A friend of mine recently happened to run into a woman she hadn’t seen in a long time. The other woman had lost weight, and my friend complimented her on how slim she looked. The woman replied: “Well, you know, I was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.”
My friend was shocked, and expressed her sympathy. Still, she couldn’t help also thinking: Wow, I wish I’d get diabetes if it would make me look like that! Immediately she felt guilty. Of course she didn’t really want to have diabetes–how could such a thing have occurred to her?
To me, this yearning for a life-changing diagnosis is understandable. I’ve heard people express similar wishes before; after finding out that my brother has celiac disease, another friend told me she half-wished she would be diagnosed with the disease, too, so that she would be forced to stop eating wheat (which she considered an unhealthy grain). I think that many of us would like to lead healthier lifestyles but postpone doing so indefinitely. We long for an official diagnosis because we feel it would give us the extra little push we need to get on the right track.
For many people with type 2 diabetes, an official diagnosis can really be a “blessing in disguise.” Knowing the seriousness of your condition can be an inspiration for change. And if type 2 diabetics continue to diet and exercise, they can potentially not only rid themselves of diabetes but also simply become healthier than they were before being diagnosed.
The problem is that it’s hard to maintain the vigilance that a diagnosis first inspires. Imaging that a diagnosis will enforce immediate and permanent change makes a pleasing narrative, but real life doesn’t always follow such a smooth trajectory. When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I counted my carbs and calculated insulin doses meticulously. I even made a chart to record my blood sugar at different points in the day. But as time went on and the shock of my diagnosis wore off, I started to get more lax–neglecting my chart, estimating the amount of carbs in a meal instead of measuring it exactly. I realized that the effects of any “wake-up call” don’t necessarily last forever. A doctor’s pronouncement doesn’t force you to change your lifestyle. Ultimately, that change depends on your own determination–just as it did before you were diagnosed.
And in the case of celiac disease, the diagnosis itself might not require you to be all that healthy. It’s true that a person with celiac disease shouldn’t consume wheat, but gluten-free substitutes for wheat-based products (like gluten-free bread, crackers, and cereal) often use corn flour. Considering the amount of corn and corn starch that most Americans eat on a daily basis, it hardly seems healthy to add even more to one’s diet. And while someone with celiac disease shouldn’t eat gluten-contain unhealthy foods like cake or cookies–or Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!–they can still have their fill of most potato chips and ice creams.
So I guess the moral of my post is… be careful what you wish for. Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or celiac disease isn’t necessarily a blessing in disguise, although I admire people who have the tenacity and willpower to turn it into one.