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Ditch the Pitfalls of Diabetes Perfection: Examine Your Expectations for Self-Care

Do you have high expectations for yourself? Do you struggle with feelings of perfection? These can be challenging traits to cope with but, add diabetes to the mix, and you’ve got some real struggles. Let’s explore the real results of pushing for perfection...it’s not as pretty as you hope!

Why perfection doesn't work with diabetes

First, if you struggle with grading and blaming yourself based on your blood sugar, you are not alone. Diabetes sets the stage for perfectionism and feelings of failure. Plus, an A1c can feel a lot like a report card, as if you are being graded. And you may feel as if you disappointing, concerning, or letting others down by getting a “grade” that is less than optimal.

The flip side of perfectionistic thinking is that it does not lead to perfection. While having high expectations of yourself for health behaviors and diabetes self-care comes from a place of good intentions, it actually has many negative outcomes. This idea of high standards and perfection often comes along with an all-or-nothing kind of thinking.

Don't let excuses get in your way

You may have heard or caught yourself saying, “if I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not going to do it at all". And, when it comes to diabetes and self-care behaviors, this can result in avoidance or delay of many healthy behaviors. You have probably heard some of these phrases: “I’ll start my diet on Monday," or “I’ll start going to the gym once I lose a few pounds." Still, others may avoid things like checking blood glucose because “I just know it’s going to be bad." These thoughts discredit the importance of healthy behaviors and the value of small steps toward bigger changes. They create feelings of guilt and dread.

Tips for progress not perfection

When it comes to diabetes and healthy behaviors, follow these tips for realistic expectations:

Don’t be so hard on yourself 

Be aware of your inner dialogue; often times we find that we are not very kind or supportive in self-talk. “You spend most of your time inside your head...make it a nice place to be” (Unknown). Practice self-compassion and some flexibility. Think about talking to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one if they were in a similar circumstance.

Having diabetes is tough and it’s a lot of work! Give yourself some credit for all you do to manage it. Seriously, stop and think of all that you do and appreciate those efforts and meaningful.

Stop “should-ing” all over yourself with statements like, “I should be more strict on my eating habits” or “I should spend more time in the gym." We could always be better by doing more of some things and less of others, but it will never be enough and there will always be room for improvement. Practice some flexibility and try to steer clear of the all-or-nothing thinking.

View blood sugar as data

Remember that your blood sugar is not a measure of you, your value, or your efforts. Try to think of it as simply data that you can use to inform your behaviors and decisions. It may also help to consider the kind of language you and your loved ones use surrounding diabetes and self-care behaviors. For example, it helps to use the phrase “checking” instead of “testing” blood sugar; this avoids language that associates your blood sugar numbers as a grade.

Examine your expectations 

Most of us have expectations of ourselves that we strive for but never took the time to stop and consider them. Usually, this is developed from past experiences, education, and ideas of what is “good". A really helpful strategy is to actually write out a list of the expectations you have for yourself and examine that list.

When looking at your list of expectations, identify if there is anything that you are unclear about, such as where your blood sugar ranges should be. Often times I see that folks have these unclear and undefined expectations for blood sugar, where they don’t know exactly what it should be at what times, but just that they should “do better". If you don’t have clear expectations, you will never meet them. As a result, you will always feel like you are falling short, even if you are right on track!

Identify if anything on that list is false or unrealistic. This is another downfall I often see in my work with individuals. Make sure you are talking with your doctor and other members of your diabetes care team to educate yourself. Also, think about whether or not your expectations for yourself are attainable for you right now. We all go through different phases of life and self-care behaviors look different in each. This highlights the importance of starting somewhere, starting small, and starting where you are right now.

Value progress over perfection

Perfection is impossible. Ditch this idea that it is an attainable destination by placing more value on progress. Something is better than nothing and done is better than perfect. Remind yourself to do your best and forget the rest. Your best may look different tomorrow from what it is today, and that’s a good thing, that’s progress.

What progress have you made since your diagnosis?

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