Diabetes: Changing health behaviours is hard, but we should all keep trying

More than 100,000 Australians will develop diabetes this year. For type 2 diabetes, this is driven by rising obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles – and these risk factors are difficult to change.

We can assume that most people at some point in their life have made an intention to change their behaviours and unfortunately so many will have been left feeling frustrated and “like a failure”. So, what can we do to help our clients successfully adopt a new healthy habit and gain greater control of their diabetes, or even better, prevent it?

Finding motivation: It is apparent that knowing the benefits is not enough. Most people would recognise that lifestyle factors contribute to the onset and progression of type 2 diabetes, so traditional approaches that rely purely on providing advice and information or motivating by a sense of fear of adverse outcomes may not be sufficient. It’s much better to dig a bit deeper and find out what truly motivates people to want to change, and ensure they value this enough to make it a priority in their lives. Reinforcing and promoting these self-endorsed and personal motives at every opportunity can help a person initiate and sustain healthy behaviours.

Empowering success: Another key factor to successful behaviour change is confidence (i.e., belief in one’s ability to perform the behaviour). If a person is feeling overwhelmed or daunted by their intentions, they will surely fail. Avoid aiming for unlikely fantasies and help set them up with realistic and achievable targets. Providing continued encouragement and praise will also promote feelings of mastery and competence, aiding their ability to stick at it.

Providing support: Giving a little extra support can go a long way. Support may be instrumental (e.g., making a referral to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist), informational (i.e., suggesting and encouraging a client to attend a Community Diabetes Program such as ComDiab), emotional (e.g., checking in regularly to see how they are faring with their new exercise program), or even appraising (e.g., providing feedback and reinforcement as someone makes healthier choices when shopping at the supermarket).

Yes, changing health behaviours is hard, but we should all keep trying.

CESPHN Health Priorities Program Officer and Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Jennifer Tragardh