I’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—now what?

There’s no doubt that a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming but there are things you can do and changes you can make to help manage the condition.
Annabel Nicholson
11/4/21
8
min read
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Quick summary

  • It’s likely you’ll be prescribed medication to help lower your blood sugar levels as soon as you’re diagnosed.
  • While 50% of people with type 2 diabetes do eventually need insulin injections, it isn’t common for people who have just been diagnosed.
  • The most important changes you can make after a type 2 diabetes diagnosis are to your diet and lifestyle.
  • Diet and lifestyle changes have the potential to control blood sugar without medication, reduce the risk of complications, and even put the disease into remission.

It’s pretty natural to want to find a suitable treatment after learning about a health condition—particularly if it's type 2 diabetes. It’s even more natural to wonder whether you can be entirely free of a newly diagnosed health condition. The good news is that in the case of type 2 diabetes, you can absolutely make changes that could keep your blood sugar levels under control, reducing complications and the need for medication, and you can even put it into remission! 

What we really mean by ‘diabetes treatment’

Before we start discussing the changes involved in a type 2 diabetes treatment plan, we want to begin by explaining what we mean by the words ‘treatment’ and ‘management’.

Standard diabetes care generally manages the condition. If you’ve been diagnosed in the UK, you were probably prescribed medication to control your blood sugar, and loosely told to modify your diet and exercise habits. That’s all very well but while these interventions may help keep your blood sugars within a healthy range, they don’t treat the underlying cause of the disease—the build up of internal fat in the liver and pancreas. We’ve talked a lot about that before and it's worth reading up about it to make sure you understand the reasons behind the changes we’ll discuss in this article.

Type 2 diabetes medications

What medications will I need to take for type 2 diabetes?

As we already mentioned, it's likely you’ll be prescribed medication as soon as you’re diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes medications work to keep your blood sugar levels under control, however, even with perfect pharmaceutical treatment there will still be a risk of developing complications of diabetes.

Metformin is the most common type 2 diabetes medication. It reduces high blood sugar levels by improving how the body responds to insulin. It also reduces the amount of glucose released by the liver. A second medication may be prescribed if the metformin is unable to lower your blood sugar levels enough or if you struggle to tolerate its side effects.

Will I need to inject myself with insulin?

With 50% of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes eventually needing insulin injections, it's understandable that this is one of the main concerns for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.[1]

But don’t worry—if you’ve just been diagnosed, the possibility of insulin injections is still a long way off. If your sugar levels remain difficult to control, your doctor will firstly start you on tablets, then adjust your prescriptions as and when they stop working. Only at that point would injectable insulin be introduced as an option.


We’ve written quite a lot about the medications used to manage type 2 diabetes, so definitely give that a read. Ultimately, however, we’d encourage you to ask your doctor any questions you have about your medication. Make sure you understand why it is being prescribed, the effect it will have on your body, and the long-term plan for your treatment. Don’t hold back—you might even find it helpful to make a list of questions and take them with you; it can be easy to forget them during your appointment!

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The ultimate lifestyle changes you can make to treat type 2 diabetes

We’ve saved the best ‘till last because the changes we’re about to discuss are the ones that could put your type 2 diabetes into remission. At the very least, they’ll reduce your risk of developing complications of diabetes and may even help you live medication-free—both of which we see as major positives.

So, without further ado...

Why should I change my diet and exercise habits?

Making changes to your diet and lifestyle is the most important thing you can do after your diagnosis because, well, because of the reasons we mentioned above—controlling blood sugar without medication, reducing the risk of complications, and the jackpot, remission.

There’s a long-held belief that type 2 diabetes is caused by obesity. Well, we’re here to tell you that’s not the case. If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it does not mean you are obese. Rather, it means you are carrying more weight than your body can handle—there’s a difference! Regardless of your weight, eating healthier food and exercising more can manage your blood sugar levels for two reasons.

Receiving a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be scary, confusing, and intimidating but it can also be the trigger to make change.

Dr Ian Braithwaite, co-founder of Habitual

To begin with, healthier, less processed foods tend not to cause spikes in blood sugar levels after eating. This is why low-carb is a common recommendation for people with type 2 diabetes—by giving your body less sugar (remember, carbohydrate is sugar!) initially, your blood sugar levels won’t peak as high as they otherwise would. Similarly, exercise (particularly after you eat) can help to lower blood sugar levels back down.[2]

In addition to the immediate impact of food and exercise on blood sugar levels, they also help with weight loss. Not everyone with type 2 diabetes needs to lose weight, but the majority of people who are diagnosed with the condition could benefit from some weight loss. Remember, we’re not talking about visible fat here, the fat under the skin—we’re talking about the fat deposits inside the liver and pancreas. Diet and exercise changes can help these deposits disappear and when they do, the organs regain their ability to regulate blood sugar naturally! We should add that if you do decide to make major dietary or physical changes, please check with a medical professional first.

If you lower your HbA1c levels to below 6.5% (48mmol/mol) and can sustain this for at least 3 months without using medication (so, by diet and exercise), you’re officially in remission![3]

Of course, it’s all well and good laying it out like this. The reality, we know, is a lot harder and it’s challenging to change lifelong habits. But, with the right motivation, to ultimately treat and reverse your diabetes without medication, you might surprise yourself at just how determined you are.

References

[1] Turner, R.C., Cull, C.A., Frighi, V., et al. Glycemic Control With Diet, Sulfonylurea, Metformin, or Insulin in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. (1999). JAMA 281(21):2005-2012. Accessible here.

[2] Borror, A., Zieff, G., Battaglini, C., Stoner, L. The Effects of Postprandial Exercise on Glucose Control in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review. (2018). Sports Med 48:1479–1491. Accessible here

[3] Type 2: experts agree global definition for type 2 diabetes remission. Diabetes UK. Retrieved 20 October 2021. Accessible here.

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