Health Changes for the Whole Family

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 24, 2019

You’re the one with the type 2 diagnosis, looking to adjust your habits to stay healthy. But when you shift your approach to diet and exercise, it’s bound to affect the people in your inner circle, too -- especially your family.  

On one hand, your loved ones are probably happy to support you as you manage your condition. But they also may be reluctant to change their own ways. But there can be a silver lining for you all: Everyone needs healthy food, the right amount of exercise, and to keep weight in check, even if only one person has a medical condition.

As you improve your health, your family can feel the benefits, too. Here are the big places to make positive changes and easy ways to work them into your family.

Food: Small Changes, Big Impact

The first question most people ask when they’re diagnosed with diabetes is, “What can I eat?”

There’s no one-size-fits-all diabetes diet. To manage your diabetes and lower your risk of heart disease, make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats. Limit foods with saturated and trans fats, those high in sodium, and sweets like soda, candy, and cake.

Notice anything interesting about this list? It’s the same advice anyone who wants to eat healthier would follow.

Even if you’re motivated to make these changes because diabetes can lead to heart disease, skin conditions, and damage to your kidneys, nerves, and eyes, your family might be less excited at the thought of giving up cookies, ice cream, and potato chips. Try these recipes for success:

Get on the same page. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. Set up a family appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist and plan recipes everyone will enjoy. Take it a step further and cook together when you can.

Use the stock-up strategy. You’re all more likely to eat sweet, fatty, or salty foods if they’re within reach when you’re hungry. Stock your cabinets and fridge with fruits, vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheese and lean protein, like turkey.

Treats are OK sometimes. A plan to ban cookies or chips from your house forever is sure to backfire. It will likely make your loved ones resent your healthy diet. The key is to find ways to keep treats from becoming an everyday thing. For example, instead of stocking your freezer with ice cream, you could go out for ice cream every once in a while.

Exercise: Move Toward Success

Think of your body like a car: You don’t fill it up with good fuel just to let it sit in the garage all day. Movement makes all the difference.

Physical activity helps your blood sugar stay balanced. It also keeps your risk of heart disease low. 

Aim for a total of 150 minutes of exercise every week. Choose activities that use all your muscles, including your arms, shoulders, chest, legs, hips, and stomach.

If you’re new to exercise or haven’t done it in a while, start slow. Take a brisk walk and work your way up.

Everyone needs to exercise, so you might as well have fun doing it as a family. Not only do you get the physical benefits, but it also gives you a chance to talk and spend time together. Here’s how to make the most of it:

Choose something you like. It’s hard to enjoy a hike when your kid complains the whole time (My legs hurt! It’s so boring!). Brainstorm as a family and pick activities that excite everyone, like:

  • A family membership to the local gym
  • A series of exercise videos
  • Something new, like kickboxing or indoor rock climbing
  •  A game of basketball, soccer, or football. Loser washes the dishes!

Make it a priority. Lives get busy, but don’t sacrifice exercise for something less meaningful. Schedule it like you would an important family appointment and stick with it.

The Value of Support

Can you manage your diabetes through diet and exercise on your own? Of course. But studies show you’re more likely to be successful when you feel supported by loved ones. 

It makes sense. If your family’s having grilled chicken and salad at home for dinner, you’re probably not going to go out and order a cheeseburger. You’re more likely to join in a hike or bike ride when someone’s counting on you. 

This is about more than food; it’s also about feelings. You may feel isolated because you’re the only one at the table who can’t order fries. Your family might feel guilty eating ice cream in front of you. They may blame you for having high blood sugar, even when you follow your care plan perfectly.

Start here: If your family doesn’t know much about diabetes, educate them. That way they’ll understand your condition and why a healthy lifestyle makes a difference. Then decide what kind of support you need and ask for it.

Talk openly and listen to each other. Set realistic expectations and agree to problem solve. You can’t lose when you team up together against diabetes.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: “Diabetes.”

Diabetes Forecast: “Eating for the Whole Family.”

American Diabetes Association: “What Can I Eat?” “Nutrition,” “Fitness.”

The Johns Hopkins Patient Guide to Diabetes: “The Truth About Starchy Vegetables.”

Mayo Clinic: “Type 2 Diabetes,” “Barriers to Fitness: Overcoming Common Problems.”

CDC: “Living With Diabetes: Get Active!” “Family Exercise Ideas for Every Season.”

Joslin Support Center: “How Do I Get Support From Family and Friends.”

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