November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and although we often hear about diabetes in the media, many people with diabetes—and their loved ones—lack awareness about how working with a certified diabetes educator, or CDE, can help them live better with diabetes. I admit I may be a bit biased because I’m a diabetes educator, but the truth is diabetes is one of the most challenging health problems of the 21st century, and the more we utilize the resources to reduce the burden of diabetes and the risk of developing it, the better off we’ll be. Diabetes is the most costly chronic disease in the US--more than 30 million people are affected by it. More shockingly, around 86 million people have prediabetes, and 9 out of 10 don’t even know it.
Having diabetes is hard work. It requires meaningful education, discipline and a change in lifestyle. Diabetes impacts not just what you eat and how much you exercise, but having the disease can add additional stress to your social life and ability to function in the workplace.
The good news is that type 2 diabetes is often preventable. Research shows that changing your lifestyle and losing just 5% of your weight can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by 58%. Unfortunately, not a lot of people receive diabetes self-management education. A common misconception is that having a diabetes diagnosis is required in order to work with a diabetes educator. This is not true. In fact, it’s the opposite. Seeking the help of a certified diabetes educator before being diagnosed can be a game changer.
Research also shows that people who join a structured diabetes prevention program led by diabetes educators lost weight, kept it off, and were one third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes 10 years later. By participating in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) or an American Association of Diabetes Educator (AADE) program, you’ll learn healthy eating, stress reduction and other valuable lifestyle strategies that have lasting impact. Click here to learn more and to be connected with a national DPP or AADE program near you.
If you already have prediabetes or diabetes, and have never met a diabetes educator, what are you waiting for? Here’s what else they can do for you:
We know portion sizes have gotten larger in the last 20 years. What used to be an average-sized 3-inch bagel in 1997 is now a 6”-inch bagel. According to Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE and spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “A diabetes educator can be a valuable resource in helping you better understand appropriate food choices, portion size, and the effect of food on your blood sugars.” Additionally, a registered dietitian who is a diabetes educator can teach how to read and understand labels and use real-life measurements like a baseball for a portion of fruit or a hand fist for a serving of pasta.
“People are often surprised when I tell them they can continue to enjoy their favorite meals, but in a modified way,” reports Sandy Steiner, RN, and CDE at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida. Modifications can include adding applesauce instead of oil to a cake or choosing lower carb pasta like quinoa pasta for favorite Italian dishes. “People with diabetes can still enjoy delicious and healthy food,” Steiner says.
Diabetes care can be expensive. Insulin can cost up to $300 dollars per vial without insurance, and blood glucose strips are about $1dollar each. A study in the Diabetes Educator found that patients who attended an accredited diabetes self-management education had lower costs. Meeting with a diabetes educator can also improve your compliance with medication which means less money for unnecessary hospitalizations, doctor visits or procedures due to diabetes complications.
It’s hard to compete with celebrity fad diets that claim immediate results. The problem with these diets is that they are not realistic and are challenging to maintain. “There is a lot of misinformation on Do’s and Don'ts when it comes to food and pre-diabetes,” Sheth reports.” An RD/CDE can help you with scientifically-proven information that is practical and user-friendly.” And remember, losing a small amount of weight can make a difference. In a 200lb person at high risk of developing diabetes, according to the hallmark DPP study, losing just 10-14 pounds can be significant.
Technology in diabetes care has come a long way. It has improved the quality of life of people with diabetes as well as enhancing diabetes control. Tech gadgets can include continuous glucose monitors, Fitbit devices, diabetes apps for counting carbs and more. Meeting with a certified diabetes educator can teach you the newest diabetes wearable technology devices and show you which one is best for you.
Diabetes management entails more than food and exercise. A Certified diabetes educator has the training to coach people into changing behavior and setting realistic and achievable goals. “My focus is to empower families and patients with diabetes, so they learn how to take care of their diabetes and can live a fulfilling life,” says Steiner a CDE for more than 20 years.
Meeting with a certified diabetes educator can save lives. Getting the right education before, during and after a diabetes diagnosis can genuinely impact how you manage your condition and in the long run help you live longer. But, just like any other profession, there can be a wide range of diabetes educators regarding personality, experience and counseling philosophy explains Sheth, a CDE who owns a private practice in Los Angeles. The main point is to find one that fits your needs.
Diabetes educators are not there to judge you or punish you. Instead, the goal of diabetes educators is to guide individuals, so they understand how diabetes impacts them and teach the skills needed to manage your condition effectively. Diabetes is a self-management condition. The more you do to manage it, the better your results will be! To find a CDE in your area, visit the American Association of Certified Diabetes Educators website.