Let’s Stop Lying About Diabetes


You can’t “control” diabetes. The very nature of blood sugar — whether you have diabetes or not — is to go up and down.

In a non-diabetic body, the pancreas sends out just the right amount of insulin to keep your blood sugar in a safe, normal range throughout the day.

In a diabetic body, you have to do this by guessing and calculating all day long the carbohydrates you eat, impact of any activity and medicine you take.

Every day it’s: How many grams of carbohydrate were in those 10 pretzels? Is my blood sugar still going up? Is my bike ride from yesterday still lowering it? Will half a unit of insulin cover that mini Reese’s peanut butter cup? S#&T! I should have remembered my insulin hasn’t peaked yet, why did I take another two units of insulin? Now I’m dropping and have to eat again!

Don’t even ask me about the angst I experienced last night over eating two-thirds of a sweet potato. Doing so at 10 p.m. I worried if I’d taken enough insulin so as not to wake up at 300 mg/dl (16.6 mmol/l) the next morning, yet not so much that I wouldn’t wake up at all.

Of course sleep, stress, sickness, meds and multiple other factors, including biomedical reactions rarely talked about, also impact blood sugar’s rise and fall.

This idea that diabetes can be “controlled” contributes to the general public’s ignorance. Too many people think, “Well, can’t you just avoid sweets?” It’s not their fault, they keep hearing we can “control” diabetes. This myth of control also keeps those of us who have diabetes frustrate because I’m sorry, but no we can’t “control” it.

Unfortunately too, many health professionals themselves don’t understand the complexity of managing blood sugar. Those who tell patients to eat healthy, drop weight start moving and take these meds, highly underestimate what goes into regulating blood sugar in the human body. A body that, by the way, gets weary of being on diabetes patrol 24/7, and happens to also have a life in which maybe that body just lost her job or her boyfriend.

I’d really like pharmaceutical companies to stop paying celebrities big bucks to tell me, “Diabetes doesn’t control me, I control it!” I know advertising has its own barometer for truthiness, but this is just a smear campaign against those of us who have diabetes.

That said, I’m not saying you can’t influence your blood sugar by your actions. You absolutely can. On a day where I do pretty much the same things I usually do, my influence is largely positive: routine being one of my most critical tools. On other days as hard as I try my influence is not as positive.

After bristling at the word “control” for years, in a recent issue of diaTribe, Adam Brown wrote a superb article highlighting 22 factors that impact blood sugar. He confirmed just how complex managing blood sugar is, and frankly, that you can only “get it” if you have it.

Adam went on to share his four game-changers that help him manage his diabetes, so I want to share five of mine.

Here are five things I’ve done over my 42 years living with Type 1 diabetes that have helped me significantly — not control my diabetes, but positively influence it.

1. Reading Dr. Bernstein’s book, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. While I didn’t go as low carb as he suggests, I did remove a great deal of the carbohydrates from my diet, stopping me from “riding the roller coaster” of high and low blood sugars. If you have Type 1, it’s required reading.

2. Going to health conferences. My first was TCOYD (Taking Control (yikes!) of Your Diabetes. There CDE/psychologist Bill Polonsky said 12 words that changed my diabetes life. He asked the 80 of us sitting in the room, “Who thinks diabetes is the leading cause of heart disease, blindness, amputation and kidney disease?” Everyone raised their hand, including me. Then he said, “You’re wrong. Poorly-controlled diabetes is the leading cause of these things.” In that moment 32 years of diabetes stress rolled off my shoulders and I knew, while I couldn’t control it, what I did to influence my health mattered.

3. Fix blood sugars in real time. When I used to check my blood sugar between meals and it was high, I would wait until the next meal to add a correction dose of insulin to my mealtime dose. Now I take a correction dose in real time.

4. Get some diabetes friends. One or two may do. Belonging to the A1C Champions peer-mentor group I have 79 and I’m grateful for each and every one. I said it before, no one “gets diabetes” like someone who has diabetes.

5. Portion control. I’ve lost 35 pounds and kept them off. I started by leaving two bites of food on my plate, every meal. Then I married a Dutch Indonesian man who is six feet tall and weighs 125 pounds. Truth is, while there’s nary an ounce of vanity in me, weighing more than him, well it’s a motivator.

I’d like everyone who has diabetes to stop suffering from this lie that we can control blood sugar. We can’t. And, I truly wish everyone diagnosed with diabetes from this day forward would hear this from their health care professional.

“Taking care of diabetes is hard, but doable. Forget the idea that you’re going to do this perfectly! You are now manually performing a bodily function that your pancreas use to do automatically. Your blood sugar will fluctuate.

“You won’t always get it right, but I will help you figure it out and know what to do. You’ll do well enough that you’ll have an excellent chance to live a healthy, full and happy life. I want to commend you for taking this on. Now let’s get started.”

I’d hire that doc in a minute.

Originally published in The Huffington Post.

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8 years ago

Thanks, Riva, for putting words to a frustration that many of us share. I’m going to check out Adam’s article now!

Lonnie Jones
8 years ago

Thanks for such a wonderful article. Since I am not Type 1 and only aware of its differences from Type 2…I must agree that this type of Diabetes can be really hard to control. As a Type 2 Diabetic…I was able to control my symptoms that I have given up all medications except for test strips. I watch what I eat and have gotten used to enjoying small harmless lunches and dinners. I did have to undergo gastric bypass surgery to lose weight and then take it from there. How I wish it is this easy for those living with… Read more »

8 years ago

Kershner and others – yes you can do a lot with diet and exercise when you have TYPE 2 Diabetes.  What Riva is discussing is TYPE 1 Diabetes.  A T1D does not produce any of their own insulin.  I eat very low carb ~ and as a T1 I have to give my self insulin for protein not just carbs.  I can fast and with out giving myself insulin my blood sugar will rise.   It is a very different disease. I am not trying to take anything away from people who have T2, they have a tough time as well ~ I just do not… Read more »

Penni Kershner
Penni Kershner
8 years ago

Horseshit. I am no longer a diabetic over the summer after 16 yrs. I stopped flour and sugar, sugar subs and lost nearly 40 lbs so far and I need no more diabetes. My sugars are normal on my own.

8 years ago

OMG! thank you for setting all the all the non diabetics straight ! I get asked so many times DO YOU HAVE CONTROL OF HER DIABETES YET  ? THIS IS SUCH AN AWESOEM INFORMATIVE ARTICLE THANKS !! J.

Riva Greenberg
8 years ago

Hi Khurt,

Social media is a great way to share with others who “get it.” Friends can be near or far, in person or over the internet. In addition you can look to see if there are any diabetes support groups, diabetes meet-ups,  or classes being offered nearby or get involved in a local chapter of JDRF or the ADA.

Khürt Williams
8 years ago

Excellent article! I too grew tired of the idea that with nothing but a nutrient label, an insulin pump, and a glucometer, I could control my diabetes.  What utter bull crap! One thing. “4. Get some diabetes friends. One or two may do. Belonging to the A1C Champions peer-mentor group I have 79 and I’m grateful for each and every one. I said it before, no one “gets diabetes” like someone who has diabetes.” Any tips on that one?  I only know one person with Type 1 diabetes who lives in my area.  Or were you adhering to the definition of friends as defined on social… Read more »

8 years ago

I’m newly diagnosed as diabetic, type 2. My A1c was 9, fasting blood sugar 170-200. I started on metformin 500mg twice a day for a week. My friend introduce me drink “okra juice”. This is how I do it. I take 4-5 okra pods wash and slice into small pieces and soak it on a liter of drinking water over night. In the morning I remove the okra from the water and refregerate the water to drink for the day. I take one cup 30 mins. before each meals (3x per day) after 2 days my fasting blood sugar ranging from 90-110.… Read more »

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