Having Type 1 Diabetes can be a lot to deal with and most of the time it really sucks trying to be your own pancreas. There are a few silver linings here and there but mostly, it’s hard work. I don’t say this to scare you but I don’t want to sugar coat it either, it’s a pain in the ass. There are a few things I’ve learned along the way that you may find helpful though so hopefully you have an easier time with the transition than I did.
Get your basal right first!
Getting your basal right is one of the hardest things to do when you’re newly diagnosed because most likely, you’re still in the honeymoon phase and your pancreas is still making some of its own insulin. Once you’re out of the honeymoon phase (and before or past puberty if you’re diagnosed as a child), it’s a little easier to figure out. Keep in mind, your basal rate may need to be adjusted periodically as your body changes (work with your doctor to do this). If you ever want to check to see if you’ve got it “right”, a 24 hour fast is a good test. Your blood sugar should remain steady throughout the day. I picked up this tip from the book “Mastering Diabetes” by Cyrus Khambatta and Robby Barbaro. I don’t personally follow their diet recommendations (although I did test it out for a while) but there are some great takeaways in this book.
Find a few key meals and master them!
Something I learned after I had my basal right, was if I could master bolusing for my favorite meals, and I eat those most of the time, I’ll have much better control. For example, I love steak! I mean I really really love a good rare ribeye*. So one of my meals I’ve mastered is a ribeye and asparagus with garlic and parmesan. After a ton of trial and error, I can now bolus for that like a master and it has very little impact on my blood sugar. I have a few other go-to meals in my back pocket that allow me to just relax and eat, not stressing over what would happen to my blood sugar as a result of the meal**. For me, this has helped me keep my sanity. It took a bit of work to figure it out initially but the benefit is so worth it!! Figure out a few meals that you love and you’ll be golden.
If you can get a CGM, do it!
I will be the first to admit that I really didn’t have a good understanding of what affected my blood sugar until I got a CGM. Testing 5 or so times per day, doesn’t tell you what is going on in between the tests. For example, if you test before a meal and you’re 100, then test 3 hours later and you’re back at 100, without a CGM you don’t know if you spiked to 300 and came back down or stayed completely steady the whole time. It’s really a helpful tool in learning how different things affect blood sugar and shows trends that allow you to correct mistakes before they happen.
Don’t be too hard on yourself!
I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when I was first diagnosed, I thought it would be easy. Figure out the carbs, inject the right amount of insulin and done (I wish it were this simple). Really, there are so many other variables that impact blood sugar and it is really hard to get it “right” especially in the beginning. Even once you think you “know what you’re doing” things will happen to cause BGs to go out of range. Even day-to-day, you can do the same thing for the same situation and your BGs may not react the same way! Don’t stress yourself out about not being perfect, no one is. Just do the best you can each day and when you have a bad day do your best to learn from it and let it go.
Diabetes related burnout and depression are real, get help if you need it!
Trying to do the job of one of your organs 24/7 is exhausting and it can be incredibly frustrating when things don’t go the way you would like them to. It is really easy to get burned out and “give up” but giving up is a really good way to end up in the hospital or dead. I had many emotional breakdowns when I was first diagnosed and every once in a while, I still do. I can distinctly remember one evening where I was going low really fast, had run out of emergency food (I wasn’t at home) and was just tired and frustrated. I actually told my husband, “It’s okay. I’ve lived a good life and it will be easier to just let it end. I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s too much. Just let me go in my sleep.”
Luckily, we found some emergency food and he got me through that moment of hopelessness. I don’t say this to scare anyone and most of the time I certainly don’t feel this way but it is important to take care of your mental health. I strongly recommend finding a supporting community, a therapist and/or anyone else that you feel comfortable talking to. This disease can really take a toll on your mental health and if/when it does, you want to have a support system in place to get you through. And on that note…
Find other diabetics to talk to
Even if you have a great support system in your non-diabetic family and friends, no one quite understands like someone else going through the same thing. Not to mention, you can learn a lot from them!*** Sometimes it is really hard to see our own blindspots but when we see them in someone else, we can identify them in ourselves. It’s also easier to learn from someone who is just a bit ahead of you in their diabetic journey. As with anything, when most of us become experienced, it becomes hard for us to remember what it was like to be a beginner and therefore we forget the things that got us to where we are currently. Those same things are the things that someone who is just starting out really needs to know.
I hope this handful of tips (additional tips and tricks can be found here) is helpful to you but I know I have my own blind spots so if there is anything I’m missing that you think someone who is newly diagnosed needs to know, drop some knowledge in the comments! Someone may stumble upon this one day and you could be making a huge difference in someone’s life.
*I take after my grandfather who used to say he likes his steak “cut with a hot knife”.
**Most of my go-to meals are pretty low in carbohydrates because of some of the things I learned in “Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution” by Dr.Richard K. Bernstein. I don’t follow his method strictly but there are some great takeaways in this book.
***If you don’t know any other diabetics, or even if you do, I have found the following facebook groups to be really helpful:
Additional Resources for some great T1 information:
- Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution by Dr.Richard K. Bernstein
- Mastering Diabetes by Cyrus Khambatta and Robby Barbaro
- The Juicebox Podcast (especially the Pro Tips episodes)
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The content on this site is not intended to be medical advice. Always consult your doctor before beginning a fitness regimen or adjusting your diabetes management strategy.