Self Management of Diabetes

You are in control of your diabetes, but you must learn self management to maintain that control. Learning to live with the disease requires real effort, but the potential benefits are enormous.  By learning self management strategies, you will learn how to control blood glucose level through diet and weight management. Effective self management reduces the risk you will experience serious complications from diabetes.

Diabetes self management gives you power over your diseases. If this is a new diagnosis, you will learn the importance of monitoring blood glucose and choosing a glucose meter. You will learn to record your daily blood glucose levels in order to gain an understanding of glucose spikes and declines throughout the day. You will begin to understand the importance of managing your weight. You will also learn how stress can play a part in fluctuating blood glucose levels.

Current research indicates that 95 percent of diabetes management takes place outside of a clinical setting.[1] This means learning self management of diabetes is of critical importance.

Learning Self Management Behaviors

Diabetes self management is not always easy. It takes real effort and dedication to achieving health goals. As you study and learn more about your body and diabetes, self management becomes easier over time. However, there are certain self management behaviors that you can implement now as you learn to control your disease.

  1. Nutrition: Managing your diabetes requires making good nutrition choices every day. This means you must have knowledge of how foods affect your blood glucose. With this knowledge you can make informed decisions each time you eat.

Having diabetes means learning to control what you eat. You can still enjoy delicious meals, but you must manage them to prevent serious complications in your blood glucose levels.

Self manage your nutrition by making smart choices when it comes to food:

  • Whole grains, pastas, and other complex carbs
  • Fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, and other foods high in fiber
  • Lean meats such as fish or skinless chicken breast
  • Healthy fats, (in limited amounts)

Healthy eating includes monitoring your portion size. It is a great idea to keep a food journal of what you eat, when you eat, how you feel after eating, and your blood glucose levels before and after eating. This is information you can share with your health team.

  1. Manage your weight: As a diabetic, it is very important to be active. Exercise and activity will help you manage your weight but it also has other health benefits for diabetics. Activity and exercise will lower your cholesterol, improve your blood pressure control, release ‘feel good’ hormones that can relieve stress, and even improve your cognitive functioning. Finally, exercise and activity will help you manage your blood glucose levels naturally – bringing them into a normal range.

Diabetic or not, it is hard to begin an exercise or activity program. Sometimes the motivation is just not there. First, talk with your doctor or health care team to find out your activity limits and then make a plan:

  • Set daily activity goals. Your original activity goals may include walking around the block. You will build on these goals over time. In the beginning try for thirty minutes of activity every day of the week.
  • Make time for exercise. This is the number one reason people do not exercise – lack of time. You need to know right now that you can find time in your day to exercise. Pick an activity you enjoy and do it.
  • Call in support. Everything is easier with friends. Exercise and activities are no different. You can find a friend who also needs to exercise and discover new things together or you can work out with a friend who is already exercises on a regular basis and can offer you tips and pointers.
  • Keep a journal. Keep a record of your daily activity. You can add this to your food journal or keep a separate journal. Write down your goals. Imagine looking back over this journal in six months!
  • Monitoring blood glucose. This is another new area for many just diagnosed diabetics, and sometimes one that causes great wariness. Just remember – with today’s technology, monitoring your blood glucose levels is simple, easy, and virtually pain free.

The only way you can avoid complications from your diabetes and keep informed about how you are doing is to monitor your blood glucose levels. Your doctor and health team will help you create a testing and monitoring schedule that you must strictly follow.

Each brand of diabetes glucose monitors is different, but they all share some common characteristics when it comes to checking your blood glucose levels:

  • Wash your hands
  • Insert test strip into monitor/meter
  • Utilize lance on side of monitor/meter to get a drip of blood from your finger
  • Massage the finger as a large enough sample of blood forms for the monitor/meter to test
  • Place test strip against drip of blood on finger
  • The blood glucose level will show up on the display of the monitor/meter

Blood Glucose Management

When you check your blood glucose with your monitor take the time to keep a record of your results.  If you see that your blood glucose levels are too high for a few days, or too low, you can think back over the past few days and try to determine why. Look at your food journals and exercise journals. Have you been following your nutrition and exercise plans? Are you under a period of elevated stress? Have you been sick?

You may have heard the common cliché – ‘phone a friend’. This is especially true with managing your diabetes. You may choose to join a support group or develop a one-on-one relationship with another person with diabetes. You can support each other. Interestingly, positive support is even possible over the internet. A two year study followed teens with type 1 diabetes and discovered they were better able to control their disease through chat room relationships with other teens who have diabetes.[3]

Whatever you do, do not use self management to become obsessive about your disease. Self management of diabetes is a way for you to take power over diabetes and not let it control you. Too many people become obsessed with their ‘numbers’ leading to emotional highs and lows. They may become happy when their numbers are good and sad when they are bad. Tracking your blood glucose levels is a self management technique to help you manage your diseases – it is not a form of punishment.


[1]Wagner, J. (2011). Behavioral Interventions to Promote Diabetes Self-Management. Diabetes Spectrum , 61.

[2]National diabetes Fact Sheet. (2011). Retrieved from Centers For Disease Control:

[3] Alessandra Cocca, A. G. (2011). Chat Line for Adolescent with Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Technology and Theraputics , 551

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.