Checking blood glucose is now so quick, easy, and relatively painless — and the information you can obtain is so valuable — that you would think everybody would be monitoring regularly. But this is far from true. If you don’t check your blood glucose as often as you should, you aren’t the only one. An American Diabetes Association survey found that 21% of adults with Type 1 diabetes never checked their blood glucose. Of those with insulin-treated Type 2 diabetes, 47% never monitored. And among those with Type 2 diabetes who were not using insulin, 76% never checked.
It’s possible that some people never monitor because their doctors never told them to. But even people who do receive instructions to monitor don’t always follow doctor’s orders. In two studies, my colleagues and I found that approximately one-quarter of the people we interviewed followed their doctor’s recommendations for monitoring less than half the time.
If monitoring is so easy and valuable, why do so many people find it difficult? Is it a lack of willpower? A deeper psychological problem? As it turns out, the answer is more straightforward: People stop checking their blood glucose levels when they begin to believe the whole process involves a lot of hassles and few benefits. They may not even be aware of having these beliefs. But even subconscious beliefs have a powerful influence on motivation and behavior.
There is no doubt that blood glucose monitoring hassles abound. There seem to be lots of good reasons — some big, some small, and some silly — to hate checking your blood glucose. Here are the top 10 reasons not to monitor:
1. Your meter makes you feel bad about yourself. You may have realized, to your dismay, that your meter results have become the way you judge your own self-worth. Whether you feel like a good person or a terrible person depends on your blood glucose levels.
When you see a high blood glucose reading, do you realize that it is just a number? Or do you imagine that your meter is speaking to you: “What did you do wrong this time?” or “Another high blood sugar? You are such a loser!” When you “hear” these messages from your meter, you are no longer aware of the actual reading, nor are you considering what action to take. Instead, you just feel bad about yourself. You might have had a terrific day in all other ways, but one unwanted number can ruin it all.
Part of the trouble is that blood glucose monitoring is often referred to as “testing.” And the word “test” can lead you to consider the resulting number a grade. Depending on the number that appears on your meter, you have either passed or failed. If you have high blood glucose levels frequently, this can become a big problem. Your meter may seem like a critic who is constantly telling you that you are a failure. Not surprisingly, you may soon want to end this relationship. One of the most common ways to do this is to put the meter away in a drawer where it can’t make you feel bad anymore.
2. Monitoring seems pointless. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were extremely overweight and your doctor’s major recommendation was that you look at yourself in a full-length mirror three times a day. How annoying! This wouldn’t help you to lose any weight.
Many people think about blood glucose monitoring in the same way: “Why bother checking? It’s always high anyway!” If you don’t know how to use the information from your meter to adjust your diabetes-care regimen, then it is easy to believe that the whole monitoring process is a big waste of time. This is especially frustrating if you’ve been working hard to manage your blood glucose and you are still getting crazy results, blood glucose levels that seem to rise and fall for no reason whatsoever. If that’s what you get for your efforts, it almost seems sensible not to bother checking at all.