Living With Diabetes: 9 Ways to Change Your Health Habits

You've just been diagnosed with diabetes, now what?

Medically reviewed in December 2022

You need to be flexible if you want to make new habits and a healthier lifestyle work long-term.
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It's Time to Make a Change

You've just been diagnosed with diabetes, now what? It's time to set some new healthy habits. Whether it's exercising more, losing weight, quitting smoking or remembering to take your medicine every day, it may seem like a daunting task. To make it easier, we've turned to behavior change experts Sheri D. Pruitt, PhD, John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, and Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH, for proven ways to motivate yourself, get back on your feet and live a healthy life after a diabetes diagnosis.

Medically reviewed in February 2021.

hope, acceptance, senior woman, beach
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Let the News of Diabetes Settle

According to Sharecare expert and author of Changeology, Dr. Norcross, "The first step after a diabetes diagnosis isn't to immediately plunge into action, because premature action born out of fear is likely to boomerang." So, catch your breath, take time to understand diabetes and get ready for changes to come. "It's important to push away from the negative with any scary diagnosis, and double your motivation by using that fear and drawing yourself towards a positive future. That positive future is weight maintenance where you will feel better, glucose maintenance where you can concentrate better and aren't so thirsty."

writing in a journal, making a list
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Set SMART Goals for Diabetes

If you want to succeed in changing behavior, have a strategy in mind. One key strategy is SMART: Set a goal; Monitor your progress; Arrange your environment; Recruit support and Treat yourself. Before you get smart, you need to motivate yourself, says Dr. Pruitt. "Answer these questions out loud: What are my reasons for wanting to manage diabetes? Why do I need to manage this condition? How much do I want to be healthy? These are just some of the questions we know from behavioral science that actually drive people's commitment to change their behavior."

family, brothers, support system, friends, hug, group hug
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Recruit Your Diabetes Support Team

Lean on your friends, family or online communities for support. "Find someone who wants you to be healthy, and let this person know how you need them to support you. Being accountable to someone beyond yourself is really powerful," according to Dr. Pruitt. Learning to take a new medication everyday is a new habit all people with diabetes need to form, so tell your support team about it. "Keep your pill box next to the coffee maker," says Dr. Pruitt, "Tell your support team, 'If you notice that I've skipped it, just remind me, or if you see that I've taken my medicine every day for a week, congratulate me.'"

appointment, calendar, schedule, routine
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Monitor Your Healthy Progress

If you try and track your progress in your head, it won't work. You need to write it down. "If you've set a goal to walk 30 minutes, 3 days a week, keep a calendar and mark down every time you go for a walk. It's a simple way to hold yourself accountable," says Dr. Pruitt. "What's measured is improved, so if your goal is to lose weight, keep a food diary as a way of self-monitoring," adds Dr. Norcross.

high five, workout, trainer, couple
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Give Yourself Healthy Rewards

"Remember grandma's law: First you work, then you play," says Dr. Norcross. Rewarding yourself for a job well done can be something immediate, a free-pass on a future chore or even a night out with friends, adds Dr. Norcross. You can also treat yourself by choosing healthy lifestyle habits that you enjoy. "If you find something punishing, it's not likely you'll do it," says Dr. Pruitt. "So there's something to be said for choosing an exercise that you somewhat enjoy. And at the end of the exercise, treat yourself. The treat can be in your head—just silently award yourself for a job well done."

woman running outdoors
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Focus on Why You Want to Change

Dr. Segar, Associate Director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls, says to focus on the Why, the How and the Do when trying to make sustainable behavioral changes. The "Why" is incredibly important, as Dr. Segar says, "It determines our quality and level of motivation for persisting in the behavior." So, if you've been recently diagnosed with diabetes, your "Why" could be to simply live healthier with diabetes. But if you focus on something more specific, such as the energy you'll feel if you exercise more and eat healthily, you will receive far more motivation to succeed.

tying shoes, tracker, fitness tracker
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Make Change Your Top Priority

Once you find the right reason to change your behavior, the "How" comes next. "Imagine a 50 year old woman who is trying to lose weight, but is on a plateau after two months. How important is exercise really in her daily life if the purpose is to lose weight, but she's not seeing results and is juggling work and kids?" says Dr. Segar. "If the purpose for exercising is actually more energy, which makes you happy and helps you focus, it's more compelling. The 'how' phase of the behavior change is making that behavior purpose (energy) a priority within all of your other priorities on a daily basis."

changing shoes, sneakers, heels
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Be Ready for a Change of Plans

The last phase of your behavior change, according to Dr. Segar, is "Do." Bottom line: You need to be flexible if you plan on making these lifestyle changes stick. "If you set up black and white portions of your time, you'll fail. Life happens. For example, it's noon and I had an appointment at 3 p.m., so I thought I would fit a walk in over my lunch break. Making these lifestyle changes is all about being creative and understanding that what you'd planned to do may not happen, so learning how to improvise is really helpful." Missed your 20 minute walk? Settle for two 10 minute walks on breaks, instead.

man resting in bed
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Remember, Nobody's Perfect

Let's face it: Slip-ups and setbacks are bound to happen whenever you start a new habit. "This isn't about being perfect," says Dr. Pruitt. "It's okay to miss an exercise day every once in a while. Just don't let yourself go more than three days without exercising. When you drift back to your old ways, you need to catch yourself and get back on track to your SMART skills." Remember, every day is a new day to get up and make a change.

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