Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
I wish I had a dime for every time I heard, “His A1c is high—he’s non-compliant,” as a nurse at the hospital where I work. It makes me wince. I always try to teach others that diabetes is difficult and high numbers have many sources.
Successfully living with diabetes is hard work, and consistently good results aren’t guaranteed. When a person with diabetes is viewed under a judgmental and cynical microscope, it’s painful. Isn’t it enough to fail ourselves, our ideals, and our expectations? Must we also fail others?
Rubbing salt into an open wound is never progress.
But it seems like self-control will always be needed to live healthfully with diabetes. Is there evidence of that? And how do we get better at it?
Research on self-control and diabetes
Research from the American Psychological Association found that “for adolescents with type 1 diabetes, maintaining optimal daily blood glucose control is a complex self-regulatory process that likely requires self-control.” One’s discipline acts as a buffer against negative results and their emotional aftermath.
It is nothing new. The idea of willpower versus succumbing to temptation is at least as old as Bible stories.
I would love to meet another human being who successfully resists temptation at every turn. Starbucks’ success taps into the very core of, “I know I shouldn’t, but . . .” (Whipped cream on top, please.)
Research published in the British Journal of Health Psychology began with the provocative assumption that “self-control is a finite resource that can be depleted.” The findings indicate that overexerting self-control may have negative implications for people with diabetes.
For many of us, living with diabetes means constantly restricting ourselves—demanding heightened levels of self-control. That could lead to difficulties with adherence and lapses in disease management. Overexerting self-control after “diabetes relapses” is commonplace, leading to burnout and more relapses.
Finding your happy place
Diabetes is a tricky disease. It challenges our willpower, with self-control at the center of disease control.
Echoing the research findings above, Chip and Dan Heath explain in the book Switch that “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” When someone is placed in a position where they have to constantly self-supervise or supervise another, it’s an exhausting process. So often, “non-compliance” is truly just exhaustion.
Researchers are finding that we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves when our efforts fall short, because willpower isn’t foolproof.
Finding time to eat healthfully, manage a busy life, get enough sleep, remember to put the garbage out—it’s all hard enough without managing a chronic disease too.
Pressure to succeed with a disease that has high stakes and dangerous complications is exhausting.
Which is why this brilliant statement by Brian Resnick in Vox resonated with me: “If we could stop worshiping self-control, maybe we could start thinking about diluting the power of temptation—and helping people meet their goals in new ways with less effort.”
So let’s reduce the need for diabetes self-control with ingenuity! Perhaps it’s making diabetes technology better, faster insulins, glucose-responsive insulins, or getting artificial pancreas technology into the hands of the masses.
And while you’re waiting for that, Resnick says simply forming healthy habits can make life easier—making good diabetes self-care more automatic. Why do things the hard way if there’s an easier way?
What helps you improve self-control for diabetes care? Share your best tip by commenting below.