PCHC Positive Coping with Health Conditions

ImageMany people facing health challenges have been given recommendations from their family physician, dietitian, or other healthcare providers about helpful changes in eating. For example, a person with diabetes may be advised to follow a specific diet, one that’s low in sugar and fat. For many people, this kind of diet is a considerable change from their usual eating habits. After all, a high proportion of North Americans consume more calorie-rich foods than is recommended – and many people try to lose weight by following diets, often with considerable difficulty. We all know that diets are hard to follow, as they are often restrictive and quite different from our usual eating pattern. The Solving Problems Skill can help.

Solving Problems

Problem: My family doctor says I have to shift to a carbohydrate-reduced diet.




Shift to a low-carb diet starting next week.

  • I’ll be following my
    doctor’s orders.
  • It’s good for my
    health condition.
  • I tried to start this kind of diet twice before, and it didn’t work out.
  • It was really discouraging when I found myself back to my old diet after a few weeks.
  • Not to eat my wife’s cooking is like an insult to her.

Keep eating the same way
I always have.

  • I really enjoy my wife’s cooking, she makes food that’s rich and delicious.
  • Everyone in my family
    eats this way, why should
    I be different?
  • The doctor says that the way I eat now is dangerous for my diabetes.
  • I don’t like to disappoint my doctor – she’s pretty frustrated with me.
  • I don’t like to feel like I can’t control my eating.

Make a small change to start with – maybe cut out dessert after dinner.

  • At least I’ll be making a good change.
  • My doctor says “every journey begins with a
    small step”.
  • If I keep it up, then I can try other small changes – maybe drink a bit less alcohol, begin taking a
    walk with my wife in the evening, etc.
  • It’s not going to fix the
    whole problem.
  • I keep thinking that
    I should just be able to change my diet.

The key to success is making gradual changes to your diet, since changing eating habits can be difficult. This change needs to be done carefully and with some planning. The steps of Activating Your Life will help you make this change. It’s important to set goals that are Specific, Realistic and Scheduled.

Being Specific means that you are clear about what you want to accomplish – just stating that you want to eat healthier is not specific enough. The more specific your goal is, the easier it is to determine your success. Remember – it’s all about setting goals that you can accomplish and feel good about doing. Nobody likes setting a goal and not being able to follow through. We’ve all been there and done that. A more specific goal for eating healthier might be to cut back on eating rich desserts every day. Having a specific goal will make it easier to measure your progress. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates and experience the satisfaction that helps you to work towards your goal. To determine if your goal is specific, ask questions such as... How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished? So, if we continue with the example of cutting back on rich desserts, the question to ask is, “How many times a week will I cut back on dessert?” Let’s try: Monday to Saturday I will skip dessert but Sunday I can have a rich dessert.

Being Realistic means that the goal is easy enough to be achievable even if you feel low in mood and energy. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not confident at all and 10 being as confident as possible), how confident are you that you will be able to accomplish your goal?


If you rate below 7, you need to review your goal and possibly modify it. This is where you can look at possible barriers and come up with some solutions to overcome them. Maybe allowing yourself to have dessert Saturday as well will seem more “do-able.” Once you get to a goal that you think is at least at 7, then give it a try. By starting with a modest goal, you can experience what it feels like to succeed with a diet change and gradually build on this success.

Being Scheduled means that you have a clear plan to accomplish your goal, an action plan. This is the “How To” part. How am I going to reach my goal? What supports do I need? When will I do it? If you want to eat healthier, just cutting back on desserts “someday” won’t work. But if you put it in a time frame, say by May 1st or by the end of two weeks, then you’ve set yourself in motion to reach the goal.

Example: I will have a small bowl of fruit salad every night from Monday to Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, I can have one serving of a rich dessert. I will go to the local produce store on Sunday to buy enough fruit to make up a tasty fruit salad for the week. I will get the family to work together to make up the salad.

You get the picture. The more detailed you can be about your action plan, the more likely you will be able to follow through. Write down your goal – make a contract with yourself. If possible, have someone you respect sign off on the contract as well. They can be a “cheerleader” for you.

At the end of the time frame that you’ve chosen, review your goal. How did it go? Did you succeed all of the time, most of the time or not much of the time?

If you didn’t reach your goal, think about what got in the way and what you might do differently (for example, making sure that family members know what you’re trying to change and why it’s important). This is a very important step in achieving success with goal setting. When goals are difficult to achieve, you need to figure out what got in the way of your change – then make a plan for getting around these barriers.

If you succeeded at your goal, recognize your success and praise yourself generously for what you’ve accomplished. Try to reward yourself with non-food rewards. Plan to continue this goal and set another goal to further improve your diet. Maybe you can look at increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. By continuing in this gradual, self-encouraging and realistic way, you’ll be surprised at how much you can change.