Chow line: Help for family members dealing with diabetes

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My dad was diagnosed with diabetes last year, but it seems he hasn’t really embraced what that means. For example, he hasn’t made any changes to his eating habits at all. How can I help him better understand his diagnosis and make healthier food choices?

While it might seem that your dad hasn’t accepted his new reality of living with diabetes, it might just be that he doesn’t know where or how to start in terms of making changes to accommodate his new health situation.

Changing and maintaining a new behavior can be difficult, especially when you’ve received a new diagnosis of diabetes that might require you to change several behaviors all at once, according to Communication Strategies to Support a Family Member with Diabetes, a new Ohioline fact sheet.

Ohioline is Ohio State University Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Behavior change experts suggest that people go through six stages of change,” according to the authors of the fact sheet. 

“Our personal motivations ‘pull’ us through the stages towards adopting a health behavior such as healthy eating or physical activity,” the authors write. “Being aware of the six stages can help family members find ways to support or encourage the person with diabetes, motivating them to change towards healthier behaviors.” 

The six stages of change could be applied to helping a family member living with diabetes in the following ways.

  1. Precontemplation: A person with diabetes has no inclination how to change a behavior related to diabetes management. He or she does not view that there is problem or is unaware of the problem.
  2. Contemplation: A person is aware of a problem with his or her diabetes management and the consequences of not changing or not adopting self-management behaviors, but still is not committed or motivated to change. The person weighs the pros and cons of changing his or her behavior.
  3. Preparation: A person is motivated to change but has not yet started. He or she is making plans, looking into strategies, or setting concrete goals.
  4. Action: A person has started to change and has maintained the behavior for fewer than six months.
  5. Maintenance: A person has maintained the behavior for six months and beyond, and the adopted behavior has become a habit.
  6. Relapse: A person returns to his or her previous behavior of poor diabetes management.

So how can you help? 

The authors suggest the following:

  • During the precontemplation stage, you could talk to your dad about why change is important for him now that he has diabetes. You can ask him open-ended questions that being with “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” to help him begin to think about the changes he will need to make.
  • In the contemplation stage, you can encourage the change that you want your dad to make and be an active listener to his needs and offer encouragement and support.
  • In the preparation stage, you can help your dad make the changes that need to happen by helping him set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) goals.
  • In the action stage, you can help create opportunities for your dad to be successful in his diabetes management.
  • In the maintenance stage, you can continue to support your dad’s behavior changes and offer him praise for his accomplishments. 

If you get to the relapse stage, you can help your dad identify the cause of his relapse and begin his diabetes living plan again, the authors suggest. 

“It’s important for you to understand that relapses are common, and that doesn’t have to mean that your dad can’t get back on his healthy living plan,” the authors write. “Using non-judgement statements such as ‘I understand it’s hard to make these changes, what can I do to help,’ is one way you can offer your support.” 

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor:This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in food, nutrition, and wellness for OSU Extension.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Dan Remley
OSU Extension
Food, Nutrition, and Wellness