How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Diabetics

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Diabetics

Have you ever tried to make changes to your lifestyle but struggled to break long-term habits? Perhaps you have recently been diagnosed with a form of diabetes and are not sure where to start with healthier habits.

Using techniques from a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help manage your healthy diabetes lifestyle. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all interlinked. If we can change our thoughts and feelings, we can also alter our habits.

For example, perhaps you are in the habit of having cookies with a cup of tea after work. You have been doing it for so long that you don’t question whether you are really hungry or not. After a stressful day at work, you feel that you deserve a sweet snack. Perhaps you think, “Well, I’m already fat, so what difference does a cookie make?” or, “This is a quick and easy way to forget about the stress of my job.”

Although this type of thinking seems innocent, over the years it can have a negative effect on your health. 

It may be that someone is urging you to make changes, such as your doctor or a family member. However, trying to alter habits for someone else is rarely successful. You need to establish your personal motivations.

Identifying your aims

It is all well and good saying, “I’m not going to eat sugar.”  Perhaps a dentist or a doctor has warned you that sugar is damaging your health.

Be as specific as possible about what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re not going to eat sugar, does that mean you are going to avoid all processed sugary foods? Or are you trying to avoid any sweet food, whether it be dried fruit or a candy bar?

Try to be realistic about your targets and schedule time to review them. It may sound silly, but it’s important to focus on what you can do, not what you think you should do.

Instead of saying, I’m not going to eat any sugar whatsoever, consider: I’m going to cut down to half a teaspoon of sugar in my tea. If you are used to having six cups of tea with three teaspoons of sugar in each, this amounts to a big difference.

Once you’ve achieved a small success, you’re in a good starting place for another.  

Stating aims positively

Rather than framing your intentions with negative phrases such as ‘don’t’, ‘won’t, ‘can’t’ or ‘mustn’t’, try to think about what you can do.

Mentally it is far more encouraging and sustainable to think about what you are allowed to do. As soon as we’re told we can’t do something; it's human nature to crave that very thing.

Continuing with the example of sugar, it might be helpful to say, “I’m going to as much unprocessed food as I like. “ By focusing on what you can do, feelings of deprivation are less likely to set in.

Cost-benefit analysis

Along with the ‘what’ that you intend to do, it’s important to be clear about the ‘why.’ Take a sheet of paper and write your aim along the top. Then divide the page with the following headings: short-, medium- and long-term advantages and disadvantages to making the change.

You also need to consider what would happen if you stayed the same. This exercise helps you to identify your personal reasons for changing a habit. Sometimes you may find that you don’t have many reasons, in which case you need to reconsider your goal.

When you are clear about your aims and have considered all of the pros and cons of making a change to your lifestyle, then you are in a sensible starting place to making lasting, sustainable changes.