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Managing diabetes: 6 habits to regulate your blood sugar

| Healthy You | Chronic Conditions

Smiling woman with short white hair balances on a piece of outdoor playground equipment

Everyday choices can help you find the right balance.

Balancing your blood sugar level is key to living well with diabetes. You want the level to be within a healthy range. For most adults before meals, the suggested target blood glucose range is 80 to 130 mg/dL. At 1 to 2 hours after meals, it is lower than 180 mg/dL.

Many things can affect how high or low your level might be.

If you’re new to managing diabetes or if you could use a refresher, here are six basics to keep mind, according to Sophia Kim, MD, a family practitioner at PeaceHealth in Vancouver, Washington.

1. Check your blood sugar level.

 Ask your provider to recommend

You may also get to know clues about your body when something is “off.”

If your blood sugar is high (hyperglycemia), mild symptoms might include:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Increased urination.
  • Changes in weight
  • Feeling weak or unusually tired (Fatigue).

Learn more about treating high blood sugar.

If your blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia), mild symptoms might include:

  • Sweating (almost always present).
  • Feeling shaky and weak.
  • Extreme hunger and slight nausea.
  • Dizziness and headache.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Fast heartbeat.

Learn more about treating low blood sugar.

2. Monitor medications. 

Follow instructions for taking diabetes medication(s). Some people experience side effects from these drugs. A few common side effects include things such as rashes, yeast infections, weight gain and diarrhea. If you have side effects, talk with your PCP about your options.

Let your provider know about your other prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and supplements you take. These can also affect your levels.

3. Eat healthy. 

All foods affect blood sugar. But some affect it more than others. 

  • Look at the list of foods and what effects they have on blood sugar. 
  • Make a plan for meals. In general, choose
    • Veggies — especially leafy greens or non-starchy veggies.
    • Complex carbs such as whole grains, nuts and seeds.
    • Lean proteins such as chicken, fish, eggs, lean grass-fed beef or legumes (beans and lentils).
    • Healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado.
  • Avoid “empty” calories (food and beverages that provide very little nutritional value and lack essential vitamins, minerals and fiber) and anything with added sugar. Food labels can help.
  • Try eating fats and proteins before you eat carbs. Early research shows the order of what you eat can make a difference.

Ask your PCP or endocrinologist how often you should eat or how long to wait between meals. These can also affect your blood sugar levels.

4. Stay active.

Walking and other physical activities can help you manage your blood sugar. That’s because your body uses sugar during the activity rather than letting it build up in your blood. Exercise can also help you feel stronger, happier and more relaxed.  Learn more about exercising with diabetes.

5. Practice other helpful habits.

  • Drink plenty of water. This can help you feel full and keep you from eating more than your body needs.
  • Get about 8 hours of sleep per night.  Poor sleep or not enough can lead to insulin resistance.
  • Give yourself grace. Emotional and physical stress can increase hormones that affect your blood sugar. Consider ways to keep your stress levels in check.
  • Try journaling. By writing down meals and activities, you might see patterns in what makes you feel better or worse.

6. See medical and dental providers.

  • Visit your PCP twice a year for wellness checks and to stay current on vaccinations.
  • Have your eyes checked annually. Learn why this is important. 
  • Have your feet checked at least once a year, if not more often. You might want to also check them at home. Here’s why.
  • Get a dental check-up twice a year.  Diabetes is linked to dental disease. Your teeth and gums are important for good overall health.
  • Ask your PCP whether or when to have your kidney health checked.

"One thing I always share with my patients with diabetes is that if diabetes is poorly controlled, it can cause serious life-threatening complications,” says Dr. Kim.

“However, diabetes is one thing we understand very well and know how to control, so as long as patients adhere to low-carb/sugar diet, exercise, and take medication as prescribed, they will thrive and stay healthy."

portrait of Sophia J. Kim MD

Sophia J. Kim MD

Family Medicine

Sophia Kim, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician who provides primary care for individuals of all ages. She is a strong advocate for preventive health and holistic medicine. Additionally, her medical interests include management of diabetes and hypertension, and tracking and managing health information to improve communications and health outcomes. Dr. Kim has experience in medical missions, including serving in the Amazon jungle, Kenya, Bolivia, an Iraq refugee camp and Israel. She is also fluent in Korean. Dr. Kim earned her medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies. That was followed by earning a Master of Public Health degree from New York University College of Global Public Health, New York, New York. Her residency in family medicine was completed at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, El Paso, Texas. Away from work, Dr. Kim enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling around the world, playing musical instruments (violin and piano), and venturing out to new restaurants in the region. She also loves Disney and Studio Ghibli movies.