Getting diagnosed with diabetes is certainly life changing. There are some events that have one thing in common; they all require significant lifestyle and behavioural changes. However, altering one’s lifestyle mid-life is daunting, considering it entails changing comfortable patterns and habits set over a life-time.
Experts have researched human behaviour for decades, including the factors that drive certain behaviours and others that motivate individuals to change entrenched behaviours and have drawn a powerful conclusion; the only way to motivate someone to change behaviors is by leading with a carrot instead of the stick.
Think of someone advising you to give up sugar with your morning tea. There is a taste impact, a habit impact, and most importantly a satiation gap that you need to overcome. All of this leads to a resistance to change in the long term. After all, life is about having some fun. If you’re not enjoying your daily habits, they aren’t going to last. Whether it’s exercising, eating healthy, or making time for your health - it’s really hard (and really important) to figure out what works for you.
Bridging the disease gap digitally
Innovative digital health companies are now leveraging insights from research on human psychology and behavioural, with scientifically backed research, to develop tools to help modify behavior patterns and improve clinical outcomes through digital therapeutics. Digital therapeutics combines technology with a human touch to understand individual motivators, which leads to positive patient behavioural changes and better health outcomes.
This has been a critical missing link thus far for physicians and other healthcare stakeholders. Cues which can be picked up through smartphones, wearables and other digital tracking devices can help create highly individualised prompts that speak best to you and help you modify your behaviour.
Getting past denial
Let’s face it; the first thing we think is “I don’t have it”. After we get past that stage, it’s all about “let’s forget about it”. The psychological aspects of a diabetes diagnosis and later management can be overwhelming. From initial denial to feeling the impending stress of life-long health-management often leads to anxiety, anger and depression in many patients. Don’t deny, embrace. Don’t forget, get educated on how to manage it better. Control your condition or else it will eventually control you.
There is no magic pill
Once you move past denial, it’s all about the quick fix. Why go through all this effort on lifestyle changes and exercise and diet and medication, when my friend has assured me that this magic plant or patch when taken for 7 days will make your diabetes disappear. Enter every “magic pill” under the sun, from crazy unsustainable diets to magic potions, religious chants, to clothes dipped in holy water.
Your body needs long-lasting, sustainable care. It needs your habits to change. It needs you to take your medication and check your sugar levels until your doctor tells you otherwise.
Stopping medication once blood sugars in control don’t make you healthy
Chronic conditions don’t get solved like a common cold, cough or flow. Medication doesn’t last 5-10 days, it may be prescribed to you for the rest of your life. And as long as it’s the right medication given by a competent doctor post the right diagnosis, it’s incredibly beneficial for your health.
Consider this; your blood sugars are out of control, so you start taking your medication. A few weeks or months later, you measure it at home and it’s back in control, because of the medication and any other lifestyle choices. So, you reward yourself by reducing or dropping medication - because you’re feeling and are better, right? Wrong.
Your medication is meant to help your body to manage an organ that is not able to function to the full capacity your body needs. That capability doesn’t just reappear overnight. Taking the medication your doctor prescribed especially when you are doing well is important. Talk to your doctor before you make any changes; this practice may just add a few more quality years to your life down the road.
Diabetes runs in your family because nobody runs in your family
Your body needs your help. It’s developed this condition, in part because of what you eat, how active you are, and how you behave. The status quo is no longer sufficient, as what works when you didn’t have diabetes, may not work for your body anymore.
Listen to your body. It needs lifestyle changes. Not just fad diets and drastic short-term cuts, but long term sustainable habits. If you don’t have the will power or the discipline for the same, talk to your doctor for digital therapeutic options that can help you achieve it. Medication is not a substitute for lifestyle.
Go to your doctor to prevent
We’ve all grown up hearing “prevention is better than cure”. Yet when it’s time to visit the doctor, how many of us with diabetes do so when they are feeling well?
Guidelines recommend you visit your doctor once in three months, even when you are in control. That number in India is once in fifteen months. The right person to tell you when to come back is your doctor, and the right move is to visit your doctor as a preventative so that you delay or remove the need to visit him when things have escalated.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
You’ll tend to check your blood sugars on days you’ve behaved well with a blood sugar monitor, and shy away on days you know you’ve indulged. You’ll shy away from pricking in public or pricking altogether - because it's a reminder that you have diabetes. Don’t deny yourself this mirror. Check often. Check all the time. So you know. So you can act. So you can be healthy.
Don’t be a cheater
At the other end of this spectrum lies an upcoming visit to the doctor. This is when blood sugar comes out of the dusty shelf, and the desserts get avoided. This is when the “everyday walking” magically rekindles, and the healthy diet sets in for the few days prior to meeting the doctor.
In the bid to avoid showing elevated blood sugar levels, you may end up giving your doctor the wrong information which will lead to an incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate medical treatment and no one wins. Giving the doctor a true picture of your health is the only way you can actually stay ahead of your condition.
Fancy Diets….don’t work
You aren’t changing when you sleep, who your friends are, which is your favourite TV show. Especially on food, you know what you like, and more importantly what you don’t like. The texture, the flavour, the spices, the cuisine - they’re all set. So how will an alien diet that doesn’t work with your taste palate (or your spouse’s), sustain over a few years?
A fancy diet that drastically reduces your blood sugar is fantastic in the short term but doesn’t do much in the long term. Digital therapeutics work with your existing diet and preferences, to give you plans that actually work for you. Recognise who you are, respect your individuality, and thrive on finding a happy medium between the food you are used to, and the proportions and recipes that allow for your body to thrive and keep your diabetes in check.
Its not food…its nutrition
It’s socially a good thing if you’ve eaten more chapattis, more bread, more rice. It’s socially preferred to offer your loved one’s sugar-laced chai, or a dessert in festive season or in celebratory events. In fact, it’s frowned upon to object to the same when offered. Yet these are the culprits for elevated blood sugar.
Understand what works for you and what doesn’t. Guidelines recommend 25% of your main meal plate should be filled with carbs. Yet India on average hovers between 70-80% of every meal, with carbs in the meal. Use digital therapeutics recommended by your doctor to get these new habits going. Replace your carbs with veggies. Have 2 categories of daal instead of one. Gorge the salad before you start your main meal. Simple hacks go a long way to take control of your diabetes.
Activity a day, keeps your blood sugars at bay
Every person that gives you gyaan will tell you to go to the gym, to lose weight, to go for a walk or jog. But what if none of that works for you? Use your smartphone or digital therapeutics for the same. Get those 30 minutes of activity by walking and talking on the phone.
Get them by getting off the elevator a few floors early and climbing up. Get them by parking your car a few streets away, or getting off the bus or train a few stops before. Use your smartphone or wearable to track your activity. You really can have your cake and eat it too.
Side note to your family
Don’t have this sweet. Stay away from that dessert. You’ve eaten enough today. You can’t eat this. We can’t go here. You can’t have this. You need to do this. Sounds familiar?
Even with the best intentions at heart, family members don’t always deliver the best outcomes when they become negative nannies by berating diabetic family members for elevated counts or banishing certain foods from the table.
Don’t use negativity, focus on positivity. Don’t advise to do something, actually accompany your diabetic family member on doing that something. Encourage vs. scold. Allow for indulgence once in a while. Empathy is incredibly effective.
Smartphones have transformed our habits on everything except for healthcare; it’s time we use the device for something that can benefit our health. Helping you build the skills to manage your diabetes your way, and having a constant companion helping you in this journey – is a reality.
Working with your doctor on diabetes management beyond the pill is now a viable option, as the doctor has clinically validated digital therapeutics to prescribe or recommend to you. Diabetes can be managed effectively, with you in the driver’s seat taking all the decisions for your body, your mind, and your family.
* Disclaimer: The article has been provided by Abhishek Shah, CEO & Co-Founder, Wellthy Therapeutics. The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and views appearing in this article do not reflect the views of Deccan Chronicle and Deccan Chronicle does not assume any responsibility and liability for the same.