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Having lived with Type 2 diabetes for almost 20 years, Jennifer Lord knows firsthand the demands of the condition.
"My journey with diabetes has been challenging – it requires a lot of discipline," says Jennifer, who is a patient in the Endocrine Clinic at Toronto General Hospital.
The Endocrine Clinic provides collaborative care to people living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, who are either newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for years and take insulin.
Maria Ricupero, a registered dietitian (RD) in the Endocrine Clinic, says it's crucial to work together with the patient to create a nutrition plan that is simple and practical.
"Achieving a 'healthier lifestyle' looks very different from one person to the next, and can become challenging with the increasing demands in people's lives," Maria says. "Raising children, single parenting, working full-time or more than one job, caring for elderly parents, and paying high rent are just some of the challenges observed in our clinic."
What does achieving a 'healthier lifestyle' look like?
Having strong support systems in place is key for the person living with diabetes in sustaining self-care practices for better health, Maria says.
Involving family and significant others as part of the patient's healthcare team is also critical in preventing diabetes-related complications.
"My ability to manage my diabetes successfully is attributed largely in part to support from the UHN team at Toronto General," says Jennifer.
"The comfort of knowing a medical professional is always available to offer assistance is invaluable. More recently, having a supportive partner who has also been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes is helpful when it comes to meal planning and incorporating exercise together as a couple."
To achieve the goal of a healthy lifestyle to manage diabetes, RDs such as Maria work with the patient to improve behaviours involving food intake, physical activity, coping with stress, sleep hygiene and taking medication as directed.
What is Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas no longer produces the hormone insulin and requires the person to take insulin by injection, usually right from the time of diagnosis, to help lower high blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized as having insulin resistance. This is when cells in the body don't communicate with or "resist" insulin, which prevents sugar from being removed from the blood stream and getting into the cells. Type 2 diabetes often is managed with lifestyle and oral medications.
However, the longer one lives with diabetes, the ability to produce insulin decreases over time and eventually leads them to requiring insulin.
"People mistakenly think that because they now require insulin, they have Type 1 diabetes, but this not true," Maria says. "The individual is still considered to live with Type 2 only now requires insulin to help lower blood sugars."
Celebrating World Diabetes Day
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and today, Nov. 14, marks the celebration of World Diabetes Day. This year's theme continues with a focus on the family and diabetes.
"Anyone living with diabetes knows the demands are high and burnout is quite common," Maria says. "Having supports in place are crucial for the individual living with diabetes."