As a kid, I almost thought diabetes was something normal, a way of life. And living in the U.S., that almost is the case since more than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes and 84 million are at risk. 

Dietary diseases in the U.S. are at staggering levels, especially when compared to other nations. It’s sad to say, but living healthy is the exception rather than the norm here. Our eating, habits combined with low activity levels, are negatively impacting our health and increasing our risk of chronic diseases. With diabetes affecting the lives of so many loved ones, let’s take this month to learn, destigmatize, and bring awareness to it.

I grew up around my grandma, always having to track her sugar and take her insulin shots routinely because she had Type 2 diabetes. The worst part was seeing her sugar go extremely low to the point I had to call the ambulance. By the time I was 7 or 8, it happened enough times for me to learn to give her a PB+J sandwich or orange juice to help balance her levels.

At the time, I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. But looking back now, I see how life-threatening and altering diabetes is. Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. According to the CDC, here are the different types:

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin.

Type 2 

With type 2, your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults (but more and more in children, teens, and young adults). Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.

Gestational 

Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby could be at higher risk for health problems. Gestational usually goes away after your baby is born but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

Prediabetes 

With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

The Diabetes Foundation in New Jersey offers services to help people with any of these types to get or stay on track. Diabetes is hard; the Foundation’s programs are dedicated to ensuring that help isn’t hard to find. From virtual certified fitness instructors doing workouts twice per week to free resources, the goal is to support better health outcomes for all those living with diabetes.

I believe food is medicine and the essential ingredient to happy, healthy bodies. As a country, we are vastly behind other countries with this belief of wellbeing. The majority of people in the U.S. are not eating their recommended amount of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein. On the other spectrum, we are eating too many empty calories that come from sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. These are common additives that improve shelf-life, taste and reduce the price. I can attest to the sodium because I’ll never forget when I came home after three months from studying in Costa Rica and ate Chipotle for the first time. I barely tasted anything other than the salt! (And that’s from a seemingly “healthy” restaurant chain.)

A well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains works to keep our bodies running as they should. For those with diabetes, it also means it can help maintain their blood glucose in their targeted range. And because we’re all different, different foods affect people’s blood sugar differently. The Foundation provides log sheets (in English + Spanish) where people can track their meals, snacks, and blood sugar easily so they can recognize which foods are best for them.

Do you need wholesome snack ideas? Read this blog.

Being physically active improves the wellbeing of people with and without dietary diseases. For those with diabetes, being active helps control blood sugar levels and makes their body more sensitive to insulin. The USDA recommends every week that we, adults, get in 2 hours and 30 minutes of cardio and 2 days of weight training.

If you would like to start incorporating physical activity into your life — first that’s great — and second here is an action plan to get started by The Diabetes Foundation.

If you’re already active and looking to spice up your workout routine, here are some of my favorite Instagram fitness influencers with tons of free at-home or gym workouts:

  1. Whitney Simmons
  2. Libby Christensen
  3. Brooklyn Fit

Keep in mind, always do what feels best for you and your body, and speak to your doctor first.

For people with diabetes, the awareness doesn’t just end on November 30th. It’s a life-changing disease that they continuously have to pivot with and think about daily. That’s why for this National Diabetes Month, I want to especially honor my grandma (who had Type 2), my aunt (who has Type 2), my grandfather (who has Prediabetes), my mom (who had Gestational), and my friend’s pug (who has Type 2). So I ask you: who do you honor this month?

Diabetes is the most expensive chronic condition in the United States for both the individual and the collective. That’s why The Diabetes Foundation offers free insulin (even as prices continue to rise), testing supplies, A1c tests, and education to children and adults. If you’d like to be a part of The Foundation mission in helping others prevent and manage diabetes, you can donate here.