Weight Management

Problem Solving to Improve Diabetes Management

When making lifestyle changes, it is inevitable that problems or situations will arise that challenge your efforts. However, these situations do not have to derail your progress. You can overcome the challenges by problem solving to identify solutions. Problem solving is an essential skill for successfully making and maintaining lifestyle changes, and for managing the complexities of living with diabetes.

Young woman with finger pressed to her lips thinking about how to solve a problem

How to Problem Solve

Problem solving is a process for finding a solution to a problem. There are three basic steps to problem solving that you can implement the next time you are faced with a challenge:

  1. Identify the problem. 
  2. Identify potential solutions that address the issue. 
  3. Select which solution(s) you will try and take action. After you have implemented your plan, evaluate and reflect on how it went. 

This 3-step problem solving approach can help you prevent problems and help you find solutions when you are faced with an unexpected challenge. Let’s take a look at how it might work in each scenario. 

Problem Solving Examples

Below is an example of using the 3-step problem solving approach to be proactive and prevent a problem. 

  1. What’s the problem? 
    Mary is going on vacation next month and wants to be sure she does not undo the healthy eating changes she has made. 
  2. Possible solutions?
    She asks her husband and children to brainstorm with her. They come up with a list of solutions, which includes - limit eating out, no desserts or sweets, go grocery shopping and cook in the room, do not snack, avoid high fat foods. 
  3. Select a solution(s) and take action.
    Mary picks three solutions from their brainstorm to implement: They will go grocery shopping when they arrive, they will only eat out three times during the week, and Mary decides that she will follow the Diabetes Plate Method at dinner.  

Just like this example, you don’t have to problem solve alone. Solicit your supporters or your health care team to help you identify possible strategies to address the issue. They can help you identify solutions, but they can’t make the decision for you. The person with diabetes decides what options will work best for them. After making the decision, develop a realistic action plan and implement the strategies. Finally, evaluate how the plan worked. 

This next example uses the 3-step problem solving approach for an unexpected challenge. 

  1. What’s the problem? 
    Ben is experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose, also called low blood sugar) from increasing his exercise.
  2. Possible solutions? 
    Cut back on exercise, talk to his provider about changing his medications, change the time that he exercises, have a snack after he exercises, and eat more at meals.
  3. Select a solution and take action. 
    Ben decides that he will work out before dinner instead of after, and he will be sure that dinner is well balanced. He will also check his blood glucose more frequently the evenings he exercises and evaluate the impact of his changes. If this does not solve the problem, his will talk with his provider. 

The Takeaway

In both examples, a clear action plan was created to address the problem. Be sure that your action plan includes clear, realistic steps that are both achievable and in your control. After you’ve implemented your plan, evaluate how it worked and make tweaks as needed. 

Problem solving is a process, so don’t give up if your plan did not turn out as expected. Refine and adapt the plan for next time because you can be sure the problem will likely rear its head again. The next time you are faced with an unexpected difficulty related to your diabetes management or you know that a challenging situation is ahead, take the time to follow this problem solving process for solutions. With practice, it will become second nature and it will assist in achieving and maintaining your lifestyle and diabetes self-management goals. 

Reviewed by Katy Walker, LCSW