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Mental Health and T1D

STUDENT CONTRIBUTOR: Cristina Cirone | Nutrition & Food, Ryerson University

March 2, 2021

Did you know that people who are managing type 1 diabetes are making an average of 180 extra decisions each day as compared to those who don't have diabetes?

A diagnosis of diabetes results in a significant impact on an individual's life and can alter future decisions and choices. As such, it is not surprising that diabetes can take a large toll on an individual's physical and mental health. People with diabetes may feel worried, frustrated, or discouraged with the daily care involved in managing their condition. These feelings may lead to the development of bad habits such as infrequently monitoring blood sugar levels, skipping doctor appointments, or not maintaining a nutritious diet.

Depression, one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide can interfere with daily functioning including self care and diabetes management. People living with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to have depression than individuals without diabetes. Coping with both depression and diabetes can place a lot of stress on one’s body. Circulating stress hormones can cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall which can exacerbate or lead to uncontrolled diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes may feel a variety of distressing emotions such as frustration, worry, and discouragement due to the daily care involved in managing their diabetes.

Good mental health is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and effectively managing one’s Diabetes Care Plan. Mental health affects our everyday lives in a variety of ways such as helping to manage daily stressors and make healthy choices.

Self management of diabetes can be overwhelming and difficult at times. Here's 10 tips to help manage stress:

  1. Pay close attention to the way you are feeling - feeling off or overwhelmed for more than 1-2 weeks may indicate that you need to seek help.

  2. Talk to your healthcare providers and ask for help when any concerns arise.

  3. Communicate with family and friends. Although taking the first step to speak with others can feel intimidating, it can help alleviate some of your stress.

  4. Accept help to care for your diabetes from family members. Simple interventions such as medication reminders, being physically active and preparing healthy meals can be very helpful.

  5. Reach out to others who have diabetes since they truly understand what you’re going through.

  6. Participate in activities you enjoy to improve your mood and provide you with joy and satisfaction. This may be doing a puzzle, reading a book, playing a sport or a musical instrument etc.

  7. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine such as walking and cycling can help you maintain a healthy weight, feel happier, improve mood and memory, control blood pressure, improve sleep, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.Being active makes you more sensitive to insulin which helps control blood sugar levels and lowers your risk of heart disease and nerve damage.

  8. Participate in relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation to help alleviate any stress. Keep in mind that yoga and meditation shouldn’t only be done when you’re under stress! Doing it regularly can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

  9. Practice good sleep hygiene.

  10. Maintain a healthy diet and stay consistent with it! Eating 3 meals per day at regular times is crucial for good mental health. Food is important to feed your body and brain!


Eat 3 meals a day at regular intervals. Meal timing is an important strategy for blood sugar management. Spreading your carbs out throughout the day is much better than going long periods without eating. If you are taking the time to prepare a home made meal, the quality of its ingredients will most likely be better and more nutritious than grabbing quick, convenience, packaged snacks from your fridge or cupboard. It can be very easy to lose track of how much you’re eating when you graze, too.

Don't splurge on certain foods, especially ones that are high on the glycemic index - remember, moderation is key! Portion size is an important component of diabetes management. Eating the right portions will help you manage your weight and stabilize blood sugars. If you're overweight or obese, weight loss is an important and effective way to help normalize blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of other health problems.

Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are amongst the most important foods to be consuming on a daily basis. They provide us with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre that are used for bodily functions and to help slow digestion and reduce the impact of foods on blood sugars. You should enjoy a variety of each, but have more vegetables than fruit to help manage blood sugars in target range.

Consider going on special diets designed specifically to lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Consult your healthcare provider before going on any diet. Examples include:

Choosing a diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, olive oil, and low in red meat can help lower your blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels.

  • DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods — and moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts. It has been proven to significantly lower blood pressure within 2 weeks.

  • Eating PULSE foods regularly

Pulses include dry peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas which contain protein and fibre and vitamins and minerals. It is recommended that one consumed around 1.5 cups of these foods per week.

As always, limit your intake of processed foods since they’re normally high in sugar, sodium and fat and provide minimal nutritional value to one's diet.

It is important to remember that mental health and physical health are not mutually exclusive and they are in fact interdependent. Our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes have a significant effect on the state of our physical health and wellbeing. Untreated mental health issues can cause increased problems associated with diabetes. Further, diabetes can worsen mental health issues. On a positive note, if your mental health improves, so will your ability to manage your diabetes. Feed your mood with good quality food!

If you'd like extra support to help manage blood sugars, or other health challenges, through diet and activity, reach out to our Registered Dietitian, today!!

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