Having a balanced diet is an important part of managing diabetes. The advice on what to eat is exactly the same for people with diabetes as it is for people without diabetes. You need a balanced diet with the right proportions of fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy foods, meat/fish/pulses and fatty/sugary foods. You need to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and have a small amount of fat, sugar and salt.
The good news is that no food is banned- so you don’t have to miss out on those chocolates and crisps! The key is about balancing what you eat with the right amount of activity and insulin. You might have noticed food that is branded as ‘diabetic foods’- try to avoid these. They still affect blood glucose levels and they can have a laxative effect.
People with diabetes will need more detailed advice about their diet so you should see a registered dietician at least once a year.
Physical activity is a key part of managing your diabetes because exercise helps lower blood glucose levels. Physical activity can include anything from going out dancing, playing football, going for a swim or walking home from work or college. When you do exercise you will need to get the right balance of activity, insulin and food to avoid having either a hypo or hyperglycaemia.
Hypo- as your muscles use up energy your blood glucose levels may drop. Make sure you have fast-acting carbohydrate snacks handy when being active in case you hypo. It is crucial to monitor your blood glucose level before and after you exercise.
Hyperglycaemia- when you exercise your body produces adrenalin which in turn causes the body to produce more glucose. If you haven’t injected enough insulin then your blood sugar level may rise too high.
Before you start any new activity you will need to check with your GP or your diabetes health care team. They will be able to help you work out how to balance your insulin and food with your activity levels. This will take some time to get right so don’t worry if you get it wrong sometimes.
Why not visit the Youth Health Talk online to find out some young people have said about how exercise impacts their blood glucose levels.
Going out & drinking alcohol
Just because you’ve got diabetes, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go out with your friends anymore. There are just a few things you’ll need to take into consideration when planning your nights out:
Dancing is a form of exercise so the more you dance the lower your blood level will go- this will make you more likely to have a hypo.
Drinking alcohol can also make a hypo more likely, this is because it slows the release of glucose from the liver.
Eat something starchy or have a meal before you go out and eat something when you get home. If you’re staying out for a while snack on carbs such as crisps or nuts throughout the evening.
Drink lots of water or other non-sugary drinks.
Make sure some of the people you are with know that you have diabetes. Tell them about the symptoms of a hypo so they can spot it if you don’t.
It is important to have something on you that shows you have diabetes in case you need medical attention. This could be an ID card or a medical bracelet.
Managing your diabetes requires constant attention to what you eat, how much physical activity you do and how much medication to take. This can take a lot of effort. People often experience a sense of loss for the old life they had before being diagnosed with diabetes. This can lead to “diabetes burnout”- when people get tired and resentful of having to manage their condition and start to just ignore it. They might drop bits of their routine, not monitor their blood glucose levels, not take insulin or eat lots of sugary things. This can be dangerous because it can damage your health and make it more likely for you to have complications with your diabetes.
If you think you might be experiencing diabetes burnout then here are some tips that might help:
Don’t worry if you don’t always get perfect blood glucose levels. It might seem like no matter how hard you try to have good glucose levels you just can’t get it right. Sometimes your levels vary- so don’t worry about getting it perfect.
Have a think about what might be getting in the way of taking care of yourself. Is there anything that you can change? Try working on one thing at a time.
It’s different for everyone, but leaving home to go to University might be a big thing for you. It could be the first time that you will have complete responsibility for managing your diabetes. It’s a good idea to plan ahead- this will help prevent your diabetes impacting your studies. Here’s a few things to think about:
You will need to decide whether to move to a new health care team in your new city or whether to stick with the one at home. There are pros and cons to both options- if you stick with your old one then you’ll know the team and be able to access it during the long holidays. If you change to a new health centre then it’ll be close by in case you need anything.
You might not think your diabetes is disability but it is covered under the Equality Act. You might be entitled to extra help and support. Ask in the disability office about what you might be able to receive.
You might also be entitled to extra financial support from the Student Awards Agency called Disabled Student’s allowance. You would need to show that you need more financial support that a student without diabetes.
If you want to know more about university life then visit the Diabetes UK website. You could also download the leaflet Starting University with Diabetes from the bottom of this page.
When you start a new relationship with someone you will probably need to decide when to tell them about your diabetes and explain how it affects your life. It might be better to do this fairly early on in the relationship so that they can support you. If you leave it for a long time they might also wonder why you didn’t say anything before hand.
Having diabetes won’t stop you having sex but there are couple of things you’ll need to think about. Sex is a form of exercise so that means there is a chance of having a hypo during or after sex. You’ll need to treat is in the same way as any other hypo so have some fast acting glucose near you. Having high blood glucose levels can make it more likely for you to get thrush. Managing your blood glucose levels will help you avoid it.
If you’re a festival goer then your diabetes doesn’t need to stop you! The key thing is to be prepared. Here are a few things to bear in mind to keep you stay safe:
Try to find out where the first aid tent so that you can go there if you feel unwell. You should be able to look on a map on the festival website.
Make sure you’ve got all your equipment with you and bring a letter from your doctor saying you need to carry needles/syringes.
Think about things like having and ID bracelet, how you could charge your mobile phone, how to keep your insulin cool.
Make sure your friends you are camping with know about your diabetes and that they know what to do if you are hypo.
You can get more information about managing your diabetes at a festival from the Diabetes UK. Whilst your there, have a read of Mark Henson’s story about his festival experience.
People with type 1 diabetes can get a license for one, two or three years. After that it will need to be renewed. When you fill out the form for the provisional licence you will need to include information about your diabetes. When you pass you will receive a form asking for more information about your diabetes and the name and address of your doctor. You will be asked give consent for the DVLA to contact your doctor. If your doctor can confirm that your diabetes is under control then you should be able to be able to get a licence.
It is a good idea to tell your driving instructor you have diabetes, explain what a hypo is and how they can help is it happens.
It’s also important to tell your insurance company that you have diabetes. If you need to make a claim because of an incident related to your diabetes then your insurance will be invalid. You shouldn’t get charged more money.
Many local authorities have support groups for people with diabetes. You can search for groups in your local area on the Diabetes UK website.
You will get lots of information and support from your health care team. This will consist of Your GP, practice nurses, diabetes specialist nurses(many make home or school visits), registered Dietician, diabetologist (consultants who specialize in diabetes), Opticians, podiatrists (manage foot problems related to diabetes), Pharmacists (will supply your medication).
CareLine- Diabetes UK also runs a telephone helpline for anyone who needs to help with their diabetes problems. The line is open Monday to Friday 9am til 5pm on 0845 120 2960.
My diabetes my way- This is an interactive website from NHS Scotland to help support people who have diabetes, their family and their friends. You’ll find leaflets, videos, educational tools and games containing information about diabetes. You’ll find information to help you understand and take control of your diabetes, find out how diabetes affects your body and how it affects your lifestyle.
More help and information
My Life: Diabetes UK- This is a website especially for young adults with diabetes. It has all sorts of information on diabetes. You can read real life stories about other young people with diabetes and ask their diabetes nurse any question- it’s kept confidential.
Youth Health Talk Online- If you want to hear more from other young people about their experiences with diabetes type 1 then log onto the Youth Health Talk Online, you can watch videos on a whole range of topics such as staying in hospital, what happens at the diabetes clinic and managing diabetes as a teenager.
Information taken from Diabetes UK, Joslin Diabetes Center and NHS Inform