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Why My A1C Isn’t My Only Type 2 Diabetes Goal

It seems like once I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, everything having to do with my health got reduced to a single number. My A1C, to be precise.

Is glucose the only thing that matters?

Every 3 months or so, I had a blood draw, and the conversation afterward with my doctor always started with the A1C test result. What was my number? Did it go up or down? Was it on target? It seemed like my glucose level was the only thing that mattered.

All the same, I had a sneaky suspicion that really wasn't the case.

Life with type 2 diabetes is more than just a number

My A1C came down with a combination of medication and changes to my health habits. After 18 months, my A1C was cut by nearly half, and I was within spitting distance of the "target" (as defined by the American Diabetes Association's Standards of Care).

The thing was, I wasn't feeling all that good, even with that dramatic improvement in my A1C level.

How I felt when my A1C was within target

A lot of the time, I felt lightheaded, like I was having a hypo (hypoglycemia). Apparently my body was used to operating at higher glucose levels and was signaling that to me.

My energy levels also stayed low. Eating less and lighter fare wasn't giving my body enough fuel. And I wasn't losing any weight.

I could keep focusing my efforts on bringing my A1C down further, but was that really the best thing for me to do?

What makes for a quality of life with type 2 diabetes?

As I thought about how focusing so stringently on my A1C affected the rest of my life, I realized that keeping such a narrow focus wasn't suitable for my overall health.

Concentrating only on my numbers and checking off all the tasks needed to keep them on target was draining. It drained me of energy, and, more importantly, it drained me of joy. It left me frustrated and feeling like a failure.

Experiencing burnout

I was burning out. My motivation to stay on top of my health slipped away. Managing diabetes felt like an impossible task. I wasn't feeling any of the energy and vitality I expected to get from being in range. Worst yet, I began to doubt whether my efforts were, in fact, worth continuing.

I felt like I had little quality of life. The things that used to be enjoyable only brought stress. And I started to ask myself what was truly important to me regarding my health.

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Shifting my diabetes management goals

It became clear to me that many ways diabetes health is measured are out of my control. Take glucose levels, for example. I can eat, exercise, and take medication to stay in range. But I cannot be certain of the results. Everything from hormone levels and stress to the time of day can affect glucose levels, resulting in a higher or lower reading than expected.

Things that brought me enjoyment became problematic. Too much of some enjoyable things, like food or drink, could undermine my efforts.

Define what works for you

I was ready to make some trade-offs. Yes, I moderate what I eat and drink, but that doesn't mean I've eliminated things that might be seen as "bad" by some. Yes, I exercise, and for me, that means walking comfortably, not forcing myself to work up a sweat. And yes, I weigh the cost of treatment choices (like getting a CGM) against the results I'm currently getting before deciding when to spend more.

Achieving more satisfaction while managing type 2 diabetes

I've settled on a daily routine that keeps my overall health in a good place. My A1C and other health readings are steady. I've eliminated extreme efforts and practices that were adding to my mental stress and not necessarily supporting my overall health.

It came down to quality of life for me. What good is it to have great lab results if all I felt was weak, tired, and stressed?

I'm curious: how have you struck a balance in your own diabetes management to get the quality of life you want?

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