*Dr. Gary McClain is a therapist, patient advocate and educator who works primarily with individuals facing chronic medical conditions to help them cope with the emotional side of their illness. In this series, Dr. Gary answers questions from the Diabetic Connect community about how to cope with the mental and emotional challenges of diabetes.
"Why can't I change my eating habits even though I know not doing so could result in my untimely death? Wanting to do so and actually implementing those changes are two drastically different things."
First, let’s start with the word “can’t.” That’s like telling yourself that the situation is already hopeless, so why bother to try? The more you say it, well, the more you make it a reality. Make friends with yourself, starting by showing yourself some compassion. Replace that scolding voice with one that’s more encouraging. Instead of “I can’t,” tell yourself “I can” and “I’m trying.” Willpower only goes so far.
Now, what about your toolkit? Changing your eating habits is a process. After all, our eating habits develop over many years. Understand what triggers unhealthy eating, including how your emotions may affect the way you eat. For example, eating can be a way of coping with feelings like anger or loneliness. Be mindful of when you are feeling the emotions that trigger unhealthy eating, and find some new ways to cope. Try talking to a friend, for example, or doing something you enjoy.
Non-compliance can be a wake-up call telling you it’s time for some adjustments, so it might be time to talk to your doctor or a diabetes educator about your diet plan. One size doesn’t fit all. Make sure you have one that works with your food preferences, your budget, and your lifestyle. Don’t set yourself up for an impossible task.
What about your support system? Ask for support from family members. Encouragement can go a long way toward helping you to stay on track. Make this a team effort. Repeat after me: I can do it! And then, power up with the right tools for the job!
Question 2: "I have a hard time not letting the numbers affect my mood. If they are good, I'm happy; if they aren't, I'm sad and grumpy and can go into a tail spin. Any advice on how to handle that?"
Diabetic self-care isn’t easy, and it’s only human to feel disappointment, sad and grumpy, at times. You’re human. So let’s start there. But what I’m hearing is, “if my numbers are good, then life is good. But if my numbers are bad, then life is terrible.” That’s called black and white thinking. Black and white thinking leaves you in that tailspin on the days when your numbers aren’t what you need them to be. And as the name implies, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for gray areas.
Sure, it’s important to manage your numbers from day to day. But on those days when your numbers aren’t ideal, how about being less hard on yourself? Take a step back and look at the big picture. Give yourself credit for those days when your numbers are right where you need them to be. Obviously, you’re doing something right. Maybe even doing a pretty good job.
And your reaction on those other days? Okay, so you’re disappointed. But how about shifting your viewpoint? Take a look at what might have caused your numbers to go south (or too far north). Is there a lesson here? A bad day can be an opportunity to learn, and to use that knowledge to have a better day tomorrow. Every day, recommit to doing the best possible job of taking care of yourself. Give yourself some encouragement. Resolve to do a better job tomorrow. Remind yourself that a bad day doesn’t mean the days ahead are going to be bad.