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5 Ways to Overcome Poor Health

Is your sweet tooth sabotaging your health? I wish that overcoming a sweet tooth was a simple as pulling it out. A little trip to the dentist, and voila, I'm cured! Alas. It's much more of a mental game than that.

(Before I write another word, I must be clear--I am not a nurse, doctor, nutritionist, or anything certified that would give me any credentials to give health advice. What I am is a 25+ year manager of my Type 1 Diabetes. I maintain an A1C range of 6.5-7.2 by eating wisely, living an active life, and with a Medtronic Insulin Pump. All I share here is my experience, my research, and my encouragement for you to find your way through whatever health obstacle you face and find your best health and joy.)

When most people are first diagnosed with Type 1 or Type II Diabetes, their first emotion is dread. "I'll never be able to eat dessert again!" and tears ensue. I have some ideas for you if that was you. But before I share those, I would like to encourage you to do as much research as possible on the side-effects of Diabetes. This alone (I hope!) will give you the motivation to overcome a sweet tooth, to educate yourself on nutrition, and to find an active life-style you enjoy.

Thank to my own research, as a Type 1 Diabetic, I know that I am much more likely to develop heart disease and/or suffer a stroke. I could lose my sight or injure my feet and need to have them amputated. All of those are extremely frightening, so I'm doing everything I can to live the healthiest life-style I can. That takes focus and discipline--two things I am not good at. However, with practice and prayer, I am trying to make those two weaknesses my two greatest strengths.

Our Relationship with Food

Sweets, the treats and easy-to-grab foods that have a negative effect on health, I define as anything made with refined sugar, products that should rot but don't, and anything breaded and deep-fried. This includes ice cream, sodas, popsicles, cakes, cookies, packaged convenient foods or drive-thru foods: french fries, onion rings, get the idea. Overcoming the desire to eat these foods is simple, but not easy.

In the first years of my diagnosis, I was overwhelmed by the information, the changes I needed to make, and the loss of a happy-go-lucky life. I trudged, smiling all the while, as I tried to ignore it all. But ignoring any diagnosis makes the entire issue worse. Diseases such as Diabetes don't just affect you, but everyone who loves you.

There came a point when I realized that thanks to Diabetes, I was actually healthier than I ever had been before. My weight, my A1C, and my blood work were all in range, I was strong and happy and taking insulin shots. Yes! All those things can coexist! This post is just a peek into the potential of taking your diagnosis and turning it into a blessing. I pray that you find encouragement, hope, and a plan. Let's begin...

When the storms of the diagnosis began to clear, I was able to examine my relationship with food. I compared how I think of food to an actual relationship. Excellent friendships and marriages involve people who sacrifice their own conveniences for the other, who look forward to spending time together, and who honor and respect each other through difficult situations.

Putting those characteristics of a good relationship in terms of me and food: Am I willing to sacrifice a meal of 'comfort food' for a vegetable rich, grilled lean-meat meal? Can I set down my fork when I am full, or do I abuse my taste buds by overeating? Do I look forward to meals, or do I graze my way through the day on snacks and eat at meals just because "it's time to eat"? When a 'comfort food' desire surfaces, can I work through that difficult situation and continue on my journey to health?

These questions established the groundwork for me. I had to examine if I thought about food as a means of satisfaction or for energy? When I eat for energy, I choose foods that don't weigh me down...literally. The best foods are found in their natural state: fruits, vegetables, meats, beans, whole grains. The worst foods have been mutilated, altered, chemically preserved, and packaged to survive a nuclear attack.

You probably already know this, but how can you put it into practice?

Before you read this entire article, I'm going to suggest that you grab a notebook and a pen and spend a little time writing down your own ideas about the list I'm going to share. This list is what I have learned as I search and strive for health, but you need to make it yours. Jot down a few reflections, ideas, questions, and knowledge that you already have about each point, then read what I wrote. This little exercise will make a huge impact on how well you can implement changes to your life because they will be your ideas, not just mine.

  1. Seek Counsel if Necessary

  2. Plan Ahead

  3. Be Intentional

  4. Identify What Holds You Back

  5. Do the Hard Work

Seek Counsel if Necessary

First, if food is truly an addiction for you, seek help from a professional. There is no shame and all kinds of potential success in doing so. Deeply rooted addictions are no joke. No amount of will power will bring long-term success, but a supported change of patterned thinking can.

Plan Ahead

When I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, there was no time to plan. My blood sugars were dangerously high and I needed to take immediate action. And I struggled. The anger, frustration and sadness were constant companions until I allowed myself to take some time to figure it out.

That is why, unless you are under great need, don't start your food changes today. Don't start tomorrow either. Maybe next week, but you can also give yourself a month. Why wait, you ask? To plan your method of attack. Yes. Attack. You are about to embark on a great journey that might require you to change your schedule, the way you shop, the way you eat, and the way you think. That takes planning, focus, and research. Look at your calendar and select a date within 30 days of today. Circle it. That is your start date.

During this planning time:

  • Notice when and what you eat. Write it down.

  • What foods that are not healthy will be the most difficult to avoid? Make a plan to enjoy those as a celebration when a goal is reached, and only in smaller portions.

  • Each week, plan on avoiding a food and adding an activity. For example, next week you might add a side salad to your lunch and your dinner each day, and also add a fifteen minute daily walk. The following week, you might wake fifteen minutes early each day to read something inspirational while you sip on hot lemon water (a great detox!). It can be simple. It should be personalized. And it should be little steps toward a greater purpose.

The most effective way to do this planning is in writing. Or on your computer. Or however best you think. Take time to make this realistic and manageable.

Be Intentional

With a nod to Dave Ramsey, this is probably the best advice one can receive. Do everything knowing it's purpose. If your goal is to retire with five million dollars in the bank, you are going to need to work and save and sacrifice to make that happen. If your goal is to graduate on the Dean's List, you will need to go to every class, study, write, and prepare. If you want your best health, you need to know what that means, how to achieve it, and then follow through.

I encouraged you to spend some time writing about each of these topics before you started reading. Here is something else to meditate on: What does it mean to 'be intentional'? If you wanted to drive from your house to Billings, Montana, that would be your goal. How will you get there? What car will you take? Which highways? Oh, you prefer backroads? That is a much prettier drive, but is usually much more complicated. Do you have a route planned? What will you pack? How long will it take? What will you do when you arrive? How much money will this cost?

Similar questions can be applied to your intentional health plan. What does 'good health' mean to you? Is it losing weight, lower A1C, lower blood pressure? That is your goal. How will you arrive at that goal? What are you going to eat? How do you need to change your exercise? Who can help you along? Are there any medications, supplements, memberships, or programs that would be helpful? How much do they cost? How much time are you willing to invest? When do you want to reach your goal?

That is your plan of attack. Post that where you can read it every day.

Know What Holds You Back

When you are driving and you see those orange cones, you follow alongside them as they protect from construction zones, workers, and equipment. What would you think of someone who saw those orange cones and thought, "I know they are there to protect the construction workers from danger and me from crashing into those huge pieces of equipment, but I had a really stressful day and I just really need to stay in this lane. I'm comfortable here and to heck with those cones!"

Nothing good will come from that. And nothing good comes from the stress-eating, the comfort food, the binges, the excuses we tell ourselves with we just want something familiar, to heck with the health implications.

During your planning time, identify what holds you back and make a plan. Personally, I keep dark chocolate around for my weak moments. Research suggests 85% cocoa, but I can manage 72%. I keep the pieces small and only in case of emergency. When everyone else is enjoying ice cream, I enjoy whipping cream sprinkled with some cinnamon and slivered almonds. Don't laugh until you try it! ;) Is everyone else drinking? A little red wine is perfect. Just don't overdo it.

Do the Hard Work

Thomas Edison is famously quoted, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like hard work." The 'overalls' for health looks like more vegetables on your plate, waking early to do 30 minutes of exercise, walking more and driving less, and saying "No thank you" to desserts. The hard work is the answer.

All the planning in the world won't amount to an anthill of success if you don't hit the road running. All the intentions of gaining health, losing weight, managing diabetes, finding your best life ever will never surface as you drown your struggles in a vat of comfort foods and poor habits. Allow your struggles to make you stronger; they are the weights in the workout of life.

This is the moment. You know what to do. It will not harm you. It will not be easy. But you have it within you to do this. If you fall off the plan, get back on. When you have a great day, don't celebrate yet. Make the next day just as good. How many days can you keep this up? Try tracking it to see. When you slip, start counting all over. Sometimes, all we need is a challenge to succeed at a challenge.

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