Toby Smithson, MS, LD, RDN, CDE, lives with type 1 diabetes and is a diabetes lifestyle expert, author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, AADE ’16 and ’17 Planning Committee member, and a contributor to T2diabetes.com. She also writes a diabetes-focused column for U.S. News and World Report.
Distraction. The Oxford Dictionary definition nails the idea perfectly as “a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.”
Distraction and competing priorities are, as you surely know, a normal part of life these days, but distractions often contribute to de-railing blood glucose control. Diabetes self-management adds a list of new, very important responsibilities to our daily lives that are unwanted, unfamiliar, inconvenient, and even “unnatural.” Staying focused on diabetes management can be very difficult.
Fortunately, there’s a solution: practicing “mindfulness” in our daily diabetes self-management routine can help with blood glucose management, keeping our diabetes in control. Science-based research has shown if we are fully present—fully aware of our present moment and actions—we will make healthier choices, whether it be food, monitoring and correcting blood glucose levels, making time for physical activity, taking medications as prescribed, or dealing with diabetes distress. Mindfulness helps us prioritize responsibilities and get in tune with our body’s physical cues to guide our decisions about self-care.
Mindlessness—doing without thinking—is the opposite of mindfulness. Now, mindlessness isn’t all bad. For example, we are fortunate that we don’t have to consciously remember to take every breath or to place one foot in front of the other with every step. Habits are mindless behaviors, and many habits, like looking before crossing a street, are very good ones. But when diabetes adds new responsibilities to our habitual daily life or requires that we make significant changes to a mindless behavior like eating, things can get tricky. Emotions influence decision-making, old habits are hard to break, and even our biology can work against us, such as the primitive (and mindless) urge to eat. Many people find themselves struggling with even the simplest demands of diabetes management, like taking prescribed medication on schedule. We don’t have to fully understand how mindlessness interferes with diabetes management—we just need to recognize that it does and be willing to try mindfulness as a solution.
If the concept of “mindfulness” sounds like hocus pocus to you, don’t judge too fast. The truth is that there are simple and practical ways to be more mindful about diabetes, and anything that can help preserve your health is worth a closer look. Try these simple tips, and see if your diabetes self-management doesn’t improve.
Mindful eating practice tips:
- Plan your meals and snacks in advance
- Don’t deprive yourself; eat what you love in reasonable portions
- Eat slowly; chew your food completely before swallowing
- Notice your body’s sensations before, during, and after eating
Mindful blood glucose (BG) monitoring practice tips:
- Review patterns of your BGs and discuss these with your healthcare provider and CDE
- Use BG monitoring as an investigative tool for getting BGs at or near target ranges (as a curiosity and not as a fear)
Diabetes-related distress practice tips:
- Reverse your thinking—you control diabetes, diabetes doesn’t control you
- You get to exercise instead of you have to exercise
- Use positive words when referring to your diabetes, such as monitoring your blood glucose instead of testing your blood glucose
- Refer to yourself as a person with diabetes instead of a diabetic. You are a person who happens to have a chronic condition, but diabetes isn’t the description of who you are.