Adopting better lifestyle habits

Successfully changing lifestyle habits is a huge victory

A diabetes diagnosis can turn your life upside down and force you to re-examine how you live if you want to stay healthy and properly manage your diabetes. Sudden lifestyle changes are not without their challenges.

Some people will find it challenging to incorporate medication or insulin injections into their daily lives. Others will find it a challenge to change their diet, motivate themselves to get more active or apply better stress-management methods.

Change is defined as sustainable modification to a behaviour or habit. Whatever needs to be modified, change generally follows the same route. Understanding the key stages can help you achieve your goals.

The stages of change:

Precontemplation

At this stage, you are quite resistant to change. You don’t understand why you need to change and have no intention of doing so. This is the time to take responsibility and gradually consider the change.

The more informed you are about the consequences of the disease and your current lifestyle, the more you will be prepared to make changes.

Contemplation

At this stage, you are less resistant to change. You embrace the idea of change over the medium term, but see more disadvantages than benefits in adopting new behaviors. For example, “If I take my blood glucose (sugar) readings before bed, my husband will be less worried, but it hurts, it’s expensive and I won’t be able to sleep after I get the result.”

What’s important at this stage is to tip the scale toward the benefits rather than the drawbacks. Making a list of pros and cons will help you move on to the next stage.

Before you can permanently change a behaviour or habit, you first need to change your beliefs, intentions, attitude, etc.

Preparation

At this stage, you are getting ready to take some concrete action. You buy your blood glucose meter, you register for an exercise program or you cut down to 3 cigarettes per day. You intend to adopt a new behaviour in the near future (30 days). This is the time to clarify your goals and find the resources that will ensure you achieve them.

Action

You adopt the desired attitude but you sometimes revert to old habits. For example, you take your blood glucose readings four times per day, but stop after a month and start again three weeks later. At this stage, encouragement and praise from your family and friends are very important. This is also the time to reward yourself for your successes.

There are no small victories: any progress deserves recognition. Walking to the corner store can represent a huge effort for someone who is very sedentary.

Maintenance

You have reached the maintenance stage when you have stuck to the desired behaviour for at least 6 consecutive months. At this point, reverting to an earlier stage is less likely or of shorter duration. This can also be the time to contemplate making another change.

You can be at different stages depending on the different behaviours you want to change.

A few strategies to get luck on your side

  • Set your priorities and make only one or two changes at a time.
  • Set a goal using the S.M.A.R.T. method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based) and tweak when necessary.
  • Visualize the desired change.
  • Choose the right moment to act.
  • Ask for help and support when necessary.
  • Make a contract with yourself or another person.
  • Keep a diary.
  • Reward yourself for a success.
  • Encourage yourself when it gets tough.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes and have an action plan ready in case of temptation or relapse.
  • Be aware of the uncomfortable emotions that can accompany change, and express them.
  • Be kind to yourself.

Successfully changing lifestyle habits is a huge victory and brings a feeling or power and mastery over diabetes.

A few tricks to head off a relapse

  • Change the environment. For example: remove ashtrays from the sight of the future ex-smoker.
  • Find substitutes for undesirable behaviours. For example: carry a healthy snack to avoid buying junk food from a vending machine.
  • Circumvent barriers. For example: avoid restaurants where you tend to overeat, such as all-you-can-eat buffets.

 

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Team of Health Care Professionals

Scientific review: Dr. Alain Janelle, Psychologist

July 2014 (updated on July 2018)

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