By David Cavan
Type 2 Diabetes is commonly referred to as a chronic, progressive condition that’s with you for life. In reality, it’s a disease that’s reversible; it’s not easy, but it’s possible. You’ve probably already heard from your consultant that it’s all about a healthy diet and an active lifestyle – and it is about these things – but there are many personal, motivational and psychological barriers to overcome too. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be offering some insights from the country’s foremost diabetes experts with one goal in mind: help as many people as possible to reverse their Type 2 Diabetes.
Week one: Motivation and habit
Type 2 Diabetes is almost always caused by obesity. And with obesity, usually, comes a certain habitual way of eating. It’s easy for a consultant to tell you that you need to ‘eat better’, and to even give you a list of things you can and can’t have. But the fact is: breaking habits is a challenge of itself. And while you’ve got to be the one that stands up to take ownership of your willpower, there are a number of things you can do to make your life a bit easier.
Extremes aren’t usually sustainable
People often gravitate towards a diet that’s going to give the most life-changing results as fast as possible. We’re impatient! But when eating unhealthy food or eating large portions is habitual, extreme diets like these are famously difficult to maintain. Usually, people will revert back to their old way of doing things before long, and constantly bouncing between heavy dieting and heavy eating is a good way to eat up time, stop progress, and prevent any lasting change.
The key is to find a diet that’s mindful of your eating habits, and eases you step by step into a regime that lasts. For example, if someone’s diet consisted entirely of burgers, fries, and soft drinks, immediately replacing everything with water and a salad would end up being very short lived indeed. It would be much better to replace each soft drink with a water, and something that’s naturally part of your meal routine. Then you can tackle the fries. And then the burger. By gradually making a diet habitual, it’s far more likely to stick.
People like progress
People look for the quick-fix first because progress is both satisfying and validating. If you’ve put a lot of effort into losing say, five pounds, there’s something of a rush in succeeding. But, as we’ve talked about above, even though the quick-fix seems like a surefire way to get that successful feeling, it’s actually more likely to fail than slower, more stable options. With this being the case, it’s important to emphasise and celebrate the small victories in a long-term diet.
Things like monitoring your weight every day (and getting annoyed when you’ve not lost the weight you wanted!), treating yourself for a disciplined week or month, and charting successful days on a calendar will all contribute to making your diet a kind of game. A long game. A long game that you want more than anything to win.
Bad habits are rituals
Very often – particularly with snacking – foods are associated with certain activities, feelings, or times of the day. For instance, some people get home from work and sit down with a bowl of cereal; not because they’re hungry necessarily, but because they’re used to doing it. The same thing goes for that large morning latte from the coffeeshop down the road; you could probably wait until you get to the office, but you won’t more often than not, because it’s ingrained in your routine.
We look to these habit-fulfilling things as they satisfy certain needs in us. The key is understanding what triggers the desire for that between-meals bowl of cereal or too-large coffee, and discovering what the root cause is. Perhaps it’s boredom; perhaps it’s stress. In any event, bad habits are never truly eliminated, as James Clear tells us, they are replaced. So once we know what triggers our desire for something, we simply need to find a healthier alternative that also sates that need. To illustrate, if we find out that our evening cereal helps us to indulge and unwind after a stressful day at work, it could be that there’s a less sugary alternative that does the same thing, as well as stress-relieving activities like listening to the right kind of music, or watching TV.