One of the hardest things about living with diabetes is making changes in your eating and exercise habits. Knowing the things you need to do—and even wanting to do them—may not always be enough to make them happen. A recent study focused on behavior change may have some keys that can be helpful in your life.
The study examined something called the self-determination theory. According to that theory, there are three basic needs that help us to start and maintain healthy behaviors:
1. A need for feeling like we determine and control our own behaviors.
2. A need to feel like we are good at what we do or are competent.
3. A need to feel understood and cared for by others.
If people believe those needs are being met, they are better able to make changes and have a greater sense of well-being, physical health and mental health.
THE NEED FOR CONTROL
One of the problems with making changes to better manage diabetes is that you may often feel as though these changes are decided by others. Healthcare providers—and even friends and family members—have a lot of advice about what you should eat, how often you should check your blood glucose or what type of medication you should take. It can feel like there are a lot of shoulds in diabetes.
The first step in making a change is to decide what is important to you and how changing your behavior will make it better or solve a problem in your life. Remember that this is your diabetes, not someone else’s.
Rating the importance to you on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being unimportant and 10 being very important, is a good way to understand your feelings and choose a first step. Starting with what is most important to you will increase your chances of being successful.
BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT
The study also found that the most important factor for success in changing behavior is the belief that you can succeed. If you don’t think you can do it, it’s easier to give up when things don’t go so well. It’s much harder to find the motivation to stick with a behavior over the long-term if you don’t believe in yourself. Rating your confidence on a scale of 1 to 10 is a good way to figure out how sure of yourself you are. If you cannot rate yourself at least a 7, try to figure out what you can do to raise your confidence level.
Rather than starting with changing your diet or exercise, you will be more successful if you start by making a plan to build up your belief in yourself. You may also decide that it’s not the right time to focus on a certain behavior. For example, if you’re finding it too hard to stop eating potato chips as a snack, choose another behavior that might be easier to work on (and that you feel confident that you can do), like going for a walk after dinner every night.
The third factor is to feel that others care about you. Your family, friends and other people with diabetes can help you feel supported as you manage diabetes and make changes in your lifestyle. It is also important that your healthcare team respects your right to make your own choices, helps you feel more confident and cares about you and your health. Finding support is important, especially as you begin to make changes to your eating plan or level of physical activity.
There is no magic trick to making changes in your lifestyle to manage your diabetes better and to improve your health. The keys to being successful are to choose what is important to you, to believe in yourself and to get the support you need.