The Benefits of a Strong Support System When You’re Living with Type 2 Diabetes

Whether you just received a diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis, or you’ve been living with type 2 diabetes for years, having a label like this can sometimes feel isolating. But it shouldn’t. Nearly 27 million American adults are living with diagnosed diabetes, according to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report, so plenty of people out there know what you’re going through.

 

What’s more, many dietitians have learned the ins and outs of living with type 2 diabetes and have been working with people with the condition for years, and that includes Robin Nwankwo, MPH, RDN, CDCES, clinical research coordinator and diabetes educator at University of Michigan’s Michigan Medicine. She has seen the benefits of finding people to help you through a diabetes diagnosis, as well as any struggles you might have with a healthy diet for diabetes. To encourage you to find a strong network of friends, family, and experts who support you, Nwankwo offers tips on surrounding yourself with positive, compassionate individuals.

 

Talk to your loved ones about how they can support you.

 

“Many times, family members don’t know how to support you,” Nwankwo says. “They might have their perceptions of those living with diabetes and carry a stigma of having the disease, sometimes blaming the person living with diabetes for getting it.” If that feels like the case for you, don’t be afraid to express the kind of support you want and need from your family and friends. “You can ask for a different conversation,” Nwankwo says, particularly if someone is telling you what you should and should not eat or how you should change your lifestyle. “Be assertive and say, ‘this is what would benefit me, if you would help me with this. The rest I’ll take care of myself,’” she says. That gives you the power to take a proactive approach to handling type 2 diabetes and doing what works best for you.

 

You can also point your loved ones to the American Diabetes Association so they can read more about how to support you.

 

Ask a diabetes educator for help.

 

The best thing about talking with a diabetes educator, like Nwankwo, is that they know the advantages of personalized eating plans and small lifestyle changes. They don’t tell you what to do, but rather encourage you to find a plan that works for you and identify your motivation for staying that course.

 

“Diabetes educators can answer questions for those recently diagnosed to reduce fear and anxiety related to lifestyle changes and give strategies and help with planning to make adjustments with a new diagnosis, change in treatment, or lifestyle,” Nwanko explains. “They’re also skilled and trained to establish open relationships [with clients] from the very beginning, so there’s no question that’s silly or no bad question.” 


Diabetes educators also know of the challenges you might face (or are currently facing) and they can present clear, explicit information for you to digest and potentially put into action. That stands for those newly diagnosed or those who found out they have type 2 diabetes years ago.

 

Talk to your doctor about meeting with an educator first. Many will have someone they’re connected to, and Nwankwo mentions that a referral can sometimes help with insurance coverage or reimbursement. To find an educator near you, head to diabeteseducator.org

 

Find a support group.

 

Meeting and chatting with people going through a similar experience is always helpful. Nwankwo says she sees how important it is for people to connect and ask questions and share what they’re going through. She mentions that during the coronavirus pandemic support groups can be particularly helpful—even if you’re not meeting in person—to handle the distress of all the news of spread. “Community and support in times when you’re going through adjustment or change or heard new information that’s running rampant in the news is important,” she says.  “It’s something that people in support groups really need.” A community of people can offer more perspectives on information and access to their experiences, so you’re able to make an informed decision regarding news, tips, and myths, Nwankwo adds. 


If you need help finding a support group near you, search the Defeat Diabetes Foundation site to find a group in your area, or checkout the American Diabetes Association’s list of support programs.

 

Keep reaching out.

 

While getting a diagnosis might be a particularly uncertain or fearful time, living with type 2 diabetes changes as your life does. “The time of diagnosis is one static point, but diabetes is constantly changing. As you live with diabetes, your life changes, your habits change, and that’s going to change how you’re going to take care of diabetes,” Nwankwo says. You’ll continuously adjust your lifestyle to whatever you need and having a support group of individuals and professionals to guide you along the way is super helpful in removing some of the stress. It also gives you someone to lean on when times feel tough. “Support is key,” Nwankwo says.

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Written by Good Measure