10 ways to get back on track with your type 2 diabetes management after a break

If you’re building a healthier lifestyle for yourself you’ll know that while it's all very well following a plan, life happens. There are any number of reasons why you might need to take a break from your new behaviours, so it’s important to learn how you can get back on track after time off.
Annabel Nicholson
3/12/21
12
min read
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Quick summary

  • Learning to incorporate a planned break into any health routine—including a type 2 diabetes management routine—is an effective way to ensure the changes you're working hard to make are sustainable in the long term.
  • Take it slow, set realistic goals, add reminders to your schedule—do whatever you need to do to get your new routine feeling normal once again.
  • Returning to your type 2 diabetes management plan after time off is no mean feat, so be kind to yourself and remember, you’ve done it before and you’re definitely capable of doing it again.

If you’re working on building a healthier lifestyle as part of a plan to better manage, or even reverse, type 2 diabetes, one of the most important things you can do is to make it sustainable—and by that, we mean to create healthy habits that you can incorporate into your life every single day.

We also believe that a major key to success is to work on assembling your own personal toolkit that will help you get back on track. Following a fixed plan is all very well but in this life, things happen. It’s simply not possible to eat healthy foods or to exercise every single day—you might feel under the weather, maybe you’re heading off on holiday, or perhaps there’s a birthday coming up, a wedding, or a seasonal event like Christmas and Easter. Whatever is going on, it's important to learn how to safely deviate from your type 2 diabetes management or reversal plan—and even more importantly, how to get back on track afterwards. 

First things first: taking a break doesn’t mean failure

A key element of the Habitual programme is to help our patients feel empowered to make a planned deviation from their course, but this practice is applicable to everyone.  If you’re following an eating plan, an exercise schedule, or maybe other smaller goals as you work towards a bigger aim such as type 2 diabetes remission, it’s critical to reframe how you think about taking a break from the plan. 

When I was on holiday with some friends, I let myself have that break and enjoy it. Now I'm back and I’m focusing on my healthy lifestyle again.

Bula, Habitual patient

When we take a break (planned or otherwise) from the new behaviours we’re trying to turn into habits, it can be hard to go back because our brains often end up in a spiral of negativity. We reprimand ourselves for taking a break, then because we feel bad we do more of the thing that upset us in the first place (like eating sweets for example), then we once again feel guilty… you get the picture. 

But in reality, deviations from a plan are a part of life for every single one of us—so we need to reframe how we think about them. A break from a plan can be a time to recharge, to enjoy time with family, to reward ourselves for a job well done… there are many positive reasons to take a break, and none of them means failure, as long as we get back to the plan after.

If you’ve taken up a new way of eating to help you manage your blood sugar levels, such as low-carb for example, perhaps you ended up deviating during the holidays. Despite your best intentions, the enjoyment you got from those delicious mince pies might make it even more tempting to fall back into old, high-carb habits—and as the days pass you might lose your motivation. As old, familiar eating habits creep back, feelings of disappointment and frustration might show up, too. 

But what if you planned to take a break all along? “I’ve got family Christmas next week, so I’ll make the decision now to allow myself to enjoy it and deviate from my low-carb diet when I want to.” At that exact moment, you’ve made the decision to take a planned break. You can focus all your attention on enjoying your time off for whatever reason it is. There’s no need to feel guilty or like you’ve failed because you chose to have a break—you’re actually still following your plan!

The next step after making that decision is to make sure you’re ready to get back on track after your break.

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How to get back on track with your type 2 diabetes management or reversal plan

Restart, slowly 

Returning to a new behaviour after a break doesn’t mean you have to start at the exact same level, or pace, as before. Ease yourself back in gradually and try not to think too far into the future. It’s hard, we know, but taking things just a day at a time really can make all the difference. In the same way you made peace with your planned break, get started again by happily spending a few days going back to basics—one veggie meal a week, a 15 minute workout, a sentence in your journal, 10 seconds of breath work, whatever it is you’re working towards, take it slow.

Set realistic mini goals

If you’re working towards building a new habit, chances are you have a bigger goal in mind. And the best way to stay on track to a big goal? Setting realistic mini goals! This is true whether you’re just starting a new behaviour or returning to it after a break. Setting goals that are practical and realistic, such as adding one extra portion of veg to your meals that week, adding 5 minutes on your next workout, or changing the biscuits on your shopping list to oranges, will keep you energised and motivated to keep going. Achieving any goal is cause for celebration so break it down and celebrate every win on the journey.

Remind yourself why

When old habits sneak back in, it can be easy to settle back into your old self and forget about the reasons why you started making a change in the first place. Take a moment to think about your motivations—make some notes in a journal or put sticky notes around the house, talk to someone you trust, or just sit quietly and focus your thoughts. Why do you want to create new behaviours? Do you want to reverse your type 2 diabetes? Reduce or stop taking medication? It could be for your physical or mental health, your family, your career—anything that matters to you is important and can be a mindful way to get back on track.

Add reminders to your schedule

Set an alarm, put post-it notes around the house, make notes in your calendar, or even add your new habit to current behaviours (such as, drink a glass of water while the kettle boils for a coffee). Where possible, try and honour your reminder—if you don’t have time for the full workout you had planned, spend 5 minutes stretching or walking round the house instead. Protect your time and stick to your schedule until you feel confident that you’re firmly back on track.

Remember, you’ve done it before

Before your break, you might have been on a roll—your fitness might have noticeably improved, your blood sugar levels were starting to settle, or perhaps you were sleeping better. Returning from a break can be frustrating because all of those improvements can suddenly feel a lot harder—and it's at that point that many of us just give up entirely (we’ve all been there!). It’s at this moment that any tracking you’ve done in the past will come in handy and if you don’t have that, use your memory—remind yourself that you’ve done this before; you and your body are more than capable of doing it again.

Ask for support

Sharing your goals with someone you trust, or even just writing them down, can add a layer of accountability when you return to a new habit. Confide in a friend or family member and ask them to back you up in those early days, whether that’s by exercising with you, encouraging you to cook a new recipe, or simply being at the end of the phone if you need a distraction. 

Think about the ‘2 day rule’

The ‘2 day rule’ is a popular concept when discussing habit change and simply states that when you’re building a new habit, or returning to one, you should avoid breaking your new routine 2 days in a row.[1] One study found that missing any single day of a particular habit has no effect on your long-term ability to stick to it.[2] Skipping a day is a fleeting error, a mistake, or just life, but 2 days—well, that’s the beginning of a pattern that could potentially snowball into your old behaviours. As you get back on track after some time off, accept there might be days that you slip-up (you’re human after all!) and commit to your new behaviour the next day.

Eat a balanced diet

You might be thinking that this is only applicable if you have a diet-based behaviour change but this is an important foundation for all your goals. Eating well and staying hydrated will keep you feeling good, improve your concentration, help clear your mind, stabilise your mood, or give you more energy. Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, choose complex over simple carbohydrates when possible, drink lots of water, and keep an eye on your sugar and processed food intake. 

Mix up your routine

It’s okay to try a different approach if your new behaviour just isn’t settling. Maybe you took your break when the clocks changed and you’re restarting your habit with darker evenings. Exercising after work in the dark isn’t quite as appealing, or easy, once the light fades. So take a moment to consider what could be different this time and consider some different ideas. Could you shift your workout to a lunchtime one? Maybe you can do an at-home workout instead and save outdoor exercise for the weekend? Small adjustments can make a huge difference without meaning you’re not sticking to your plan. It can be scary to change a routine that worked for you in the past but remember, we’re constantly changing—even from week-to-week—so it’s only natural that what works for you will, too.

Celebrate yourself

As you start rebuilding your habit after a break, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Reward yourself along the way, congratulate yourself, cheer yourself on, and feel proud of yourself—returning to a new behaviour after time away is no mean feat and the fact that you’re doing it deserves a huge round of applause.

References

[1] The single most important aspect of the 2-day rule. Medium. Retrieved 17 December 2021. Accessible here.

[2] Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W., Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur J Soc Psychol 40(6):998-1009. Accessible here.

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