When you’re a diabetic, controlling your blood glucose levels is your number one priority. It’s a fundamental part of living a full life with this disease. Unfortunately, blood glucose levels are never stagnant. They fluctuate up and down based on your overall health, your diet, and many different conditions. These swings can make you feel ill and increase your risk of long-term health complications. For example, if you suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), it can potentially lead to serious complications, such as seizures and loss of consciousness, if the condition is left untreated. Complications like that make blood sugar management incredibly important to manage, particularly for those who’ve been newly diagnosed with diabetes.

Newly diagnosed diabetics, specifically those diagnosed with type I diabetes, frequently require a new regime that includes insulin treatment. This can be an overwhelming adjustment for them and requires an entirely new way of life, new habits, and new ways of eating and cooking. Because of the difficulties that come with trying to manage glucose levels, the newly diagnosed, and even more experienced diabetics, often fall prey to common pitfalls.

Here is a list of ways to avoid the pitfalls:

1. Don’t carb load to correct a low blood sugar reading. According to registered dietician Ann Feldman, overeating when your blood sugar has dropped can cause a sharp swing in the opposite direction, which can be dangerous. Her advice is to follow the “15-15 rule” when treating low blood sugar—if your blood sugar has dropped to 70mg/dl or less, eat or drink 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate. Her suggestion is to take four glucose tablets or 15 grams of glucose gel, or drink appropriate amounts of soda or fruit juice. Better yet, eat small amounts of raisins or hard candies to boost your blood sugar levels. Be sure to recheck your levels to make sure you haven’t inadvertently exceeded ideal amounts. Don’t just assume all is well until you’ve verified that’s the case.

2. Don’t give yourself an excess amount of insulin to counteract the high blood glucose reading. Overtreatment can actually cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low. If you need to treat your high glucose, give the insulin time to adjust and work for you, not against you. Don’t stack your doses with multiple injections, especially if it’s been less than three hours since your last dose. Instead, look at your insulin-to-carb ratio.

3. Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol can lead to low blood sugar. By drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, you’re increasing the risk of low blood sugar. Feldman advises that those with type I diabetes “stick to the limit” when they choose to drink. The American Heart Association guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. Eat a balanced meal or a protein-, carb-, or fat-rich snack before or while you have a drink. The effects of alcohol can last up to twelve hours, so you’ll want to make sure your glucose levels remain steady over the duration. You can help that by eating carbohydrate-containing foods.

4. Remember that sugar-free drinks and certain foods will affect your blood sugar levels. People often don’t understand that “sugar-free” and “carb-free” are not the same thing. Monitor your carbs and learn the difference between good carbs (avocados, fruits, some vegetables) and bad carbs (sweets, potatoes, white breads, etc.), as one type will increase your blood sugar while the other will help to keep it at optimal levels.

5. Don’t skip meals. Your body needs fuel to function properly. Feed it right.

6. Pay attention to the fats in your food, not just the carbohydrates. Eating too much fat (30 grams or more) can cause a rise in blood sugar levels.

7. Remember to adjust your diet or insulin dose when you exercise. Aerobic exercises may cause blood sugar levels to drop while anaerobic exercises, like weight training, may cause your blood sugar to rise.

8. Try not to become stressed over the management of diabetes because it can actually make glucose levels more difficult to control. Some people will see spikes. Others will see drastic lows. Neither situation is ideal. Ask questions. Learn what works for you and don’t let it take over your life.

9. Take care of your mental and emotional health. Yes, there are changes you’ll have to make, but they aren’t the end of the world. Find an outlet for your stress and anxiety, communicate your issues with someone, exercise, practice yoga, learn to meditate, or do whatever makes you feel good.

Diabetes is a condition you have; it’s not who you are.

By Dr. Ritu Goel