Family photos in picture frames hanging on a wall.

Are You Letting Your Family History Control Your Health Habits?

Your mom has type 2 diabetes. Your dad died of a heart attack a few years ago. Your grandma is pre-diabetic. Any time you talk to a friend about your own health issues, you inevitably end up mentioning your daunting family history, and with good reason: If both of your parents had type 2 diabetes, you have a one in two chance of getting it. If just one of your parents did, your risk drops to one in seven.

Those are some frightening statistics, for sure. But it doesn’t mean you’re doomed, and if you let the idea of “it just runs in the family” run your life and choices, you may not be giving yourself enough credit. The odds are not insurmountable—you just have to tell yourself a new story.

Here are a few ways for you to get started on the path to success:

  1. Look for stories of other people who got their diabetes (or other health issues) under control and lived awesome, healthy lives, despite their family history. It will get you all jazzed up and excited about what you can accomplish. (FYI: My own dad was overweight or obese my whole life and had innumerable health issues before passing away at age 64. Instead of thinking I was doomed, it motivated me to take great care of myself. I’m still in my 30s now, but I feel great and am healthy, so I’m not letting the family history of high blood pressure and heart issues and cancer bog me down.)
  2. Create a new story for yourself. Instead of feeling bad every time you think about a family’s health struggles and how you’re doomed, too, flip the switch. Even something as simple as, “I am my own person and don’t have to have the same struggles as my mom/uncle/cousin” can help. Remind yourself of your sunny worldview whenever you’re feeling like you can’t overcome your health heritage.
  3. Focus on the upsides. Think about what you have accomplished instead of focusing on all that could go wrong. You’ve got more control than you think, and you can do things differently than those who walked before you. Give yourself credit for the healthier habits you’ve adopted already.
  4. Set realistic and helpful goals. I’ve written about this before, but setting a huge goal can be daunting and convince you that you can’t accomplish anything. Trying to start exercising? Set a goal like walking once a week for 30 minutes. When you accomplish it four weeks in a row, reward yourself with a massage (or movie or other non-food-related item) and set a new, harder goal. Same goes for goals related to eating better. Make small changes one at a time, and when you succeed, congratulate yourself!
  5. Never give up. Having a chronic condition can lead to fatigue and burnout, which may make you feel like your family history is destined to repeat itself. Take a mental break, work with your healthcare team, and make changes when you can.

It’s time for you to write a new family history.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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