Your teachers follow a lesson plan that outlines what you'll study each day. Your
parents may have a plan to help you pay for college. And your weekend social plans
determine whether you're seeing a movie, heading to a concert, or playing basketball
at the gym.
People with type 1 diabetes need
to follow a different type of plan. A treatment plan, also called a diabetes management
plan, helps people to manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active. Everyone's
plan is different, based on a person's health needs and the suggestions of the diabetes
health care team.
Diabetes Treatment Basics
The first thing to understand when it comes to treating diabetes is your blood
glucose level, which is the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a sugar
that comes from the foods we eat and also is formed and stored inside the body. It's
the main source of energy for the cells of the body, and is carried to them through
the blood. Glucose gets into the cells with the help of the hormone insulin.
So how do blood glucose levels relate to type 1 diabetes? People with type 1 diabetes
can no longer produce insulin. This means that glucose stays in the bloodstream and
doesn't get into the cells, causing blood glucose levels to go too high.
High blood sugar levels can make people with type 1 diabetes feel sick, so their
treatment plan involves keeping their blood sugar levels within a healthy range, while
making sure they grow and develop normally. To do that, people with type 1 diabetes
take insulin as prescribed
eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts
check blood sugar levels as prescribed
get regular physical activity
Following the treatment plan can help a person stay healthy, but it's not a cure
for diabetes. Right now, there's no cure for diabetes, so people with type 1 diabetes
will need treatment for the rest of their lives. The good news is that sticking to
the plan can help people feel healthy and avoid diabetes problems later.
Take Insulin as Prescribed
People who have type 1 diabetes must take insulin as part of their treatment. Because
their bodies can't make insulin anymore, they need to get the right amount to keep
their blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
The only way to get insulin into the body now is by injection with a needle or
with an insulin pump. If someone tried to take insulin as a pill, the acids and digestive
juices in the stomach and intestines would break down the medicine, and it wouldn't
Different kinds of insulin are used for different purposes. The types of insulin
you use and the number of shots you take each day will depend on what's best for you
and your daily schedule.
As you grow and change, the amount of insulin you will need to take can change.
Getting insulin injections today is nearly painless, thanks to smaller needles. Insulin
pumps (which deliver insulin through a small tube placed just under the skin) cut
down on the number of injections needed.
Your diabetes health care team will teach you how and when to give yourself insulin
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
People with type 1 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to their meals
and snacks than people who don't have diabetes. They need to eat a balanced, healthy
diet and pay closer attention to what they eat and when they eat it.
They also have to balance the food they eat with the amount of insulin they take
and their activity level. That's because eating some foods will cause blood sugar
levels to go up more than others, whereas insulin and exercise will make blood sugar
go down. How much the blood sugar level goes up after eating depends on the type of
nutrients the food contains.
The three main types of nutrients found in foods are carbohydrates
(or carbs), proteins, and fats, which all provide energy in the form of calories.
Foods containing carbs cause blood sugar levels to go up the most. Foods that contain
mostly protein and/or fat don't affect blood sugar levels as much. Our bodies need
all of these nutrients — in different amounts — to function normally.
As part of your diabetes treatment, you and the diabetes health care team will
create a written diabetes meal plan that will include foods with all of the essential
nutrients. Meal plans typically consist of breakfast, lunch, and dinner with scheduled
The diabetes meal plan won't tell you specific foods to eat, but it will guide
you in selecting choices from the basic food groups and help you eat nutritious, balanced
meals. Each meal and snack in the plan contains a certain amount of carbs and works
with the types and amount of insulin you take.
Your meal plan is made just for you, based on your age, activity level, schedule,
and food likes and dislikes. It also should be flexible so you know how to handle
diabetes in special situations like at parties and on holidays. Following your meal
plan should make it easier to keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
In addition to giving you some ideas about what to eat, the plan also might recommend
limiting foods that contain lots of fat or calories and that don't contain vitamins
and minerals. Everyone who eats a healthy diet should limit these foods anyway, because
eating too much of them can lead to too much weight gain or long-term health problems
like heart disease.
Check Blood Sugar Levels
Checking your blood sugar levels is another part of your diabetes treatment plan.
It lets you know how well the other parts of your treatment — like your insulin
injections and meal plan — are working.
By keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, you'll feel better and reduce
the risk that you'll develop diabetes problems later. Testing your blood sugar level
is the only way to know how you are doing with your diabetes control.
Your diabetes care team may recommend that you use a continuous glucose
monitor (CGM). A CGM is a wearable device that can measure blood sugar every
few minutes around the clock. It's measured by a thread-like sensor inserted under
the skin and secured in place. Sensors can stay in place for about a week before they
have to be replaced and are accurate enough to replace frequent finger-stick testing. The
more frequent CGM blood sugar readings can help you and the care team do an even better
job of troubleshooting and adjusting your insulin doses and diabetes management plan
to improve blood sugar control.
A blood glucose meter or CGM tells you what your blood sugar level is at the moment.
Your doctor may also send you for another type of blood sugar test that tells you
how your blood sugar levels have been for the 3 months before the test.
Exercise is also an important part of diabetes treatment. Regular physical activity
helps keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. It also can reduce the risk of other
health problems that people with diabetes may be more likely to get, like heart disease.
Most types of exercise are great for people with type 1 diabetes — from walking
the dog or riding a bike to playing team sports. Try to exercise every day for maximum
You can talk to your diabetes health care team about planning your exercise along
with your meals and insulin. They'll offer specific suggestions to help you get ready
for exercise or join a sport and give you written instructions to help you respond
to any diabetes problems that may occur during exercise, like hypoglycemia
(low blood sugar), or hyperglycemia
(high blood sugar).
Putting It All Together
Treating and managing diabetes can seem complicated at times. But your diabetes
health care team is there for you. Your diabetes management plan should be easy to
understand, detailed, and written down for you so that you can refer to it whenever
you need to.
You also might hear about alternative treatments for diabetes, such as herbal remedies
and vitamin or mineral supplements. These practices can be risky, especially when
people stop following the treatment plan their doctor has given them. So get the facts
by talking to your diabetes health care team.