- Making small changes to your current routine can have a big impact on your blood glucose levels, as well as your overall health and happiness
- Diet, lifestyle, and exercise are all good places to start when thinking about building new habits that will help you manage your diabetes without medication
- Everybody is different, so keeping track of your food, moods, and sleep is a great way of learning more about what makes you feel good, healthy, and energised
Often after a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, things can feel overwhelming and, let’s be honest, a little bit worrying too. But the good news is there’s loads of research out there that proves you can manage and treat your diagnosis, without needing to rely on medication. It’s important to know that although prescription medication can be a vital tool in helping you keep your blood glucose levels regulated, it’s definitely not the only option. By making some key changes in your lifestyle, diet and exercise, you can join many others who have successfully managed—and even reversed—type 2 diabetes without medication.
Making changes in your diet, eating habits, lifestyle choices, and exercise regime will all help to manage your diagnosis. All together it sounds like a lot but by making small changes to your current routine and building habits along the way, you’ll start feeling the changes quickly.
Using food to control type 2 diabetes without medicine
There is no single best diet that works for every person with type 2 diabetes, and that’s because everyone is different. However, if you have been diagnosed then it’s highly likely that what you choose to eat will have a big impact on how energised and how well you feel. Although not everyone diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is overweight, there is substantial evidence that sustained weight loss can lead to a reversal of the type 2diabetes diagnosis in the majority of patients. So, just like everyone else, a healthy diet is an integral part of staying well for people with type 2 diabetes. But what does a healthy diet actually mean?
It might take a little while to settle on a diet that works for you. The food we eat has such an impact on how well we feel and how much energy we have but it also needs to be thought about in other ways too: like how much time we have to cook or prepare our meals, who we eat with and where, and even our budgets and finances.
Largely speaking, a healthy, balanced diet is about eating from a variety of food groups to ensure you get the right kind of nutrients to power your body each day. It’s also about considering the ratio of different food groups in your meals and your overall portion sizes. When you have type 2 diabetes, some food groups are more important to be mindful of than others. For example, carbohydrates can have a high glycemic index (GI) which means they raise your blood sugar levels quickly, making it hard to manage your symptoms. So if you’re hoping to reduce, or even stop, your medication, a low-carb diet is an easy first step in gaining control of your blood sugar levels. The more you learn about how food functions and what makes you feel good, the easier it will be to make quick food decisions in stressful situations.
Using your diet to help manage your diagnosis ultimately means getting clued up on nutrition, and also probably means trying a few different things to see what works. Because we know it can be daunting, we’ve done some of the hard work for you, and carried out our own research to find the best scientifically-supported diets to help manage and treat type 2 diabetes.
It’s not just what you eat that matters…
So you’ve nailed your diet, but that isn’t the only thing to consider when we’re talking about food. Working out what to eat to make you and your body happy is a really big and important step, but deciding when to eat and how to make food choices that support your health are crucial to managing your diagnosis without medication.
Even if weight loss is part of your goal in managing your type 2 diabetes, skipping meals is not a helpful or productive way of getting healthier. Especially when you’re starting out with these lifestyle changes, three square meals a day is almost definitely the best way to approach your eating. Regular mealtimes, preferably at the same time each day, will help avoid hunger cravings and allow you to prepare and plan your meals ahead of time.
Love cooking but don’t always feel up to it on school nights? Try batch cooking some of your favourites at the weekend and keeping them in the freezer for the week. A bit of meal prep in advance can really help you make healthier choices on those days when you’re tired, fed up, and just want an evening on the sofa rather than sweating over the stove.
Another tried and tested tip for managing your type 2 diabetes, especially just after diagnosis, is really getting to know how different food and eating habits affect your mood. Tracking what you eat and how you feel on a regular basis will help you spot links between specific foods and how much energy you have. Everyone is different when it comes to this, so getting to know yourself and your own food patterns and habits is the best way to identify ways you can positively change up what, how and when you eat.
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Lifestyle changes as alternative type 2 diabetes treatments
Your diet and eating habits aren’t the only things that benefit from regular tracking. Approaching your health and wellbeing in a holistic way can really help with managing your type 2 diabetes. By that we mean don’t just think about your health in terms of the symptoms of your diagnosis: it’s also worth thinking about things such as your mood and energy levels. Tracking or journaling your day-to-day habits like what you eat and drink, how you sleep, how you feel and what exercise or social events you get up to helps you get to know how your body responds to different factors. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to make decisions that are good for your health, your body, and your brain.
If you’re trying to make purposeful changes in your lifestyle to help control and treat your type 2 diabetes without medicine, your alcohol consumption could be a great place to start. Alcohol affects the part of your brain that’s associated with your inhibitions—which can fill you with confidence and even help you relax—but it can also lead to decisions you might not make if you were sober. When you’re trying to build new habits and make lifestyle changes, that logical part of your brain that’s affected by booze might be what you need to make good decisions that prioritise your health. Alcohol is also proven to affect quite a few nerve-chemical systems in your brain that help regulates your mood and scientists have found that decreasing or stopping drinking altogether can improve your mood. Of course, you can still feel the benefits without giving up alcohol completely: maybe start by not drinking during the working week, and keep tracking how your mood changes as you do this.
No one knows what it’s like managing and treating type 2 diabetes like someone else who’s on the same journey. So reaching out to others via online communities or local groups can really help: not just you but them too. You could also check out Facebook or other sites like diabetes.org, or ask your GP for any local support groups. Another great way to meet people who share your goals is to try out a new sport or join an exercise class.
The role of exercise in treating type 2 diabetes without medicine
Regular exercise doesn’t just help your body, it helps your mind too. Yes, it lowers your blood sugar levels but it can also improve your sleep, reduce stress and most importantly, boost your mood. For everyone, keeping active is an integral part of staying healthy: lowering your blood pressure and reducing cholesterol and for people with type 2 diabetes it’s been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, meaning your body gets better at using insulin.
The NHS recommends we should all be aiming for 2.5 hours of exercise a week. It sounds like a lot, especially when you’ve already got a busy schedule of work and home commitments, but it doesn’t have to be about carving out a whole evening of free time to head to the gym after a busy day at work. By finding small opportunities to get a little out of breath throughout the week you can spread those active minutes out, and keep those endorphins flowing without feeling like you’re giving up too much time.
There’s only one rule about what exercise means, and it’s that it needs to get you out of breath. So that could mean going to a gym class or heading to the pool for a swim. It could also mean carrying heavy shopping bags or doing some gardening. If you’re starting out with getting active, lean into what you already enjoy. There’ll be some days where you just don’t want to—and that’s okay—just don’t let it put you off for good.
Before undertaking a new exercise routine, it's worth talking to your doctor, especially if you take medications to control your blood sugar levels as your dosage may need adjusting. As you start incorporating movement into your routine, be mindful of how your blood sugar level responds to exercise and always consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Managing your type 2 diabetes diagnosis without the help of medication may feel daunting at first but the science is there: it’s totally possible. And not only that, but reversing your diagnosis is definitely possible too. The best way to make a long-lasting change is by choosing small changes over time, so pick one idea to get you started, and good luck!
 Lean, M.E.J., Leslie, W.S., Barnes, A.C., et al. (2018). Primary care-led weight management for remission of type 2 diabetes (DiRECT): an open-label, cluster-randomised trial. Lancet 391(10120):P541-551. Accessible here.
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 Alcohol and depression. Drinkaware. Retrieved 22 February 2022. Accessible here.
 Diabetes and exercise. Diabetes UK. Retrieved 22 February 2022. Accessible here.
 Food and keeping active. NHS. Retrieved 22 February 2022. Accessible here.