How To Stay On Track With Your Type 2 Diabetes Goals

If you have type 2 diabetes, you know that good management of your condition is a crucial part of staying healthy and preventing related health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, foot and eye damage, and sexual and bladder problems. And as with other chronic health conditions, a key to successfully manage your type 2 diabetes is to set targeted goals for yourself, whether they involve strategies to lose weight, eat a healthy diet, or keep your blood sugar in an optimal range.

Remember: Type 2 diabetes is progressive disease, and over time you may need to make changes to your management and treatment plan to maintain control of the condition. Having defined goals can help make it easier for you to take any necessary adjustments.


SMART Goals for Diabetes Management

If you’ve been struggling to meet your blood sugar or A1C goals or have been told to make changes to your type 2 diabetes management plan, it may be time to set new goals for yourself. A great way to remember what kind of goals you’ll want to establish is to use the apt acronym SMART as your guide. As you work with your diabetes healthcare team to plan your goals, try to keep in mind these criteria:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

This means your goals should be specific, achievable, and realistic in the time frame you desire. For example, “If the goal is weight loss and let’s say you weigh 250 pounds and you want to lose 100 pounds in the next three months,” says Marlisa Brown, RDN, CDCES, a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES). “No matter what you do, most likely you’re going to fail.”

And rather than having a general goal like wanting to lose five pounds in a week, you can work with your diabetes care team to make specific diet and exercise changes such as walking or biking for 30 minutes each day, eating a certain amount of calories, or boosting fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains in your meals and snacks to work toward weight loss. “Don’t say ‘I want to lose five pounds this week,’ suggests Martha M. Funnell, RN, CDE, a nurse and emeritus research scientist in the Department of Learning Health Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School and past president of Health Care and Education of the American Diabetes Association. “That’s an outcome, not a behavior.” She suggests recognizing that you don’t have full control of how exactly how much weight you lose, but that you can plan what you do that week.

Setting yourself up for failure by not making your goal SMART can have the unfortunate effect of sabotaging your ability to stay the course and keep working toward your goal. “I have people who have set unrealistic goals for themselves … and when they come in they’re always disappointed no matter how well they did,” says Brown. “And when you’re disappointed, you’re not able to stay on track because you’re feeling like a failure.”


How to Stick to Your Type 2 Diabetes Goals

 Whatever your goals are to help improve your type 2 diabetes management, these guidelines from diabetes education pros can increase your odds of staying on track.

Take stock of your relationship with your healthcare provider.

Do you feel like you can be honest with your dietitian or certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) about your dietary slip-ups? Are you comfortable sharing concerns about personal issues related to your diabetes, such as sexual problems, with your endocrinologist? Your healthcare provider should be someone you’re comfortable being honest with, and you should feel like your concerns are being heard and are perceived as valid without judgement, says Brown.

Consider consulting with other members of your team.

You may have some personal issues that are manifesting as part of your diabetes, such as erectile dysfunction, for instance. If you’re not comfortable talking to your endocrinologist about it, you may be able to turn to your CDCES or a registered dietitian who may be able to help you or suggest another healthcare provider, says Brown.

Identify what’s important to you and bring a list to each medical appointment.

Before your next appointment with your care team, make a list of the things that are most important to you at that time and make sure it’s part of the conversation, suggests Brown.

Funnell suggests thinking about “I-SMART goals,” with the “I” standing for important. Rather than thinking about what you should do, “Figure out what’s really important to you, not for your doctor, not your diabetes educator, not your spouse,” says Funnell. Consider what you’re struggling with, what you’re good at, and what’s going well for you. Once you do that, says Funnell, you’ll be able to easily make a list of SMART goals. “Consider where you want to be with your diabetes, what goals you want to reach, and how can you use the skills you learned when things were going well to reach the other goals you may be struggling with,” suggests Funnell.

Be realistic about your achievable goals.

“You need to know yourself well enough to know what you’re able to do and what you’re not able to do,” says Brown. If you make a promise to your doctor or family member to work on something, whether it’s losing weight or getting your A1C down to a certain level, it can’t be something unrealistic. If you do that, you’re already sabotaging yourself, says Brown.

Talk to family members and friends about how they can best support you.

Talk to your friends and family about ways to help you feel supported without being criticized, says Brown. For instance, your loved one might look over your shoulder and say you should not eat something out of concern for your health, but they may not be seeing the full picture. One such example: If you’re having, say, grilled chicken with salad for dinner and you’re on medication to lower blood sugar, you may be able to add a little bread or pasta to your meal according to the dietary plan you worked out with your healthcare provider, says Brown. If your loved one expresses concern, you can tell them you appreciate their love and concern and reassure them that they don’t always see the whole story and that you’re working with your diabetes management team to stay healthy.

Make space in your schedule.

Often, when people set a goal, they’re not aware that they may not be able to easily fit the steps needed to meet that goal into their schedule, whether the aim is to get more exercise or sleep or to check your blood sugar before every meal, says Brown. “If there’s no place for you to insert that in your life, you’re never going to be able to do it, even if it seems like a reasonable goal.” Her suggestion: “Go through your daily routine for a few days in a row and make sure that there’s a half hour in your routine to do it.” Look at things you can trim back on to make more time to work on your goals.

Once you find openings in your schedule, put time for self-care on a calendar on your fridge, suggests Timika Chambers, RN, CDCES, a spokesperson for the ADCES. Allot time for yourself as you would for cleaning or taking care of your child. “Other activities can bleed into self-care time,” notes Chambers. “But emotional and physical care are important.”

Don’t discount the small changes.

Remember that you may not always be able to do all the things you need to do to take care of things to the best level. But anything you do to stay healthy can help you achieve better blood sugar and have better end results, even if it’s just reminding yourself to drink water or go for a short walk. “It might not be everything you need but anything is better than nothing,” says Brown. “If you keep making changes and keep going in a positive direction, even if it’s very small steps, you ultimately will get to where you want to go,” says Brown.

Know that life, goals, and priorities will change, and find ways to adapt.

A typical 20-year-old guy may want to make money and hang out with his friends, says Brown, and family and health might be a tiny sliver of his overall pie chart of priorities. But that same individual a few years later may be married and expecting a child, and his family and health become the priority and his friends become the small sliver. “You can have the same goals in life, but they can move on the priority list based on what is happening to you at the time,” says Brown.

So if you’re a busy parent of young children or have to care for an elderly parent who becomes ill, you’ll have to shift your priorities while trying to maintain your diabetes management goals.

If you were cooking fresh meals and going to the gym before your responsibilities changed, you can talk to your dietitian about different snacks you can take on the go, find ways to sneak in exercise such as by taking stairs instead of the elevator, or look for a place to stretch and loosen up your body to get rid of some of the stress, says Brown. Understand that your way of living may have to change in order for you to achieve the same goals. “You need your healthcare team to help you come up with solutions based on the life you now have,” says Brown.

Don’t give up your goals completely.

“When you find yourself overwhelmed by different circumstances, make sure you try to do those things that are the most important so that you don’t go completely in the other direction until you’re able to get back on track,” says Brown. “How hard is it to get back on the horse after you’ve been off it for a long period of time?” And remember that being vigilant about your own health is important for those who depend on you. “If you’re trying to take care of other people and you become ill, who’s going to take care of them then?” says Brown.

Learn from your past.

The past always provides keys to learning, notes Chambers. “I always ask, ‘What did you try in the past? What did you learn and what were your barriers?’” says Chambers. She has clients write these down because when they see it, they begin to identify barriers and see that a goal wasn’t realistic, she says.

Focus on what you like to do, not on what you think you should be doing.

What do you actually enjoy doing? “A lot of times people hear, ‘Do this activity and you’ll get your belly flat,’” says Chambers. “Or someone will want to lose 20 or 30 pounds and they see tips like, ‘You should do this exercise or you should buy this.’” But, she notes, it should be about what you enjoy doing, not what you should do. “When I talk to individuals about SMART goals, I’m talking about sustainability,” says Chambers. “How can I sustain that activity?” For example, you may have friends who love to run but you may enjoy looking at flowers and soaking in nature at a slower pace; for you, joining a walking group might be a better way to stay active, says Chambers.

Rethink your blood glucose data.

Try to reframe the way you think about ­— and use — your blood glucose monitoring information. “The point of keeping track of your blood sugar is to use that information,” says Funnell. “Think about the bigger picture; you’re not doing this to show your doctor but to get information to make better decisions.” For instance, if you eat a similar breakfast or lunch each day and see a pattern – such as your blood sugar levels rise too high ­— you know that food choice may not be as healthy for you as you thought, says Funnell. “People think about monitoring as a pain, and that their doctor doesn’t even read it,” she says. “But it’s for you so you can make smart, informed, wise decisions.”

Recognize your power.

“You have the data and experiences and can reflect,” says Funnell. Shift your thinking from “My doctor manages my diabetes to “It’s my responsibility,” she says. “At the end of the day, you make those decisions.”

Become a student of your life, suggests Chambers. “Nobody knows you better — you’re the person who’s with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Find a support group.

“Research shows that the more support you have, the better your outcome,” says Funnell. One review published in May 2015 in BMC Public Health found that peer support had a significant positive impact on controlling blood glucose levels.


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