Is it possible to change our habits when we are older? Some say it is not.
But when we are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, we are told we need to change. We hear that our sedentary lives and Western diets of fast food and processed meals may have brought on the condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one out of every three adults will have diabetes by 2050 if current trends continue. Most lay the blame for Type 2 diabetes squarely on our diet and exercise habits.
If so, how do we change? How do we make changes that will stay?
Here are some mistakes that I have made while trying to change, and what I should have done instead.
First, I tried everything at once. When you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, fear can push you in all directions.
What I needed to do was learn what diabetes is. Change begins with understanding. What is diabetes? What made it grow into an epidemic so suddenly? On a personal level, what has it done to you?
Learning what Type 2 diabetes means to your metabolism and what helps your body fight back, you begin to see your way. You can decide what you are ready to change right now.
It helps to understand how the new medicines you are taking will affect you. What can you expect from them? For instance, while they are protecting against complications and helping control blood glucose, sometimes they make it harder to reach weight goals.
Diabetes education helps you understand why exercise and a healthful diet are your best weapons against the complications of Type 2 diabetes.
My second mistake was to make unrealistic goals. I wanted to reverse the diagnosis by losing a lot of weight. All at once. A few crazy diets later, I was worse off than ever.
Behavior modification experts say that before you try to change, you need to make goals. Yes, but those goals need to be realistic.
As each small goal is reached, it builds on the ones before. That is how change happens for most of us.
So write down the things you would like to change. Do not say “I want to get to my perfect body-mass index.” That is a great goal but you may never reach it. Instead, you might say you want to lose ten pounds in three months, or one pound in two weeks.
Training for a marathon is a goal, but it may not be feasible for you or me. A better goal for permanent change in my life has been to do some sort of exercise for 30 minutes five times a week.
Reaching goals keeps you motivated. Once one is reached, simply make new ones. Success piled on success is a great motivator.
One thing that has helped me most as I have tried to become more active has been to make changes in my environment. Adding a piece of exercise equipment to my office area makes it a constant reminder of the need to change.
You could add some pictures or change what you wear. Dress for what you know you will need to do. Wearing exercise clothes actually helps motivate me. Do whatever works for you.
One of the most important things you can do as you try to change is to find someone to do it with you. A good friend will help you stay on track. The worst thing you can do is to keep your desire to change a private thing.
The number one mistake we make is trying to change alone. We need help. It can make the difference between giving up and seeing lasting change.
Another fact I did not know: I was not aware of the need to plan how I would reward changes.
This was a serious oversight, since I have always used food as a reward. Planning how you will reward yourself for reaching the small goals you have set calls for some creativity and forethought.
Behavior modification experts agree that we can change if rewards are planned when short-term goals are met.
It may be as simple as telling friends what you did and getting that positive feedback.
Or you might try putting coins or marbles into a jar every time you exercise. Things you can see make positive rewards.
Because change takes time, you need to reward success in ways that do not include looking at your mirror or bathroom scales.
Before I ever started trying to change, I needed to ask myself some questions. The most important question I should have asked was, “Why?”
Why do you want to exercise? Is it to lose weight? What if you hit a plateau and do not lose anything for weeks? That happens to me a lot.
If you exercise because you want more energy, more focus, improved sleep, and better blood sugar control, those reasons will help you stay on track even if weight loss disappoints you.
Then ask yourself, “How?”
How will you accomplish your goals? This requires planning, and as you try things, the how can change. Some ideas just won’t work for you.
You also need to answer the question, “When?” When will you exercise? Plan or you will not do. But be flexible because unexpected things happen.
If you do not have 30 minutes in a single block today, try two 15-minute sessions. If the weather is bad for walking, think of something else you can do.
Finally, there is something I have often forgotten: You need to be kind to yourself as you make changes.
After developing Type 2 diabetes, we can be extremely hard on ourselves. Yes, we can change, but it will not happen in a day or a month. Do not let bad days and slip-ups pull you into depression.
Remember, trying to build better habits takes a long time. Be as consistent as you can, and never give up.
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” — Japanese proverb