Working to reduce your HbA1c (A1C) is not simple, but it's extremely worth your while! A lower A1C means a healthier you. And, what it really comes down to, is improving your sensitivity to insulin, and reducing your body’s overall insulin resistance. The more sensitive you become to the insulin your body naturally produces, the more easily your body will maintain safe, healthy blood sugar levels without taking additional medications.
*Do keep in mind when trying to lower your HbA1C as a person with type 2 diabetes that some people simply will need the help of oral or injectable medications. Keep reading for red flags that indicate it’s time to consider taking diabetes medications.
How to Treat Diabetes Without Medication in 5 Steps!
1. Keep a simple food diary for 5 days. 📒
The first step to improving your nutrition in an effort to improve your blood sugars is to be honest about what your current eating habits look like. How many of the items in your grocery cart are simple, real, whole foods vs. processed snacks and meal items? (Hint: even that “whole grain” commercial bread counts as a processed starchy carb.) When you write down the exact foods you eat every day for 5 days, take a look and assess: ❓ How many times a day am I eating fresh vegetables and fruits? ❓ How many times a day am I eating items containing sugar? (Remember, even “healthy” products can have tons of added sugar. Like yogurt!)
2. Eat more plants! 🌱 And fewer processed carbs.
This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve read that eating more vegetables is good for the human body. But when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes, it’s crucial. Now that you’ve had a chance to look at what you’ve been eating in your food diary, it’s time to choose one meal and one snack of the day to improve. Maybe you’re swapping your Starbucks’ sugar-laden coffee beverage and sugar-laden muffin for two eggs and an apple. Ditch the sugar-loaded Nutrigrain bar for a homemade flaxseed muffin in a mug! Swap the processed, flavored oatmeal package for a serving of whole oats with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a handful of blueberries. Like Dr. Jody says, that Starbucks zucchini bread is just a cupcake without the frosting. That latte, it’s loaded with sugar! And whoa, if you’re still eating cereal for breakfast (even the “healthy” ones, like Kashi or Raisin Bran), then you’re definitely consuming loads of processed carbs and sugar. Ditch the cereal! Instead, find yourself a spoonful of peanut butter with your choice of fruit. 🍓
3. Get moving, but start small. 🚶♂️
If you haven’t been exercising at all, remember to start small. (Puttering around the yard doesn’t count.) Even just one 15-minute walk after lunch or dinner 5 days a week will do your blood sugars and your body wonders. 🌈 Especially after meals. Because, while your body is digesting what you just ate, you're counteracting any glucose spikes with walking! Really, that's all it takes. Just 15 minutes. When you find yourself thinking, “But I’m too tired for a walk! I just wanna sit and watch Jeopardy!” That's OK, too! Just stand up, and walk in place while watching your favorite show. It’s just 15 minutes. And everyone has to start somewhere! I guarantee you’ll feel so good afterward that it’ll make you look forward to the next one.
4. Remember to include treats. Yes, include!
Yes, you read that correctly: include some of the foods you love. A plan based on disciplined perfection, seven days a week, every waking hour is simply doomed for failure. After you’ve had time to look at just how often you’re consuming sugar-laden foods, then decide what your most valued treat might be. For some, it’s fresh bread and butter. 🥖 For others, it’s a bowl of ice cream. You might need to start with a once-daily bowl of ice cream while aiming to keep the rest of the day full of healthier choices. Or you might be ready to have your treat every other day, instead. Think about what’s realistic for you, at this point in time, so you can stick to the bigger picture. Improving your A1C does not require perfection. It just calls for improvements in your overall approach to nutrition.
5. If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Remember, nobody changes everything about how they eat and exercise overnight! Evolving your relationship with food and exercise, and your entire body, takes a time. If you give yourself the time and freedom to explore, be curious, and have fun with learning about new ways of eating and cooking and exercising, you might even find yourself having fun! In fact, you might love it. View it as a long-term evolving experiment rather than an upcoming deadline. 🕐
You Know It’s Time to Consider Diabetes Medications & Insulin When:
You've tried all of the above (like, really tried), and you're still not seeing the results you want. At that point, it may be time to add some medications into the mix. Here are the need-to-know-signs: “The first sign of needing to start a medication to help lower your blood sugars,” explains Jody Stanislaw, ND, CDE, “is an elevated A1c level -- over 6.5 percent -- that is not responding well to your efforts to eat a healthier diet, eat fewer carbs, exercise more, and lose weight. If those four things aren’t lowering your blood sugars over the course of three to six months, it’s time to talk about an oral medication like metformin.”
Dr. Stanislaw, a diabetes coach and creator of diabetes training courses has lived with type 1 diabetes since childhood. “Starting insulin early in your diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can help some patients actually improve their own insulin production by increasing your body’s natural beta cell function,” adds Dr. Stanislaw. This isn’t guaranteed to be effective in everyone, but it’s a worthwhile reason to let go of your fears of starting insulin early.
“The goal is to get into as healthy of blood sugar control as possible, as soon as possible,” says Dr. Stanislaw. “High blood sugars create damage throughout the body, especially to the precious beta cells — the cells that make insulin. People should be more fearful of high blood sugars than insulin injections.” Having to begin insulin injections is often seen as a permanent path, but Dr. Stanislaw explains that it’s simply a powerful tool to help get blood sugars immediately into a healthier range, while continuing to make improvements in your lifestyle like nutrition, exercise, and weight-loss.
Eventually, a patient who has adopted those healthier lifestyle habits will reduce their need for insulin. Not only will they improve their insulin sensitivity, but they'll also ideally be able to stop taking insulin altogether. The real goal is to prevent the development of those long-term complications. “If complications are developing,” explains Dr. Stanislaw, “especially if you’ve already started taking a drug like metformin, that’s a big sign that it’s time to consider starting insulin. Especially if your non-insulin medications aren’t keeping your fasting blood sugar below 90 mg/dL, and your A1c is over 6.5 percent.”