When someone gets a diagnosis of diabetes, the first question often is, “What can I do?” Patients want to know what changes they can make to better manage their diabetes. Often, the answer is that you can make lifestyle changes, like exercising more and improving your diet. These changes, however, can often be easier said than done.
Breaking the Habits of a Lifetime
To make lifestyle changes, you have to change your habits. This can be challenging, because you may have built up some of these habits over a lifetime, but it’s not impossible.
The first step is to understand how habits form. There are three steps. Step one is a cue that tells your brain to do something. The second step is the behavior itself. The third step is the reward you get from performing the behavior.
If you want to form a healthy habit, you’ll need to determine what your cue will be. You know what the behavior is – that’s the healthy habit you’re trying to instill. Then, you’ll need a reward.
Putting Your Plan Into Action
Here’s an example. One of the key habits you want to develop if you’ve recently gotten a diabetes diagnosis is to get more exercise. Let’s decide you’ll walk for half an hour to start. You’ll need a cue to lace up those sneakers and get on the treadmill.
If you are used to watching the local news for half an hour every day at 6:00, set up your treadmill so you can see the TV from it, and take your walk while you’re watching the news. Your cue to start walking is the beginning of the news.
Just as the news begins, get on your treadmill and start walking. Keep going until the news is over. Time spent on a treadmill can get a little boring, so watching the news at the same time can be a nice distraction.
Developing an Appropriate Reward System
Now you need to reward yourself for taking your walk. This part can get a little tricky because, for many people, the idea of a reward is synonymous with food. But you’re also trying to watch what you eat, so you’ll have to come up with another reward. Perhaps you can keep track of the number of days you accomplished your new habit, and when you’ve reached a certain number of days, treat yourself to a shopping trip or a movie.
After a month or two, you will have gotten into the habit of walking for half an hour a day. Next, you can develop healthier eating habits, another change you’ll want to make if you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes. Use the same three steps – cue, behavior, reward.
To increase your chances of succeeding at making this new behavior a habit, here are some tips.
Focus on one habit at a time. You may be trying to get more exercise and eat healthier at the same time, but focus on one goal first to make it a habit. Once it’s second nature, move to the other goal.
Be positive. Your new habits will make you a stronger, healthier person, so focus on that. Don’t think of it as depriving yourself of your favorite foods or forcing yourself to exercise.
Forming new habits like daily exercise and healthy eating will help you better manage your diabetes or another chronic disease.