American Diabetes Month: why diet and exercise are so important to me


Jackson Morris, News Editor.

November marks American Diabetes Awareness Month, a time where diabetics come together to raise awareness of their disease, struggles, stories and success. Last Thursday, Kimberly Roberts, Assistant Professor of Nursing, hosted a webinar that explained what diabetes is, what types exist and how to treat it. During the webinar, Roberts focused on the detection and prevention of type 2 diabetes. Roberts also went into depth on the management of the different forms of diabetes.

Diabetes is commonly stereotyped and misunderstood. Many confuse type 1 and type 2 or simply do not realize there is more than one type of diabetes. However, the truth is that it afflicts millions of Americans, radically changing their way of life. For me, cultivating a better understanding of the disease for both those with and without it is very important.

Roberts emphasized the importance of diet and exercise for every type of diabetes. She talked about a dieting technique that has been modified for diabetics: the diabetes plate method. This is an aspect that I, a type 1 diabetic, can attest to personally.

As a diabetic of 16 years, life has been a constant race of trial and error. Every morning is the beginning of a brand new trial. For those who are newly diagnosed, this can make life seem daunting. However, one of the best treatments I have been able to utilize is safe self-treatment: exercise and diet. Life as a diabetic is even more sporadic and unpredictable, which makes the factors that can be controlled so important.

Exercise is important to everyone’s health, but for a diabetic, it is even more so. The complications of uncontrolled diabetes are terrifying and life-threatening. But regular exercise lowers blood sugars, insulin resistance and improves metabolism, giving more control over the diabetic’s life.

Diet is even more important, given that you eat more than you exercise. Diet is also one of the hardest things to control as a diabetic. Getting into an exercise routine requires time and willpower, but diet is influenced by too many factors and too heavily by chance. You might not be able to control every meal you will ever eat. This makes diet the most important aspect to control as a diabetic.

Roberts talked about the importance of fiber and starches in the diet of a diabetic. Dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is not broken down by the body for energy. Starches, however, are broken down by the body for use as energy. Simple sugars — labeled as “total sugars” in nutrition facts — are directly absorbed by the body. Starches are an excellent carbohydrate source of energy for diabetics, as their impact on blood sugar is much slower than simple sugars, which makes them easier to control.

For newly diagnosed diabetics, carbs may easily be mistaken as the enemy. The issue with carbs is that they are necessary for a diabetic’s diet plan. The distinction is the importance of eating a diet high in fibrous and starchy carbohydrates and low in simple and added sugars. Roberts suggests eating a large diet of leafy green vegetables, like broccoli and spinach. She also utilizes a test to help those who fear they may be pre-diabetic: a term to describe someone at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is an umbrella term for three different known diseases that are characterized by decreased or halted insulin production in the body. The general idea of diabetes is usually associated with either type 1 or 2.

Type 2 is more common, preventable and manageable. Age, weight, underlying conditions and race all play a part in the likelihood of becoming type 2. Individuals with type 2 are what is known as insulin resistant. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is used by the body to properly regulate sugar levels in the bloodstream.

Gestational diabetes is a disorder that afflicts women during pregnancy by increasing insulin resistance. It is typically lost shortly after birth.

Type 1 is less common, afflicting over 1 million Americans. Type 1 is typically diagnosed in childhood. Type 1, unlike type 2 and gestational, is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system of a person with type 1 attacks its host body, specifically the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin.