Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
“I don’t have trouble eating well during the week, but on the weekend my schedule changes with parties and get-togethers with friends, and all my healthy plans go out the window.”
“Getting dinner on the table isn’t a problem until I have to work late or my son has soccer practice. It throws our entire family off track.”
“How can I manage to test my blood sugar when I have to travel for business every month?”
“School just started and I have to adjust to kids in two different schools, a new bus schedule, and a brand new afterschool routine. There’s no way I can take care of myself and manage my kids’ schedules.”
As a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), I hear a lot about how major life transitions – such as changing jobs, moving to a new town, or dealing with the emotional upheaval of illness – increase stress levels and wreak havoc with daily self-care routines. But what about the everyday, small roadblocks that pop up? How can we effectively maintain healthy habits with unplanned meetings at lunchtime or a snowfall causing school to start late?
In my experience, I’ve learned that achieving health goals while leading a busy and hectic life may require planning, balance, and empowering yourself to make choices. Kelly Clay, MS – a certified wellness coach – encourages her clients to plan ahead for unexpected events by writing down a plan with many of alternatives. She finds that having a backup plan increases confidence and reduces frustration. A few minutes spent planning ahead may help you deal with unexpected events confidently and help to reduce stress.
Some of my favorite strategies:
- Plan for the inevitable changes to your schedule by keeping your kitchen stocked with a variety of healthy foods so you have good-tasting and good-for-you options readily available. Draw up a list of five meals that can be prepared in less than thirty minutes and keep the necessary ingredients on hand at all times.
- Keep a pair of comfortable shoes at work or in your car so you can take advantage of an extra ten minutes to go for a walk.
- Stash an extra glucometer in your briefcase or purse so you can test your blood sugar on the go.
- Keep a list of two or three friends who can help out with carpooling if you find yourself pulled in too many directions.
Instead of aiming for perfection and potentially feeling like life doesn’t work out the way you expect, strive for balance. Rigid and inflexible plans invite may not work out while a realistic approach can be more sustainable. In their book, Coach Yourself Thin, Greg Hottinger, MPH, RD, and Michael Scholtz, MA, recommend an 80/20 strategy, where 80% of your choices fit your health goals, and 20% may include an occasional indulgence. When you plan and eat balanced and healthy meals 80% of the time, an occasional piece of birthday cake isn’t going to derail your meal plan. Another suggestion is to exercise first thing in the morning Monday to Friday. That way, missing one workout because you need to get to the office early or stay late won’t turn you into a couch potato overnight. If you understand that perfection can be an impossible goal, you may be better able to roll with life’s challenges.
Empower yourself to be in charge of your life. Wellness coach and speaker Marilyn Jess, MS, RD, suggests that our response to roadblocks is what counts. Being open to learning a lesson from the roadblock and thinking about possible solutions can inspire creativity. You can choose to wake up ten minutes earlier to make yourself breakfast or pick up a bite on the way to work instead of feeling like you have no time to eat in the morning. When traveling, plan ahead and pack a variety of healthy foods in a cooler instead of feeling like you have to rely on drive-through fast food.
In addition to creating an environment where you empower yourself to plan ahead and look for balance, I suggest to those living with diabetes to take these three simple yet effective steps when faced with an unexpected glitch in plans:
- Stop and breathe
- Assess the possibilities
- Identify a solution
Situation: You are late getting home due to a slowdown in traffic, a late train or bus, or you worked overtime. Everyone’s hungry and wants dinner now.
Suggestion: As soon as you know you’ll be home late, take five slow, deep breaths to calm your mind. Run through a list of possible dinner options: heat up some leftovers, call ahead for take-out, call home and ask another family member to start dinner, or stop by the grocery store for pre-made rotisserie chicken and a pre-made salad. Pick one option and feel good about having managed a hectic evening.
Situation: You had planned to get some exercise by weeding the garden Saturday afternoon, but a friend calls and invites you to a movie.
Suggestion: Instead of immediately accepting the movie invitation and feeling guilty about skipping exercise, take a deep breath before you answer. You have several options: tell your friend you’re sorry but you already have plans for the afternoon. Suggest a walk together before the movie or offer to go to a showing later in the day. You might even tell your friend about your exercise goal and enlist her help in coming up with a solution that works for both of you.
Situation: You had planned on ordering a salad with grilled chicken for lunch, but there’s an unscheduled lunch meeting that includes sandwiches, chips, and cookies.
Suggestion: Instead of panicking or feeling as though you have no options, take five deep breaths. Run through the possibilities: order the salad early and bring it to the lunch meeting; eat the offered lunch and instead focus on the balanced breakfast you ate and healthy dinner you’ve got planned; or eat just enough of the lunch to satisfy your hunger (perhaps half of a sandwich and part of a bag of chips, or an entire sandwich and no chips). Keeping a food tracker handy can help you make meal decisions when plans change; consider adding a food-tracking app, such as GoMeals1, to your phone or adding a pocket guide, like Calorie King2 to your purse or briefcase.
Whatever you decide, feel good about your choice and about taking care of yourself. Confident, empowered, and calm beats frazzled, stressed, and frustrated every time.
Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food, and fitness coach at LynnGrieger.com and @healthcoachlynn. Grieger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
1GoMeals® is a Sanofi US trademark.
2CalorieKing is a registered trademark of CalorieKing Wellness Solutions, Inc.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience