Self-managing type 2 diabetes with coaching exercises and lifestyle changes

Type 2 diabetes is not only a lifestyle condition but could also be life-threatening, therefore, self-management of this condition is critical.

Research has tested a number of group workshops and self-management education programs that help patients with type 2 diabetes take charge of their condition on a day-to-day basis from a behavioural perspective.

One of these programs is the DESMOND plan in the UK.

But what exactly is the DESMOND plan, and how does it work? What kind of success rate does it have?

And what food choices and lifestyle changes can help to better manage type 2 diabetes?

We explore all of this below with our own Alex Ruani, Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy and UCL Doctoral Researcher.

What is the DESMOND plan?

Launched in 2003 and still going, the DESMOND program is an NHS initiative in the UK and stands for ‘Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed’.

It’s a one-day or two half-days group workshop, virtual or in-person, that helps you find ways to self-manage your type 2 diabetes and set behavioural goals for yourself.

How can it help you?

The workshop agenda is quite hands-on, with lots of self-reflection exercises. The main objective is for you to gain new health skills to feel confident that you can take control of your condition.

You would decide on your own behavioural goals based on how you’d like to improve your quality of life and the things that have the highest priority for you. Your behavioural goals would be motivating enough for you to action them – such as making healthier food choices for yourself, getting active with activities you enjoy, monitoring your diabetes, and even managing your own emotions and stress levels.

From reflecting on your thoughts and feelings around your type 2 diabetes to understanding glucose and what happens in your body, you’re empowered to take control and make your own plan for the future.

How does it work?

Many patients have reported this experience as being “life-changing” and it’s also a wonderful opportunity to connect with others with type 2 diabetes who are going through something similar. The groups only take up to 10 participants who may wish to bring someone close to them and involve both education and fun exercises promoting self-introspection.

The total time you’d spend in this workshop is 6 hours, facilitated by two trained healthcare professional educators.

How can you access it?

You could ask your GP to assess your suitability for the DESMOND workshop, but now many NHS practices have self-referral forms which you can request at reception and apply for a seat on your own.

There’s no need to wait for your GP to mention the DESMOND program to you. You’re eligible if you’ve been diagnosed within the past 12 months, or if you have established type 2 diabetes and haven’t attended one of these workshops yet.

Additionally, the MyDesmond digital platform can support your journey on its own, or as a follow-on from your group workshop. You can sign up to this digital platform to reduce your type 2 diabetes risk or to manage your already diagnosed condition, including gestational diabetes here.

What does the research say?

Research findings from the DESMOND workshops are encouraging.

A randomised controlled trial involving 207 general practices and 731 study participants showed that those taking part in the DESMOND intervention 3 years prior had a better understanding of their condition and its gravity, coupled with a stronger belief in their ability to manage it, compared to patients who didn’t take part of this.

A large study published in 2018 by the researchers at the University of Leicester demonstrated that 1,678 type 2 diabetics who completed the DESMOND workshop had a statistically significant reduction in HbA1c blood glucose levels – of about 1% after 6 months and 0.7% after a year of attending.

So the benefits aren’t just an improved self-belief about managing one’s condition, but also on some of the health outcomes, such as lower blood glucose levels.

During the pandemic, we’ve all learned that those with diabetes have a higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications, but because of lockdown restrictions, in-person DESMOND workshops were reduced. So the focus has been on the MyDesmond digital platform, with research published in 2021 indicating an increase in new monthly users by 400%, with a total of 10,000 users.

What happens if your type 2 diabetes isn’t managed properly?

If not managed properly, this condition can worsen to a point of devastating consequences, including going blind, an amputated limb, or a higher risk for a stroke or heart attack.

Some signs of chronically elevated blood sugar levels include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Constant hunger
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy skin
  • Slow wound healing
  • Foot pain
  • Numbness in legs or arms

Because type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle condition as opposed to an inherited one, it is thought that its symptoms can be kept at bay and in the long term minimised or even reserved if managed carefully and promptly.

What diet and lifestyle changes can help?

Some things you can do to reduce your risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, and to manage its symptoms, include:

  • Limiting excess sugar, in particular from added sugars, fruit juices (including fresh orange juice), and refined carbohydrates like white bread, cakes, and pastries.
  • Opting for slow-releasing carbohydrates instead, especially fibre-rich options like cruciferous vegetables, legumes, berries, and whole grains such as tricolour quinoa and steel-cut oats.
  • Avoiding excess fat, especially from processed meats or fried foods, and artificial trans fats from partially hydrogenated (hardened) oils like margarine.
  • Opting for lean protein and low-fat dairy instead, including oily fish which is rich in heart-healthy omega 3.
  • Minimising added-salt intake by increasing home-cooking and experimenting with herbs and spices to season your dishes.
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption, but keeping well-hydrated throughout the day with plain or flavoured water and herbal teas.
  • Try eating your meals at the same times every day, while being cautious about eating too much in one sitting, to help better manage your blood sugar levels.

Other beneficial changes:

  • Getting good quality sleep.
  • Keeping active regularly.
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Avoiding smoking – including second-hand smoke.
  • Managing your stress levels.

How can you acquire the expertise needed to effectively help your clients mitigate their risk of type 2 diabetes?

Getting specialised by completing our Nutritional Therapist Certification is your first step towards acquiring the unique knowledge and skills for helping your clients make the necessary changes to their diet and lifestyle.

During this certification, you will:

  • Discover how to monitor nutritional programmes
  • Learn the various antioxidant foods for longevity and disease prevention
  • Learn how to give nutritional advice for over 40 health conditions
  • Build personalised food plans and monitor symptom improvements and much more.

Get the full details and PDF curriculum download here.

You can also take advantage of our Nutrition Accelerator Scholarship today and enjoy access to 1 of 14 certifications (including this Nutritional Therapist Certification).

Grab the chance to become specialised so you can immediately begin to make an impact.

Hurry over to our scholarship page to learn more.

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