News | Published January 28, 2014 | Written by Heather Harpster, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

Living with diabetes – don’t let your diabetes manage you

When you’re living with diabetes, it’s important to manage your diabetes and not let it manage you. Keeping your blood sugar level within your target range is key to living with diabetes. In addition to medication, two factors that can make your blood sugar rise and fall are food and physical activity. Understanding how food and exercise can affect you will allow you to better manage your blood sugar levels and live a full life with limited restrictions from diabetes.

Food: Your blood sugar levels can be affected by what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat. To help manage your diabetes, use these tips:

  • Limit your intake of sugar and sweets. Increased intake of sugar and sweets not only contributes to weight gain, but can also cause sustained spikes in blood sugar levels. So eat less candy, desserts and pastries. Avoid intake of fruit juices and sweetened beverages. Instead, drink plenty of water and unsweetened beverages.
  • Consume regular, spaced meals throughout the day. Consuming meals throughout the day can help balance blood sugar levels and prevent you from overeating at the next meal. Try to eat something every 4-5 hours throughout the day, and do not skip meals. Some people find it helpful to eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals.
  • Control your intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate is the main nutrient that affects blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is important to control the amount of carbohydrates that you eat every day. Try to consume smaller portions of foods containing carbohydrates. Also, try to consume the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal.
  • Consume well-balanced meals. Consuming balanced meals not only ensures you are getting a variety of nutrients your body needs, but also helps decrease the glycemic response following a meal. Make every meal well-balanced by eating a mix of whole grain starches, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. For help, use the USDA’s Choose My Plate food plan.
  • Understand how food affects your medication. Too little food with certain diabetes medications can result in dangerously low blood sugar levels, while too much food can cause your blood sugar to reach extremely high levels. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best meal plan for you and about healthy meals you can make.

Exercise: Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar levels. To help manage your diabetes, use these tips:  

  • Increase your activity. Regular exercise is an important part of your diabetes treatment plan. Exercise can help lower blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The type and amount of exercise that is right for you should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
  • Consult your doctor. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. Your doctor may want to check the condition of your heart and feet before recommending a type of exercise plan for you.
  • Understand how exercise affects your medication. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to coordinate your medications and food intake with your exercise plan. Try to exercise at the same time throughout the week so that you can coordinate your meal and medication schedules accordingly.
  • Monitor your blood sugar closely with exercise. Check your blood sugar level before, during and after exercise. In case your blood sugar drops too low, be sure to carry a source of fast-acting sugar (i.e. glucose tablets or juice) with you at all times.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can affect blood sugar levels, so drink plenty of water during exercise.

Learning to live a full and healthy life is everyone’s goal who has diabetes. And education is the first step to good diabetes control.

To learn how you and your loved ones can live with and manage your diabetes, consider attending Mount Nittany Health’s “Life with Diabetes” program. The program is a two-part class series that starts on Monday, February 10, from 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm at 120 Radnor Rd, State College. The second class will be held on Monday, February 24, from 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm. The “Life with Diabetes” program has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association for quality self-management education and is intended for individuals with diabetes, pre-diabetes or for those at risk of getting diabetes. The cost to attend the program is $40, which includes all educational classes plus a three month follow-up class, blood tests, as needed, class materials/supplies and snacks. A friend or family member may come with you at no extra charge. Pre-registration is required by contacting me at 814.231.7194 or at

To learn more about diabetes management or the “Life with Diabetes” class series, visit