Being diagnosed with a chronic disease can feel blindsided, especially if you had no prior warning signs or symptoms. You’re left with hundreds of questions- none of which are in the tri-fold brochure your doctor sent you home with.
You can choose to either let your chronic disease live your life for you, or you can take matters into your own hands. Here are my top five tips for managing chronic disease:
1) Keep looking forward
Approximately 133 million people in the US live with a chronic disease. This includes diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and so much more.
The point here is not to talk about statistics, but rather to show you that you are not alone. Millions of people are living with a chronic disease every day and choose to not be defined by their diagnosis.
Prioritizing your quality of life while also managing chronic disease is possible. Set small goals for yourself that you know you can attain to help keep you feeling accomplished and positive.
Here are some examples, however, goals should be personalized and tailored to your condition. Speak with your healthcare provider or Registered Dietitian about goal setting.
- Drink one glass of water in the morning before breakfast (just start with one!)
- Eat your meals without the distraction of TV, phones, tablets, etc.
- Park in the back of the parking lot to add more steps to your day
2) Develop a supportive network
Start by talking to your family and friends about what type of support you are needing. Think about the ways their behaviors influence you and your habits. Here are a few example scenarios:
“My family has a tradition of going out for dinner every Friday night. I don’t want to break up this family time, but I know this isn’t the healthiest for me and my condition.”
Spending time with family is important for maintaining your quality of life. Do not give this up! Here are two alternatives you can suggest to your family (or friends):
- Look up the menu and nutrition information online before heading to the restaurant. Scout out nutritious options that will help you meet your health goals and have an idea of what you are going to order beforehand. Food service staff are likely to accommodate special requests for food preparation as well (steamed vs stir-fried) so long as you ask nicely!
- Suggest staying in and making a healthy, homemade meal as a family. If you’re not the creative type, try a meal subscription service like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron, both of which have customizable options for those with diet restrictions.
“My kids always want drive-thru for fast food after their sports practice, but every time we do, I always end up getting something for myself- even if I’m not that hungry!”
Asking for support from younger children is going to look different than from an adult. Here is one way you can approach a situation like this:
- Since kids still need to eat, especially after sports practice or other extracurricular activities, create a healthy snack pack together that is easy to eat in the car. Making a list of options they can choose from lets them feel in control of what they are having, but gives you the ability to ensure it is a balanced snack. If your kids are older, ask them to help pack it the night before.
3) Ask questions
Misunderstanding and lack of information can be one of the biggest barriers to successfully managing chronic disease.
Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team questions about your condition. The more you know, the better you will be able to control disease progression and symptoms.
Lost on where to begin? Try asking these to strike up the conversation:
- How does my family history affect my condition?
- Can you explain my blood work results to me?
- What are some warning signs and symptoms I should look out for?
- What are my treatment options?
In addition, you can always ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian if you want to know more about how diet and lifestyle changes can help your condition. Many dietitians, like myself, accept health insurance which means there is little to no out-of-pocket cost to you.
4) Learn to adapt
Being flexible becomes an important trait in managing chronic disease. Activities that you once enjoyed may need to be altered and adjusted in some way to prevent worsening your condition.
Your favorite traditional foods and secret family recipes may need to change, but learning how to adapt them to your condition will be important to your quality of life. Doing simple swaps such as using low-sodium soy sauce, and using a higher vegetable-to-meat ratio in meals can make all the difference.
You may also need to fuel your physical activity differently, especially in the case of diabetes where managing blood sugar is crucial. Exercise naturally decreases the amount of sugar in our blood, so extra snacks higher in simple carbohydrates may be needed.
Working with a dietitian is the best way to get custom recommendations for your diagnosis and lifestyle while maintaining cultural integrity.
5) Do your part
Of course, you can know all of the information there is to know about managing chronic disease but it will do you no good if you do not act on it!
You are the most important person on your healthcare team. Find what motivates you to work towards better health and stick with it. The hardest part is getting started, but once healthy habits are developed you will hardly have to think twice about it.
If you need extra support or ideas, follow me on social media and check back in regularly to read more blog posts on topics like building a healthy plate, making your own salt-free spice blends from around the world, and knowing the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian.
What would you like to know more about managing chronic disease? Let me know in the comments!
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