The seven self-care behaviors are healthy eating, being active, monitoring, taking medication, problem solving, reducing risks and healthy coping.
1. Healthy Eating
This means having foods that provide all three nutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat in reasonable quantities to help you maintain a healthful weight.
It means eating regular meals that are low in saturated fat and excess sodium and controlling the amount and type of carbohydrate you eat at one time. What it doesn’t mean is that you have to give up all of your favorite foods or that certain foods are taboo.
In order to do this you need to know the nutrient (especially carbohydrate) content of foods, how to read labels, how to cook foods to maintain nutrient content and avoid adding extra saturated fat and sodium and learn how to choose appropriately in restaurants.
2. Being Active
This means engaging in aerobic activity, strength building and flexibility training most days of the week. Being active can help control blood glucose levels if you have type 2 diabetes and improve cardiovascular health and assist in weight loss or control for both type 2 and type 1 diabetes.
You need to know what activities are appropriate for you to do, how often and how forcefully you need to do them and how to handle the possible side effects of exercise (hypo and hyperglycemia.)
Checking your blood glucose allows and your health care provider to see how your blood sugars are responding to the medications and lifestyle regimen you are following and whether changes are needed.
How to monitor, how often to monitor and how to interpret the results of blood glucose checks are all things you need to know in your search for good control.
4. Taking Medication
If you have type 1 diabetes you will be taking insulin for the rest of your life (or until a cure if found!) If you have type 2 you may initially be able to control your blood glucose levels with lifestyle or with oral medications. The longer you have diabetes the greater the chance that your beta cells (the cells that make insulin in the pancreas) will fail and you will need to take insulin. This is part of the natural progression of the disease and is not in your direct control. It is important to understand how the medication you are taking works, how to properly take the medication and what side effects it may have. Knowing these things will make it easier for you to determine if your medication is working properly.
5. Problem Solving
The nature of the disease- it is chronic and progressive, it is affected by everyday activities such as eating and exercise, illness and stress- mean that people with diabetes are continually solving problems. You need to know how to respond to high and low blood sugars with appropriate changes in activity, food and medicine. How will you handle a buffet engagement dinner or what do you do if your pump malfunctions in the middle of giving a corporate board presentation?
6. Risk Reduction
In order to take care of yourself fully it is necessary to know what preventive care is required. Blood pressure checks, regular eye, foot, dental exams, lab tests for microalbumin, cholesterol and lipid labs –knowing what these tests measure, what the therapeutic goals are, how frequently you should get them checked will help you plan your care more responsibly.
7. Healthy Coping
Because diabetes is a chronic disease that is progressive and requires so much patient involvement it affects your psychological state as well as your physical being. Often the whole family is affected. Having the skills to maneuver awkward social situations in a positive way, to remain motivated to engage in behaviors (such as healthy eating, or physical activity) to avoid letting the disease dictate your entire life requires the development of coping skills.
The Role of the Diabetes Educator
Each of these self care behaviors are difficult to follow, but all of them all of the time can be downright overwhelming. Diabetes educators are there to help. They assist patients in gaining knowledge about care behaviors.
And they do so much more. They work with patients to identify the patients’ goals and the obstacles to meeting theses goals. Together, one educator and one patient find ways to improve self-management and quality of life. .