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Adopting Healthier Habits
How to Get Started and Follow Through

by Rita Carey Rubin, MS, RD, CDE, and Bill Rubin, MS

As a person with diabetes, you have probably thought a lot about your lifestyle and how it might affect your health. You are likely aware that a balanced diet, regular exercise, and daily stress management can help you manage your blood glucose levels and avoid many of the complications of diabetes. But if these healthy habits are not already established parts of your lifestyle, it may take more than knowledge and good intentions to adopt and maintain them.

If you are having difficulty making and sustaining changes in your lifestyle, there are a number of resources and tools you might turn to for help. Diabetes educators are often skilled at a variety of coaching techniques and can help people overcome some challenges. Books and Internet resources offering guidance and support abound, as do therapists of various types who counsel individuals through personal obstacles toward making lasting changes. You might check out a number of different resources to find what helps you the most. Here are a few ideas and tips to think about as you get started.

Celebrate past successes
Many people doubt their ability to adopt new habits, especially if they have had difficulty making and sustaining changes in the past. If your confidence is low, it may help you to remember any milestone or goal you have accomplished and the steps you took to achieve success. You may have, for example, made big changes to raise your grandchildren, give up smoking, or go back to school. Alternatively, you may have changed your habits just enough to walk a mile every night after dinner. Remind yourself of the big changes you have made as well as the small, then give yourself proper credit and a big pat on the back. Ask yourself a few questions about the changes you have made. Why did you decide to do things differently? What motivated you to change and to stick with a new lifestyle? Who did you turn to for support? The answers to these questions may help you adopt new habits today.

According to Dan Heath and Chip Heath, authors of the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, many people remember failures in life more vividly than achievements. But if you focus only on past failures, or on what is not working in your life today, you may doubt your ability to make and sustain changes, and that doubt may seriously dampen your enthusiasm to try anything new. Therefore, when facing new challenges and considering how you might approach them, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges you have already overcome. Remember that what you did is less important than the steps you took along the way.

Involving heart and mind
How many times have you heard people say they “know” they should do something to improve their health or their lives, then not do it? Why do you suppose this is? It could be that knowledge isn’t enough: Emotion, or some involvement of the heart, is often needed to get people to actually do something about the change they know they need to make.

As you reflect on the lifestyle changes you have already made, notice how knowledge and emotion influenced your actions. Did the motivation to alter your habits or plans generally arise from your head (your logical side) or your heart (your emotional side)? It is likely that one side or the other initiated the desire to change, but in the end, you probably needed both your head and your heart to make the change occur and stick.

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