Real story: learning to take charge of your diabetes

Bryan Smith has always had family members with diabetes. So, when he was diagnosed, he knew how the condition could affect him and remembered what his loved ones had to do to manage it.

Bryan Smith, a senior systems engineer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

“Because of my family history, I wasn’t really shocked. But it was still very emotional for me to get that diagnosis in my mid-30s,” says Bryan, a senior systems engineer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

Before the diagnosis

A few years before his diagnosis, a health screening at work showed he had elevated blood sugar levels. He quickly made an appointment at the employee clinic and learned through additional testing that he had prediabetes.

He continued with screenings at the clinic and started cutting back on sweetened beverages and sugary snacks. But Bryan says he didn’t do all he could to manage his diet. And he didn’t exercise.

“Later I started noticing blurred vision and started taking more frequent trips to the restroom,” he explains. “Tests revealed the prediabetes progressed to diabetes and that changed everything.”

5 things that helped him manage his diabetes immediately 

With the help of his primary care physician, Bryan says he made these 5 changes to manage his new diagnosis:

  1. Checked his blood sugar several times a day.
  2. Resumed a running routine, something he hadn’t done since his Army days, which helped him lose 30 pounds.
  3. Paid closer attention to his diet and studied how certain foods affected his blood sugar levels, including the fruits and vegetables he loves.
  4. Learned about foods which aren’t considered sweet but contain sugar, which was critical in managing his diabetes.
  5. Kept a food journal, which gave him a big picture of his habits and helped him to better understand his A1C tests which check blood sugar control over a three-month period.

“It’s a lot more than cutting out junk food,” Bryan explains. “It’s a long-term condition, and sometimes it’s discouraging. But you have to take charge.”

Tips for adapting to diabetes long-term

Now 10 years after his diagnosis, Bryan says he’s still adapting to his diabetes and continuing to tweak things that work for his needs:

  1. Now he uses technology to scan bar codes of the food he eats, but he still occasionally revisits the food charts and journals he used when he was first diagnosed.
  2. He also takes medication to help manage his diabetes, but still faithfully gets the screenings his doctor recommends.
  3. He continues to exercise, but he’s switched to activities that have less impact on his joints.

“Sometimes you have to go back to the basics and work to get it right,” Bryan explains. “It’s not without heartache. But with this condition, you can test yourself daily to see how you’re doing.”

People with diabetes need a team to help them manage it, including doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dietitians, and family and friends, says Dr. Daniel Cusator, a medical director for BlueCross.

“The many daily decisions can be overwhelming,” Dr. Cusator explains. “What should I eat today? What type of exercise should I do? Are there changes in medications I need to make?”

To work toward good control of diabetes, Dr. Cusator recommends partnering with your health care provider and keeping up with these recommended exams:

  • Hemoglobin A1C blood tests every three months
  • Annual eye exams to look for signs of retinal disease
  • Annual screenings to check for kidney disease
  • Regular exams of the feet and hands for nerve damage
  • Blood pressure checks as recommended by your provider

Stay focused on the future

Bryan says connecting with others who have diabetes through online support groups is another important tool in his arsenal. Like anyone else, he sometimes wants to indulge the cravings for his favorite foods. Having support from those who understand the struggle is a big help.

If he occasionally has his favorite foods  ?  strawberries, pineapple and oranges that are generally higher in sugar  ?  he reminds himself that it stops being a treat if he has them every day. And he thinks about all the interesting things he wants to do in life, like traveling, that may be limited if he’s not healthy.

“Diabetes was an adjustment, and it requires vigilance,” Bryan added. “But it’s something that no one else can do for me.”

For more WellTuned information on diabetes, click here.

Marie Mosley

Marie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2012. A Florida native, she has 25 years of experience in public relations, community relations, speech writing and special event planning.

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.