Managing Diabetes at Work

By Allison Kolk, Assistant Writer

About 23.6 million Americans (8 percent of the population) have diabetes and another 57 million have pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but they are not high enough to warrant a type 2 diagnosis. In 2007, 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people 20 years old or older. The effects of diabetes are far reaching, especially in the workplace. It’s estimated that 15 million work days were missed in 2007 because of diabetes.

Living with diabetes can be a challenge. However, there are many things that people with diabetes can do to live healthy, productive and fulfilling lives. Successfully managing diabetes involves eating right and exercising regularly. The American Diabetes Association says that people with pre-diabetes who lose 10-15 pounds can delay the development and/or significantly reduce their risk of developing diabetes. The question remains: how do you fit this into an already hectic work day? Good news! This is not as difficult as it seems. By making simple changes in your daily routine you can make a big difference.

The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to start walking more. Lora Yoakum, RN, and diabetes coordinator at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, encourages people to wear pedometers in order to reach the recommended 10,000 steps a day. A study conducted by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine showed that when people wore a pedometer, their overall physical activity increased by 27%.

“Getting more activity in your day can be as simple as setting aside two or three days to take a brisk, 30 minute walk during your lunch break,” Yoakum says.

You also can incorporate these other tips.

  1. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk to the entrance.
  2. Instead of calling or e-mailing co-workers, walk over to where they sit.
  3. Take a walk instead of eating during your coffee break.
  4. If possible, walk or bike to work.


Finally, if your company has a gym, then working out at work becomes even easier. Get some co-workers to work out with you for 30 minutes a day every work day. Ask if your company offers an incentive plan for working out regularly at its facility or what types of things they are doing to promote employee health. Yoakum says that some corporate partners (for example, Clayton Homes and Pilot) offer rewards such as monetary bonuses, TVs and contributions for employees who work out in the company gym on a regular basis.

Don’t forget though, all of the exercise in the world won’t make a difference if you’re not eating properly. It’s important to work with your care team to develop a healthy eating plan that is best for you. It’s possible to have great tasting food that also is good for you. Check out the Healthy Living recipe page for yummy and healthy lunch ideas.

What about office birthday and holiday parties? Sweets are not completely out of the question, but it is important to pay attention to portion sizes. Here are a few simple things to remember to help you enjoy these gatherings. 

  1. Watch your portion sizes – “As a general rule, the palm of your hand can serve as a guide for the size of one serving,” Yoakum says. “Use this simple guide to know how much of each type of food you should fill your plate with.” Small changes can help, for example, when cake is being served eat only half the portion given to you.
  2. Be careful of sugary drinks – Yoakum points out that, “people have the misconception about drinks and liquids in general. They think that liquids will just pass right through them, but that is not the case at all. Liquids can pack on the sugar and weight just as easily as poor portion control.” Take a drink such as sweet tea. It sounds off limits for someone with Type II diabetes right? Not necessarily. Yoakum says that drinking your tea as a mixture of half sweet and half unsweet can make a big difference. However, even natural juices such as orange juice should be consumed in moderation. The serving size for juice is about 4-6 oz. You also can bring a bottle of water with you to such office events.

    For a party drink sure to please, try the recipe for Holiday Spiced Tea.
  3. Think twice before grabbing dips and dressings – Cut veggies are a great thing to eat at these parties, right? Yes, but Yoakum warns about the hidden pitfalls of dips and dressings. “Like everything else on your plate, you need to be careful of portion control when reaching for dips and dressings. For example, 1 Tablespoon of Ranch Dressing has 15 grams of saturated fat,” Yoakum explains. “Eating too much of this won’t create an immediate problem, but eating too much saturated fat will cause problems in the long run.”

    Instead of dip, try the recipe for Roasted Garlic and Balsamic Vinaigrette.


With proper diabetes management you can live a healthy, active and fulfilling life. So, on your next coffee break grab some co-workers and take a few laps around the office. Chances are you’ll feel better after moving around and chatting with friends.

To schedule an appointment with a doctor, call toll-free 1.877.UT.CARES (1.877.882.2737).

American Diabetes Association
Mayo Clinic
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease