Who is a superstar type 2 diabetic? I give this label to my patients who do what it takes to month after month and year after year control their blood sugars and make whatever lifestyle changes are needed to reduce their other cardiovascular risk factors. They lose weight, stop smoking, control their lipids and blood pressure, and avoid letdowns that can allow these to creep or explode out of control. Their diagnosis may have been made out of nowhere, a blood sugar discovered that is very elevated and their HbA1C is very high. Alternatively sometimes they just have an elevated fasting blood sugar on screening at a physical exam and are found to have an abnormal glucose tolerance test or high HbA1C. Either way, the diagnosis is new to them and they have to face a life changing situation.
When I talk to a patient with a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes not infrequently I can predict how they will do by their initial response to hearing of the diagnosis. Patients who have a resigned, “I knew this was coming and there was nothing I could do look on their face,” tend to at best gain fair control with the use of multiple medications. Patients, who look on this as a wakeup call, ask what they need to do to manage this new challenge, and then make whatever lifestyle changes are needed tend to do well. So here are my observations of traits and behaviors of type 2 diabetes patients who not only gain blood sugar control, but also live positive and productive lives after the diagnosis:
- They have a fighting attitude. They don’t accept that diabetes is going to devastate them, beat them, or is something that they cannot manage. This leads them to take actions to manage the disease. They find a way to achieve weight loss and to quit smoking if needed, and to obtain the knowledge they need to manage this new diagnosis.
- They have family who support them in their lifestyle changes. At a minimum they don’t have family members who make it more difficult for them to make these changes.
- They recognize that they are not passive victims of this disease, but rather there are things that they can do, changes they can make to manage this new problem.
- They recognize that this new diagnosis is a lifetime call to action, and take a sustainable measured approach to the fight ahead. They don’t think, “OK, if I just can make changes for a while, then I can get back to the status quo.” Rather they think, “OK, this means I need to figure out what changes I can make to get this controlled. I know that these need to be lifelong changes, and I need to settle in for the long haul.”
- They look at medications as helpful adjuncts to their determined efforts to control their blood sugars, not as the primary means of blood sugar control.
- They are not resistant to taking medications to augment their best efforts at diet and exercise to control their blood sugars.
These traits are those of people who take charge of their behaviors and attitude and don’t give in to the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. They take an aggressive positive attacking approach to the changes that they need to make. Don’t get me wrong. I see patients where it takes much longer to gear up to fight diabetes, and they can become very successful too, but very often the initial reaction is telling.