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Dr. Phil’s 6 Rules for Emotionally Coping with Type 2 Diabetes

Here, how to mentally take control of your diabetes diagnosis.

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Rule 1: Move forward

You’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Now what? First, don’t give into guilt. “There’s a lot of shame associated with type 2 diabetes and a lot of judgment,” says Phil McGraw, TV show host and spokesperson for AstraZeneca and its ON IT Movement, a campaign for managing type 2 diabetes. “People think if you have type 2 diabetes, it means you’re lazy or you haven’t done the things that you need to do, and that’s simply not true.” Dr. Phil, 65, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 25 years ago, after he experienced roller-coaster energy levels. “I was glad to have some answers,” he says. “Fifty percent of the solution to any problem lies in defining it, so I said, now I have something to work on.” As you start managing your type 2 diabetes diagnosis, whether through changing your diet and exercise routine or checking blood sugar levels, remember you’re not alone. There are currently 28 millions Americans with type 2 diabetes and 86 million at risk for the disease. Don’t miss these eating habits that help prevent and manage diabetes.

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Rule 2: Get educated

The more you know, the more control you’ll have over your diabetes diagnosis. “The partnership with your healthcare professional is a critical part of this,” says Pamela Kushner, MD, FAAFP, a clinical professor of family medicine at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. “Each person with type 2 diabetes is unique, and not everyone has the same choices when it comes to diet and exercise.” Secondly, knowing why you need to make particular choices—like swapping your morning scone for eggs—makes it easier to stick with a diabetes plan. “You need to know what’s happening inside your body,” says Dr. Phil. “If you don’t understand the impact of your choices, you could be hurting yourself without knowing it.”

It’s also important to know how to identify feelings of depression (e.g., change in appetite, shift in sleep patterns, nervousness, or loss of energy and pleasure), and to talk to your doctor about those symptoms. Research has shown that people with diabetes are at higher risk of depression than people without diabetes, though the exact reason is still unclear.

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Rule 3: Build your team

You don’t have to manage type 2 diabetes on your own if you surround yourself with a team of supportive friends, family, and healthcare professionals. “For me, that team included my doctor, a nutritionist, my wife, and I think most importantly, it included me,” says Dr. Phil. “I couldn’t be passive about this. I really had to be an active member of my own treatment.” Concerned about talking to your loved ones about your diagnosis? That’s completely normal: Many people with diabetes worry they will be a burden to those they love. Sometimes, however, the way your loved ones react to your diagnosis and your needs depends on how you bring it up. “They’re going to take their cues from you,” says Dr. Phil. “Sit down and say, ‘Listen, I want to share something with you. I’ve been diagnosed with a very manageable disease, and you can really help me with it.’ If you come in a melodramatic way, you’re going to get what you give.”

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Rule 4: Replace Bad Habits

Forget about breaking bad habits. “You don’t break habits, that’s a myth,” says Dr. Phil. “You replace one behavior with another behavior, one that’s not compatible with the bad one.” For example, if your after-work routine involves crashing on the couch to watch TV, replace it with a trip to the gym (exercise is so critical for diabetes). If you know you’ll be tempted to sit down the moment you step inside the house, pack your gym bag and hit the gym before you even get home. “Set up a pattern that supports your goals,” says Dr. Phil. Here are 21 healthy habits for people with diabetes.

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Rule 5: Make a plan

It’s not just about patterns that set you up for success, but your environment. “You have to look at your lifestyle and say, how do I need to change this so my environment supports me being healthy?” says Dr. Phil. “How does it support me managing this disease properly? Make a plan, and maybe that plan includes a different diet, a different exercise regimen, or different patterns in your life.” For instance: If you tend to graze your way through the kitchen when you get home, come in through the front door instead or stash indulgent snacks in a more hidden cupboard. Little environmental changes can have a big effect on your healthy routine over time.

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Rule 6: Stick with it

Managing diabetes properly is a daily endeavor. “Each day presents an opportunity for a person to live a healthier life,” says Dr. Kushner. “All of us have self-doubt, shame, and guilt sometimes, that’s part of being a human being. But be mindful about every decision, and if you didn’t make the right decision, simply remember to move forward.” If you’re momentarily derailed from your healthy routine, don’t blame your sense of will power or motivation—rethink your patterns and environment (rules 4 and 5). “Willpower is a myth,” says Dr. Phil. “It’s about programming, and about setting yourself up for success.”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Kelsey Kloss
Kelsey Kloss is a writer and editor based in New York City, who writes about health, food, home, and lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Prevention, Redbook, and Reader's Digest, among others. Visit her website: Kelsey Kloss.