Diabetes 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Type 2

Last Updated on by Kari Garner, MS RDN LD CDCES

Have you recently been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes? Or are looking to learn about diabetes due to a family history? 

If so, this guide to diabetes is for you!

As a registered dietitian and diabetes expert, I am excited to share diabetes information and answer common questions about diabetes all to help you gain a better understanding of the condition. 

With my Diabetes 101 guide, you can begin your journey toward eliminating the confusion, feeling empowered and preventing the progression.  Get ready to flourish with diabetes!

Diabetes 101

Before we dive into the contents of this guide, here are a few diabetes basics. 

The definitions below are how I explain the following concepts to my clients to enhance understanding and eliminate confusion around diabetes care.

  • Insulin: A hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. It is the hormone that brings elevated blood sugar down to normal levels.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the sugars we eat that make blood sugar go up.
  • Blood glucose: Blood glucose or blood sugar is the amount of sugar in our blood stream at any given moment.
  • Pancreas: An organ that makes insulin and other hormones needed to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Liver: An organ that stores sugar and can affect blood sugar by putting sugar into the bloodstream if there is not enough.
  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia (also known as low blood sugar) occurs when there is not enough glucose in your bloodstream for your body to optimally function. Blood sugar is under 70 mg/dL.
  • Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia (also known as high blood sugar) is a condition when there is too much glucose in the bloodstream. Blood sugar is over 180 mg/dL.
  • Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG): A blood test to measure a person’s blood sugar level after fasting for at least 8 hours. A normal result is less than 100 mg/dL.
  • Hemoglobin A1c: A hemoglobin A1c is a blood test to determine what your average blood sugar has been over the past 2-3 months. This is an insight into how your blood sugars have been controlled and your risk for adverse effects of diabetes. A normal result is less than 5.7%.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (Type 2) is a condition where you do not have enough insulin production to control your blood sugars within normal limits for optimal health.

It is the role of your pancreas to produce insulin for your body that moves into your bloodstream when your blood sugars are elevated (like following a meal or a stressful situation).

With type 2 diabetes, your body is not able to move this insulin into your bloodstream to reduce elevated blood sugars. However, your pancreas continues to produce the insulin because your blood sugar remains elevated.

Eventually, the cells of the pancreas wear out due to high insulin production and stop producing insulin. When this happens, you cannot reverse the damage and other methods of managing blood sugars are needed.

Quick Facts about Diabetes

My passion for diabetes care lies in statistics since they can be staggering! As you read each fact, think about which ones surprise you the most. Each statistic truly sheds light on how serious diabetes can impact lives.

  • Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020 (1).
  • About 37.3 million people (or 11.3% of the US population) had diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed) in 2019 (1).
    • 37.1 million of these people are adults 18 or older (14.7% of all US adults)
    • 28.7 million of these people have been diagnosed (28.5 million adults, 0.2 million children)
    • 8.5 million of these people are undiagnosed
  • An estimated 96 million adults aged 18 years or older had prediabetes in 2019 (1).
  • The total cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2017 was $327 billion (2).
  • The prevalence of diabetes (type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes) will increase by 54% to more than 54.9 million Americans between 2015 and 2030 (3).

I have lived in the Carolinas for most of my life, in the heart of where diabetes is the most prevalent. Specifically, I have seen people’s lives cut short and made so difficult because of diabetes.

Not only can regular doctor visits and routine lab tests detect diabetes early, but many of the adverse effects are also preventable when treatment plans are established.

That is why I created my Education Session and Diabetes Diet Discovery as resources to help you get started on your journey. 

diabetes care items

Myths and Facts about diabetes

  • FACT: When your blood sugar is normal and your A1c <5.7%, you have full function of your pancreas.
  • FACT: When you are diagnosed with prediabetes, you only have about 50% of your pancreas working.
  • FACT: When you are diagnosed with diabetes, you only have about 20% of your pancreas working/
  • FACT: It is not your fault that you have diabetes.
  • MYTH: Diabetes develops only because of genetic factors.
  • FACT: Diabetes can develop because of both genetic and lifestyle factors
  • MYTH: You can be cured of diabetes with well controlled with meds, diet and also your lifestyle
  • FACT: Diabetes is a progressive disease. Once you have it, you have it. This right here is why I have and will continue to help patients prevent the progression.

Diagnosing Type 2 diabetes

Diagnosing type 2 diabetes involves a combination of clinical evaluation, blood tests and risk assessments. 

Keep reading to learn more about common diabetes tests, signs and symptoms and screening recommendations. 

Diabetes Tests

Testing has evolved significantly over the years, thus providing a range of options to monitor and manage diabetes effectively. 

A few of the common diagnostic tools include:

  • Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG): A blood test that is taken after a period of fasting for at least 8 hours, usually in the morning. A fasting blood glucose of greater than or equal to 126 mg/dl meets the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis. 
  • Hemoglobin A1c: A blood test that provides a longer term understanding of blood glucose control as it assesses average blood sugar levels over the past three months. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is diagnosed at an A1c of greater than or equal to 6.5%.
  • Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): A test that checks blood sugars before and two hours after drinking approximately 75g of glucose. If blood glucose is greater than or equal to 200 mg/dl after the two-hour period, this test result can be used to diagnose diabetes. 

Signs of Diabetes

Being mindful of your health and how you are feeling on a daily basis is extremely important.

Here are a few common signs that could indicate the need to see your health provider for a fasting plasma glucose or Hgb A1c blood test.

  • Any random blood sugar over 200 mg/dL
  • Any fasting blood sugar over 126 mg/dL
  • A1c > or = 6.5%
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Blurry Vision
  • Fatigue

Screening

Screening is recommended starting at age 45 for anyone with BMI >25 and 1 or more of the following risk factors:

  • First degree relative with diabetes
  • Member of a high risk ethnic population
  • Habitual inactivity
  • Pre-diabetes
  • History of heart disease
  • HTN or BP >140/90
  • HDL<35
  • Triglycerides >250
  • History of GDM
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Acanthosis nigricans

Related: Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors: What You Need To Know

How Can Diabetes Be Managed?

There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. It is best to take a personalized approach and work with a team who can support you each step of the way. 

Below you will find different ways you can choose to manage your diabetes effectively.

As an additional resource, also consider reading my Ultimate Guide on How to Lower A1c to learn simple ways to stabilize blood sugars. 

Every individual is at a different stage of their diabetes journey, which is why we cannot expect that everyone will have the same treatment, medication or lifestyle plan.

Devices and Technology

Devices and technologies can be integrated with medication and/or lifestyle changes to help you reach your blood sugar goals. 

  • Blood glucose meters: These meters are also known as glucometers and are used to check blood sugar levels at home or on-the-go by pricking the fingertip and placing a small drop of blood onto a test strip. 
  • Continuous glucose monitors: Continuous glucose monitoring systems or CGMs offer a more comprehensive and real-time approach by utilizing sensors that have been inserted into the skin to measure levels continuously. 
  • Insulin pumps: A medical device for those that have been diagnosed with diabetes and also require insulin therapy. It is a programmable device that delivers a continuous and customizable supply of insulin through a tube inserted under the skin. The goal is to maintain stable blood sugars and administer doses at meals or to correct high blood sugar levels. 
  • Insulin pens: A portable medical device that is also designed for those living with diabetes that require insulin therapy. Insulin pens are loaded with insulin and dialed by an individual to deliver a dose determined by his/her care team. The pen offers a more convenient option to deliver insulin without the need for vials and syringes. 

Diabetes Care Team

A diabetes care team is certainly essential for diabetes management because it is this group of providers that should be working to support you each and every day. This team may include:

  • Endocrinologist
  • Nurse(s)
  • Registered Dietitian/Certified Diabetes Educator
  • Dentist
  • Podiatrist
  • Counselor
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Social Worker

Your diabetes care team should know your routine and challenges in life and be there to support you in finding your approach to diabetes management.

Treating Diabetes with Medication

Surprisingly, Type 2 diabetes can be treated with or without medication. Your health care professional should be the one advising the best option for you, based on your lab values and other comorbidities.

There are many classes of medications for diabetes. Different classes of medications work in different parts of your body, such as the kidneys, to control blood sugar.

Additionally, an Education Session with me can help you understand the specific medication you have been prescribed and how it is impacting your body.

Treating Diabetes with Lifestyle Changes 

It is no secret that exercise and proper nutrition are so important for your health.

However, it is extremely important that you work with your diabetes care team to determine the level of exercise needed for your body and the specific nutrition you need for blood sugar management.

Related: How To Set SMART Goals for Diabetes!

Exercise can be very effective in some people but not as effective with others. Some people do very well with a moderate amount of carbohydrates each day, whereas other people may get low blood sugars from the same amount of carbs.

Again, this is more evidence that there is indeed not a one-size-fits all approach to diabetes management.

Final thoughts

Finally, it is possible to live a fulfilling life with diabetes. This blog is meant to be a helpful resource that you can use at the start and throughout your journey to eliminate any confusion or frustration with diabetes management. 

Explore More

Flourish with Diabetes!

If you are ready to take the leap and transform your health, check out my Resources Page. I can help you grow & flourish with diabetes!

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Springtime Nutrition, LLC was founded on my passion to partner with individuals to eliminate the stress, frustration and overwhelm of changing their nutrition lifestyle. I am committed to supporting you at every step of your journey. Ready to transform your life?  Get started today!


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Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist/ Registered Dietitian/ Owner / Springtime Nutrition, LLC

Kari is a diabetes expert with more than 18 years of experience. Kari currently works as a diabetes educator with a large hospital system in Charleston, SC and is committed to improving the lives of people with any type of diabetes.

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