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What is TEEL? A simple way to manage your diabetes.

You may have noticed that we keep mentioning TEEL as the simple way to manage your diabetes. But what is it?

teel how to manage diabetes eat healthy

The most important diabetes education

In 2020, we decided to get to the bottom of diabetes education and figure out exactly what we need to know – and nothing more. To do that, we asked all kinds of diabetes experts – endocrinologists, dieticians, researchers, academics, behavioural scientists, doctors – to tell us the most important information that they wish all diabetics in South Africa knew.

And guess what? It was all pretty much the same. Everyone said it differently, of course, but it boiled down to 4 golden rules for diabetes.

Are you ready?

All you have to remember to manage your diabetes is: TEEL. T – E – E – L.

Sweet Life Diabetes Community
  • T is for Take your medication
  • E is for Eat healthy food
  • E is for Exercise, a little every day, and
  • L is for Lose weight if you need to.

Why we need TEEL

The goal with TEEL is to lay a foundation so that we all speak the same language. Everyone in South Africa who is talking about diabetes – whether you’re a doctor or a nurse or someone living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, let’s all just get the basics right. Let’s make one small change, today, that will lead to a bigger change tomorrow if we do it again, and a bigger change the next day. It’s like building with Lego.

Simple, right? Except that each of the four things is so difficult to do… So we dug a little deeper and came up with the most helpful tips for taking medication, eating healthy, figuring out exercise and losing weight. There is one big tip for each that you can do today and that will make a difference to your diabetes management.

Golden TEEL tips

Let’s start with T: Take your medication. If you’re living with Type 2 diabetes, you might not be taking medication – in that case you only have to remember EEL: Eat healthy, Exercise a little every day, and Lose weight if you need to.

Other people with Type 2 will be taking tablets – usually metformin. And then others will be on insulin injections. Wherever you are, that’s where you are. Each one of us is different and our bodies need different things at different times. So work with your doctor to figure out what you need right now, and keep doing that.

If you’re taking metformin, you might have noticed that it gives you an upset tummy – diarrhea is a common side effect. Here’s what endocrinologist Prof Joel Dave has to say. You can talk to your doctor about taking a lower dose or take the long-acting form of metformin (it’s not available in public clinics though).

Take your metformin after dinner. That gives your body time to absorb it while you sleep. So, when you set the table for dinner, put your tablet next to your knife and fork – that way you won’t forget about it. One small tip, one big difference.

For Type 1 diabetics, the most helpful tip we have is to rotate your injection sites. What does that mean? It means: inject into a new spot every day. You might not know it, but if you inject into the same area over and over, it can lead to something called lipohypertrophy – lumps and bumps under the skin. If you inject into these spots, your insulin doesn’t get absorbed properly, and you could be losing as much as 25% of your dose. A quarter of your insulin, just not working!

Healthy eating tip

Next up is E: Eat healthy food. All you have to do is eat half a plate of green, leafy vegetables with lunch and dinner.

If you have a normal sized plate, and you fill half of it with green, leafy vegetables, there’s not much space for other stuff. It’s a great first step. Choose from salad, broccoli, spinach, cucumber, cabbage, peas and green beans,  gem squash, courgettes. Some vegetables aren’t green but still fit into this category because they don’t have any carbs or starch in them – things like tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mushrooms, peppers, cauliflower, onions… You can’t include potatoes, sweet potatoes or butternut in this half a plate, I’m afraid. They are all carbs, or starch.

If all you do is increase the amount of vegetables you eat at lunch and dinner – nothing else! – you will already be doing your diabetes management big favours.

Exercise tip for TEEL

Then it’s E: Exercise, a little every day.

If you haven’t found exercise that you enjoy, I know this can seem like hard work. And when something feels like hard work, it’s easy to put it off. And then suddenly you haven’t exercised in months. To make sure that doesn’t happen, here’s our one golden tip. Are you ready?

Go for a 30 minute walk around the block, every day. That’s it!

You might not have 30 minutes a day. In that case, find 20 minutes – anyone can find 20 minutes. Either wake up earlier or have a walking meeting instead of sitting down or meeting a friend for coffee, you can even take your kids with you for your 20 minute walk. If you decide this is something you’re going to do, you’ll find a way to make it happen. 

Exercise is like a superpower for diabetes. It can help you lose weight, if you need to. It can help your body use insulin better. And it can make you feel better – happier and more energetic.

Weight loss tip

And finally L: Lose weight if you need to.

This is a hard one. But it’s so important! If you’re overweight, losing weight is the number one thing you can do to help control your blood sugar. It lets the insulin released by your body work much better, it lowers insulin resistance, it’s good for your cholesterol, it’s good for your blood pressure. If only it wasn’t so hard to do!

Our number one tip? Start small. You want to build good habits that can make a big difference over time. These good habits are things we’ve already mentioned – eating half a plate of green vegetables for lunch and dinner, exercising a little every day. So we just want to add one more to this: drink lots of water. Cut out all fizzy drinks and juices, and try to drink 8 glasses of water a day.

So that’s it: how to manage your diabetes using TEEL. What do you think – is it possible? We think it is… one step at a time. Let us know how it’s going on Diabetic South Africans on Facebook, or below.

Would you rather listen to this information?

Here’s an episode of our podcast about it!

What to read next?

Take your diabetes medication: All the expert medication tips you need to stop diarrhea and make injecting easier.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

Exercise, a little every day: The ultimate guide to diabetic exercise, including how to make it fun!

How to lose weight with diabetes: Expert tips to help you succeed.

Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.