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Living with diabetes

Our survey results reveal tips for manaing the condition

Published: November 2009

The 5,012 people with type 2 diabetes in our survey provided us with a treasure trove of information about living with the condition. Below, we share diabetes success stories from a man and woman who changed their exercise and diet habits and saw big improvements in their health. We also provide details from the survey in two key areas: the dietary strategies that worked best, such as eating smaller portions and reading food labels, and the providers who helped the most, including diabetes educators and endocrinologists.

Diabetes success stories

Roger Milos, 68, a former naval officer living in Rosemount, Minn., is a diabetes success story. His condition was first diagnosed in 2001, when routine preoperative blood tests showed very high blood sugar levels. "Now that I think about it, I had some symptoms—increased urination and thirst and deteriorating vision—but I didn't associate that with my blood sugar," Milos said.

He initially took multiple medications but didn't like the side effects. He told his doctor that he'd like to step up his efforts in making lifestyle changes to reduce his dependence on the drugs, and found support through diabetes education. "I went through a class at the hospital when I was first diagnosed, but a few years later my doctor sent me to another session when I seemed to be slipping," Milos said. "They taught us things like portion control and how to read labels. It was really helpful to learn how to be in control of what you eat."

The changes in Milo's eating habits helped him lose 60 to 70 pounds. Once a fan of Southern-style fried foods, he switched to grilling and baking. He tries to eat fish at least twice a week, and although he still likes red meat, he "doesn't go overboard." He has discovered the wonderful flavors of fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Don't get me wrong, I still like pizza," Milos said with a laugh. "But I control my portions. It's funny; overall, I'm eating more frequently but probably eating less. If I start to feel hungry, I'll just grab a fiber bar or piece of fruit."

Milos has six grown children who, like him and his late wife, struggled with their weight. He hopes that some of his new habits will rub off on them. "I think that the kids are starting to see that it's a good idea," he said. His youngest son now joins him on a walk two to four times a week.

Pam Acito, 59, of South Bend, Ind., is one of our survey respondents who is another diabetes success story. But it wasn't always that way. After learning that she the condition in 1993, Acito said she was eventually taking three different medications and still having trouble controlling her blood sugar. "It was a hassle, a real pain," she recalled. "The worst parts were the constant testing and having to be so careful about everything you eat."

But about a year and a half ago, Acito got serious about changing her lifestyle. She joined Weight Watchers and learned dietary strategies that worked for her, such as reducing portion sizes and adding more fruits and vegetables to her meals and snacks. "One of the big things I learned is that restaurants usually serve twice as much as you need," she said. "Now, when we eat out, I eat all my salad, but take half my meal home for lunch—sometimes two lunches!"

Much to the delight of her German shepherd, Acito also started walking, gradually working up to three miles daily. Then she joined an exercise class for people age 55 and up, and when that went well, she added water aerobics. "The classes are my motivation to get up and move," she said. "For instance, in one class we do line dances. I just think that's fun."

Thanks to those new habits, Acito has dropped more than 50 pounds and is proud to say that she wears the same dress size she did in high school. She's also seen a significant improvement in her health. She has been able to cut back her diabetes drugs to just one, metformin, and no longer has to monitor her blood sugar frequently. She says that other health measures, such as her blood pressure, have also improved.

Acito's husband, two children, and four grandchildren have provided moral support. "They are very proud of me," Acito said, beaming. "My granddaughter tells me, 'Oh, Grandma, you are looking soooo good.' When a 4-year-old notices, you know you've done something."

Diet strategies

More than three-quarters of the people in our survey said they had made dietary changes to help them manage their diabetes. The chart below looks at the different strategies they tried. The higher the number, the more strongly linked the strategy is to successful disease management. The chart shows the percentage differences between people who made the change and who were successful in managing the condition and those who were not.

Dietary strategy Percentage difference
Reduce calories 15%
Control portions 14
Avoid unhealthy foods 10
Read food labels 8
Count carbs 4
Reduce sugar intake 4
Use a glycemic index 4
Plan meals with a nutritionist 1
Editor's Note: Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center

Best providers

The table below ranks health-care providers by the percentage of people in our survey with type 2 diabetes who said that the provider helped them a lot in each of four categories.

 

 
The percentage of patients in our survey who said the provider best helped them understand …


… diabetes and its management … symptoms that require medical attention … diet and nutrition … how to manage pain, discomfort, or disability
Certified diabetes educator 62 47 57 25
Endocrinologist 58 45 41 27
Dietitian 54 34 77 18
Primary-care doctor 45 40 36 25
Podiatrist 19 32 9 28
Editor's Note: Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center

Diabetes trouble tracker

Guide to the tool

This tool is designed to help you clarify your treatment concerns and objectives so that you can make informed decisions about what might work for you based on the experiences of our survey respondents. Here's more information about our survey sample and methods. Whether you will achieve the same results depends on a number of factors, including the severity of your condition and your overall health, and they can be determined only by a clinical examination.

   

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