If you have diabetes and you’re taking insulin, learning more about how your doses affect your body and how much insulin your body needs will give you more options, more freedom in your nutrition, and it will keep you safer from severe blood sugar fluctuations.
Here are 5 things every person with diabetes should know about insulin:
1. The doses your doctor initially prescribed aren’t necessarily accurate or the dose you’ll need a few months from now.
None of us need just one set amount of insulin for the rest of our lives -- that’s why managing diabetes is so tricky. If it was entirely up to your body, it would give you different amounts of insulin for different types of foods, different levels of stress, and different activity levels during the day.
If you lose 10 pounds, you’ll need to lower your insulin doses. If you gain 10 pounds, you’ll need to increase your insulin doses. If you start exercising more and eating more whole foods, you’ll need less insulin. The list of variables that affect your insulin needs goes on and on.
What can you do about it?Learn! Take good notes. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, check-in with your doctor when you’re down 5 to 10 pounds. If you’ve started exercising more, ask your diabetes educator to help you prevent low blood sugars during and after exercise.
2. You can experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugars), and your doctors may never even mention it or teach you how to handle it.
What can you do about it?First of all, try not to eat the whole kitchen! That will only lead to a super high blood sugar.
Instead, find a fast-acting carbohydrate (like juice, fruit, a small serving of Skittles) to eat and then sit on your hands and wait 15 minutes before eating more.
Use a glucose meter to confirm that you’re still low if you still feel severely shaky. (Sometimes the symptoms of a low can linger long after your blood sugar has come back up to a safe level.)
Then, schedule an appointment immediately with your doctor if this happens to you more than once. It’s not your fault. You simply haven’t been given enough information and/or the correct insulin doses for your body’s needs.
3. They probably won’t teach you about low-carb eating, or what to do with your insulin if your meal is low-carb.
You’ve probably read about it online, but you won’t hear very much about it from your healthcare team unless they are uniquely progressive. Eating a low (or lower) carbohydrate diet can be a great way to reduce your insulin needs and thus reduce your blood sugar levels, too.
What can you do about it?We have tons of low-carb options (recipes, meal plans, guides, etc.) on our blog! You can get started with some recipes, or reach out to your One Drop coach for more ideas! Reducing your carb intake will also reduce your need for insulin, and (more than likely) your overall A1c. Win-win! 🏆
4. You’ll be told you must eat a certain number of carbohydrates at every meal and snack time. But if you push them to teach you more, you’ll have more freedom!
Some people are given an “ICR” upon diagnosis: an “insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio.” This means they can decide what they want to eat, add up the carbohydrate total, and take their insulin accordingly.
If you want to eat a salad that contains barely 5 grams of carbohydrates, you wouldn’t need the entire dose of insulin your doctor has prescribed for your “prescribed lunch” of 60 grams of carbs! You would need a very different and much smaller dose. Meaning, it's totally fine to change up your insulin dose as-needed!
What can you do about it?You are fully capable of tweaking your nutrition and insulin plan. Talk to your healthcare team or to a One Drop coach to learn more about ICRs and carb-counting.
5. Insulin is not a punishment or a death sentence.
You’ve been prescribed insulin and told you need to take it in order to get healthy. Thanks to the media and society’s understanding of diabetes, there can be a lot of shame and guilt that comes with that little vial of insulin.
For many people with type 2 diabetes, taking insulin early in their diagnosis can actually help their pancreas produce more of its own insulin.
For other people with type 1 diabetes, insulin is not only necessary for survival, it can be the crucial thing that ensures your eyes, fingers, toes, and kidneys stay healthy -- helping you to live a long, healthier life!
Some people with type 2 diabetes take insulin while they continue to work on losing weight and exercising more to improve their insulin resistance; eventually, they can go off their insulin, and manage their blood sugars in other ways.