For most people with type 1 diabetes, their diagnosis requires that they make many changes to their lifestyle routine. These changes include blood sugar checks, insulin injections, incorporating exercise and being attentive to what and how much they eat, among others. What makes it particularly difficult is that many of these adjustments need to become permanent.
You can’t make all of these changes simultaneously, but over time you can change habits and make them a part of your daily life. Here are some ways to make these transitions easier.
Learn as much as you can about diabetes
Though type 1 diabetes begins when your pancreas stops making enough insulin, it doesn’t only affect your pancreas. High blood sugar affects your entire body, most notably your eyes, kidneys, nerves, blood vessels and heart. The best way to fight diabetes is to learn as much as you can about how it works on your body and what you can do to effectively keep your blood sugar in reasonable control.
Make realistic goals for your diabetes management
Setting realistic goals for your diabetes management is critical to being able to make many of these lifestyle changes. The key word is "realistic." When you make a diabetes-related goal it needs to be what we call an optimal challenge. This means that it needs to be a goal that will not be too easy or too difficult. If it is too easy you won’t be motivated to achieve it. If it is too difficult or unrealistic for where you currently are, you will quickly become discouraged and quit. An achievable goal is one that stretches you just beyond what you are comfortable doing currently.
Your goals also need to be specific. The number one reason that goals fail is that they are not specific enough. For example, if your goal is to eat better, you need to break this down to explain exactly what you mean. Eating "better" might mean that you reduce your portion sizes, limit dessert to twice a week and start packing your lunch to work. The more specific your goal, the easier it is to make it happen.
Your goals also need to be measurable. How many days a week will you pack your lunch? What classifies as a reduced portion size? What type of dessert will you consider healthy and how much will you allow yourself to eat? When your goals are measurable you will be able to easily tell when you’ve achieved them. This builds momentum and motivation to continue with your goals.
Be proactive with your healthcare providers
Your healthcare team wants to help you manage your diabetes. But whether they say it or not, they expect you to do most of the work. You are the one who performs your blood checks, injects your insulin, prepares and eats your food, chooses to exercise and goes to medical appointments on schedule. Because you bear the majority of the workload you need to be proactive in finding and utilizing resources. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t get the answers you need, keep searching until you find the information you need. The way our healthcare system is evolving, it requires each person to be their own advocate.
Build a support network
Those people with diabetes who have a strong supportive group of people (family, friends and neighbors) around them do consistently better at managing their diabetes than those with weak support systems. The reason: Diabetes is a rigorous condition to manage, and anyone living with a chronic disease like diabetes needs extra amounts of encouragement and help from time to time.
Your family is the ideal place to start. Let them know what you need to manage your diabetes well. If family and friends are not the most supportive people in your life, reach out to find a diabetes support group in your geographic area or online.
Give yourself grace
Living with diabetes means that there are going to be good days and bad days. During the bad days, lighten up on yourself. You may need to readjust your expectations based on the circumstances in your life at any given time. When your blood sugars are consistently high or you are feeling burned out and tired of managing all that goes with diabetes, realize that these days are a normal part of living with this condition. If the bad days are more frequent than the hopeful days, it may be wise to seek out the help of a professional counselor familiar with diabetes to help you find that hope again.