was taking NPH and regular. I had this attitude that I could eat anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. Blood sugar wise, that was fine. But health-wise, it’s not smart to eat 3500 calories a day unless you’re in heavy training for some kind of athletic event or body building competition. Seriously, CDE’s. Telling a 13 year old she can eat whenever she wants? How about we teach kids about healthy eating, to eat only when they are hungry, and how certain foods and exercise can make them less hungry.

Things I was never, ever told:

1. Exercise helps lower and stabilize blood glucose, even in people with type 1.

Until I joined the DOC and really thought about it, I never ever ever considered exercise as something intrinsic to my diabetes care. Sure, I played sports in high school. But as so many students do, my work out habits sluffed off in college. I’m only just now learning how exercise affects my body and glucose levels.

2. You are in control.

I didn’t realize, until I met the lovely DOC, that the only person I was accountable to for my health and diabetes management was me. Not my doctor, not my parents, but myself. And that I was the only one who could make health decisions. I blamed my doctor for not pushing pumping on me earlier, but really, I never wanted it. It meant I would actually have to take care of myself. I now know that my health is my own responsibility, and that I have the control when it comes to prolonging my life, even with diabetes.

3. You can use your numbers to your advantage.

Blood sugar isn’t just a number, it’s the result of insulin and food and exercise and stress and medication and everything else that affects our body at any given time. It’s my job to take those numbers and figure out what they mean to me. They aren’t just there. Those 240’s every morning aren’t inevitable. They can be fixed with time and patience and advice from medical professionals and knowledge. Knowledge is power, and the knowledge of your blood sugar levels is powerful when it comes to diabetes care. The more testing, the better! Ask your doctor for enough strips to test ten times a day, not just five! I was never, ever asked to test post-meal. I never knew how high my meals were actually making me go until I started testing 10-15 times a day last summer.

4. Denial and resentment are normal.

Everyone who lives with diabetes experiences denial and resentment and burn out in some form or another. That’s okay! You didn’t ask for this disease. Nobody does anything to get this disease, it just happens. Take a deep breath, and figure out a way to cope with the bad feelings. You will never be happy that you have diabetes. But you can focus on making your life the best it can be, diabetes or not.

5. You should see a mental health professional.

The above point taken, everyone who has diabetes, type one or type two, WILL struggle with guilt, denial, and burn out. It’s the nature of the beast. These are issues that need to be worked out with a professional nine times out of ten. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, it doesn’t happen. Whether it’s the patients own struggles with the concept therapy (as I experienced for several years) or simply nobody ever suggesting it, for one reason or another many of us don’t get help we need to deal with our disease. And it can be damaging. The diabetes clinic at the hospital system my endo works out of has a therapist who works on site several days a week. She’s actually the therapist I see. She has a specialty in dealing with patients with diabetes. She is awesome! We need more mental health professionals like her.

So there it is. The list of the things I wish I hadn’t learned in diabetes education and the things I wish I had learned. Maybe coming to an understanding of these things is what has pushed me into hoping to become a Certified Diabetes Educator myself one day.

Do you have anything you wish you would have learned in diabetes education? What about things you wish you hadn’t learned?

5 thoughts on “The Importance of GOOD Diabetes Education

  1. Cara

    I love this post. It’s so true that diabetes education, while it can be wonderful, isn’t always as good as it could be.
    We need more diabetic CDE’s!!! I wish I still had the ability to go back to school and become a CDE.

  2. Tina

    You are going to be a wonderful addition to a future Diabetic’s team. I am glad you are out there learning, not only for school but for yourself as well.

  3. Barbara Campbell

    Great post Sarah. I got so much information from my CDE’s, they were really good. But, they really can’t prepare you for the emotional side of living with diabetes. The constant worry, guilt and 2nd guessing yourself is enough to make you crazy. They did tell me it was normal to go through the grieving process, but really, nothing prepares you for grieving the demise of your pancreas. Poor, poor pancreas. She’s gone, just slipped away unnoticed. *tear*

    My new CDE is a PWD (T1) so she has been able to share with me a little more on the emotional side of things. You’re going to be a GREAT CDE! I can’t wait to see you working with patients and leading them on to success!


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