Friday, 8 March 2013

'Doing Diabetes' - A Very Human Mission

One of the most interesting and lively discussions that often arise during personalised care planning workshops is about behaviour change and motivation. Health professionals often raise concerns about people with diabetes not meeting recommendations for their blood glucose or HbA1c levels, weight, exercise or taking medications as prescribed. They recognise it is hard for people to do these things but also express frustration that their efforts to advise and encourage seem to fall on deaf ears. As one health professional recently put it ‘they don’t seem to realise how important it is to look after themselves. I feel like I’m wasting my time’

Indeed they might be wasting their time and also that of the person with diabetes. For although the intention is excellent and the desire to help is paramount, there is a flaw in this way of thinking about helping people change. That is the underlying assumption that ‘they’ need to do something different because they have diabetes.

The reality is that, as we have mentioned before, having diabetes – or any other long term condition for that matter – does not make you automatically more motivated or successful in your efforts to make healthy changes than anyone else, or, crucially, to heed advice however well meant, from health professionals. Nor would health professionals be more successful at it, if they developed diabetes themselves tomorrow.

During such a discussion, I might ask health professionals how well they manage to adhere to ‘everyday’ health recommendations around taking exercise (150minutes/week), drinking alcohol (maximum 20 or 14 units/week for men and women respectively), calorie intake (3000/2000 a day for men and women) and eating oily fish (1 or more portions/week) Often, this produces a ripple of rueful laughter, as people realise that they don’t necessarily practice what they preach and this is nothing to do with having diabetes.

Further discussion reveals that the reasons they give for not being able to meet these recommendations – typically time for exercise, having a busy lifestyle, eating what’s available, family pressures around food preferences and not making themselves and their health a priority – are much the same as those with diabetes would give, with many more diabetes related activities to perform, for example blood testing, insulin dose adjustment, hypo prevention and foot checks, not to mention clinic appointments.

So what we establish is that motivation and behaviour change are influenced because of humanity, not the condition you live with. The key drivers are not what someone else advises you to do or recommends, but how important you think an action is, how many barriers to it are in your way, whether you believe your actions will result in benefits, whether you have confidence in your ability to take whatever action it is and also what past experience of success or failure you have had – to name but a few.

The consultation that simply gives information and advice is not going to be very helpful and might well be the waste of time and cauldron of frustration mentioned by that health professional earlier. Much more useful is one that explores the human side of behaviour – what makes you do something? What stops you? How important do you think it is to deal with your diabetes? How confident do you feel about doing what is recommended? These are all questions that could use the time much more effectively and even ones that someone could reflect on in advance.

Such an approach is truly a human collaboration and makes life much less frustrating for everyone ‘doing diabetes’ in their life or work. Thankfully it is an approach firmly ingrained in the new health policy rhetoric. The challenge now is to make it a reality.

Personalised Care Planning Workshops by Successful Diabetes


  1. I think you explain the whole situation very well.I have no point to raise in against of what you have said.what is diabetes

  2. If you have diabetes, no matter what type, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, although the reasons may differ.