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6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes

Bad health habits can lead to diabetes complications. Get a handle on diabetes with expert tips to keep blood sugar steady, avoid weight gain and more.

Medically reviewed in November 2021

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Managing a chronic condition like type 2 diabetes requires your full attention. You need to stay on top of what you eat, how much you exercise—even how much you sleep. And with all those “musts” it can be easy to slip up. Falling into bad health habits can lead to dangerous complications, such as kidney and nerve damage, vision problems, heart health issues and more. That's why it’s crucial to be vigilant and not let a little lapse turn into a routine.

Rosemary Thuet, MSN, RN, registered nurse and Director of Education at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas, lets us in on why getting a handle on these six not-so-healthy habits can help you better manage type 2 diabetes.

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Sipping on Sugary Drinks

Unless you’re dealing with low blood sugar, reaching for a sugary drink is a surefire way to wreak havoc on your glucose levels.

One can of soda has a whopping 40 grams of carbs; a 12-ounce serving of fruit juice can contain nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar. Consuming beverages like these may raise your blood sugar and contribute to weight gain, potentially leading to insulin resistance and other diabetes-related health problems. Artificial sweeteners can also be harmful since they may increase cravings for sugary foods and drinks.

Thuet recommends reaching for water but if you prefer some flavor, try an unsweetened iced tea or seltzer with a lime or lemon wedge.

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Depending Too Much on Insulin

Having insulin available doesn’t mean you get to eat an entire pint of ice cream or take two helpings from the bread bowl. Even a pattern of small blood sugar increases ups the likelihood of developing dangerous diabetic complications.

"If you have a piece of birthday cake, even if you’re going to cover it later with insulin, at some point your blood sugar is going to spike,” warns Thuet. “And the more it goes out of that healthy range, the more likely you are to have complications such as neuropathy, and complications with your kidneys and eyes.”

Talk with your doctor to practice self-monitoring and establish an insulin routine and overall treatment strategy that works for you. That way, you can stay on track and enjoy cake every now and then.

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Carb-Loading

Carb-loading is common among athletes and fitness buffs; eating foods such as pasta and bread gives them extra energy to compete or finish long workouts. And while exercise is a great way to manage your condition, carb-loading before a workout isn’t the best idea if you have type 2 diabetes. 

A woman should never have more than three to four carb servings a meal and one carb serving for a snack, while a man can have four to five carb servings per meal, Thuet advises. Instead, she suggests reaching for a protein like lean chicken breast to stabilize your blood sugar and power up before your workout.

She also recommends checking your numbers before and after exercising to better understand how physical activity affects your blood sugar levels.

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Skipping Meals

From work meetings to running errands—like dropping the kids off at practice—it can be easy to opt out of breakfast. But if you have diabetes, this can make it harder to stay healthy.

"You want to keep your blood sugar even,” says Thuet. “So, if you’re trying to keep it between 120 and 130, you don’t want to have periods [without eating] where it drops.”

Skipping breakfast may mess with your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day. Try to make time for your morning meal. If you’re too busy to sit down, make sure you grab something for the road such as a smoothie, or a hardboiled egg and a piece of whole-wheat toast.

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Late-Night Snacking

Heading to the fridge after dinner isn’t always a bad idea for people with diabetes; it can help prevent hypoglycemia while you’re sleeping, for instance. But it’s important to make smart choices. Unhealthy snacking can lead to weight gain. If you eat too late at night, you could also wake up with a high blood sugar level.   

If you do want to graze after your last meal, reach for a small piece of fruit with low-fat cottage cheese, light popcorn, a hard-boiled egg or celery sticks with a tablespoon of peanut butter. This will help you feel full, provide you with some protein and keep your A1C levels in a healthy range.

Keep in mind, snacking right before bed could make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Thuet recommends having that last snack a couple of hours before going to bed.

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Losing Your Cool

Poor stress management is dangerous for anyone’s health, but it can be especially damaging to people with diabetes.

Increased stress hormones can make your cells more resistant to insulin, says Thuet. “A lot of people with diabetes will find that when they’re in stressful situations, they have more trouble controlling their blood sugar.” Stress can also make you less likely to practice good habits like eating healthy and exercising.

To get a better handle on stress, Thuet suggests getting enough sleep, trying a yoga class, learning how to meditate or talking to a counselor. Journaling or reaching out to friends and family can help, too.

Sources:
Mayo Clinic. “Nutrition and healthy eating: Carbohydrate-loading diet,” “Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?”
Diabetes Forecast. “What Is a Good Evening Snack?”
American Diabetes Association. “Understanding diabetes and mental health.”
Harvard T.H. Chan School for Public Health. “Low-Calorie Sweeteners.”
Mayo Clinic. “Foods and Sleep."

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