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Change Your Identity, Change Your Diabetes?

Updated: 8/14/21 3:00 amPublished: 1/17/18
By Adam Brown

By Adam Brown

A unique mindset to resist tempting foods, including in peer-pressured group settings

On New Year’s Day, I went out to dinner with a big group of people. The restaurant was known for its pizza, so the table decided to order multiple pies and split them.

I ordered my own individual dinner salad, which naturally drew some questions and inquisitive looks from the group – most of whom I was meeting for the first time.  

“What’s with the salad order? Do you have a special New Year’s resolution or something?”

“Nope.” I paused, and then explained my approach to eating, showed my continuous glucose monitor, and talked about how I navigate blood sugars at restaurants. My eating companions appreciated the perspective, and we went on with the meal.

In retrospect, a more nuanced answer to this question is shared below. This approach – “changing my identity” – appears in the food chapter of Bright Spots & Landmines (free PDF or $6 in paperback), though it applies equally to exercise or other habits.

Now that this “identity” is ingrained, some of my behaviors have become more automatic. For instance, when I opened that pizza restaurant’s menu, my brain immediately eliminated a whole side of the menu, as if it was written in a different language. Plus, when I tie desired behaviors into my identity, I don’t feel like I’m “missing out” or denying myself.

In a follow-up article, I’ll share a different approach to behavior change and how to apply it to food, exercise, or anything else. I hope you have an excellent start to 2018!  

Too many exceptions (“Just this once!”) and excuses (“I earned it!”)


Exceptions are easy to make in the moment, but added up consistently over time, can amount to a pattern of Landmines. The challenge with exceptions is balancing:

The spontaneity and joy of allowing them (e.g., special occasions, “I earned it”)


Deliberately trying to encourage my Bright Spots and avoid my Landmines.

These usually oppose each other, which means there is no perfect or one-size-fits-all solution. I’m the type of person that does not do well with moderation, meaning it’s easier to make very few exceptions. Otherwise, an inch becomes a mile, and before I know it, I’m way off track. It was hard at first to turn down desserts and high-carb meals and snacks, but once I committed to not eating them, it became automatic. Six years later, I don’t think twice.

Part of this meant changing my identity:

Q: What type of person am I?

A: I’m the type of person that takes care of my diabetes and health. I’m the type of person that wants to think well, have energy to live life, and treat others well, meaning I need to spend more time in my target glucose range (70-140 mg/dl).

Q: How would a person like me behave in this scenario?

A: I wouldn’t eat these things!

I’ve internalized this self-assessment, and I’ve also tried to make it very clear with my family, friends, and coworkers: it brings social pressure to act in accordance with the idealized version of myself.

Set ground rules for my exceptions ahead of time – otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the trap, “Just this one time.” For example, I break my low-carb and no-white-rice goals about once per month when eating sushi, one of my favorite foods. I always take insulin at least 20-40 minutes before eating sushi and try to walk after these meals to minimize the impact of spiking my BG with white rice. (If my glucose is over 140 mg/dl before eating sushi, I limit the amount I eat or choose sashimi and avoid the rice altogether.)

Clarify my Bright Spots and Landmines ahead of time, so I always have a guide to follow at meals. Get more details on doing so here.


P.S. Do you live in a country that uses mmol/l units? We need your advice! We’re currently working on a mmol/l version of Bright Spots & Landmines, and as we plan the launch, we’d love to hear your ideas: Who should we contact in your country? What diabetes events could help spread the word? If you would like to be on the Bright Spots mmol/l early launch team, let us know. We’ll send you a special gift for your help!  

“This book is the positivity I so desperately needed. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the physician did not give me very much help…This book provides empathy and a whole bunch of tips and tricks…” – Larry, living with diabetes and 5-star Amazon review of Bright Spots & Landmines. If you don’t have a copy yet, get it here for free or name your own price. You can also purchase it in paperback ($6) or on Kindle ($1.99). All proceeds benefit The diaTribe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

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About the authors

Adam Brown joined diaTribe in 2010 as a Summer Associate, became Managing Editor in 2011, and served as Senior Editor through 2019. Adam brings almost two decades of personal experience... Read the full bio »