10 More Things Not to Say to a Person With Diabetes

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Just when you thought it was safe to start talking to people with diabetes, here it is: a new collection of statements that have been known to make people with diabetes cringe, twitch, and fume. (See here for the first list.)

 There's a good kind of diabetes?

10. “You must have the bad kind.”

Here’s a comment that many people with insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, or other tools of the Type 1 diabetes trade hear from people who think there’s actually such a thing as “good diabetes.” Let’s be clear: all types and varieties of diabetes are scary and expensive and stressful and time-consuming. But if you hear of a new kind of diabetes that’s easy and cool and that I might be able to convert to, do let me know.

9. “I could never do that to myself.” 

I understand that most people who speak these words mean it as a compliment. Diabetes management – especially the needles and the bleeding – can seem like an insurmountable task from the outside (and, frankly, from the inside, too). But the alternative to the pokes and the blood and the food measurement is death. It’s not that we can do this to ourselves (or to our children, for parents of Type 1 kids), it’s that we have to.

8. “But you’re not fat.” 

Thank you so much for the keen evaluation of my overall well-being based on modern society’s perceptions of weight and health issues! Two things, though: a) One’s weight is not a sole determining factor in the development of any sort of diabetes. There are genetic and other environmental factors to consider, and there are roughly a bajillion people who have diabetes and do not look like what you think people with diabetes look like. We’re a varied lot. And b) Type 1 diabetes has even less to do with weight than Type 2 diabetes does. But neither of those points really matter when the overall issue is that my weight’s none of your business.

7. “The pump takes care of everything, right?” 

Oh, I wish so much that this were true, and I don’t blame people for thinking it. Sadly, it’s still a dream. Insulin pumps are such amazing pieces of technology, and they help make life with diabetes much easier for so many people – especially when they’re paired with continuous glucose monitors. But expecting my pump to manage my blood sugar is like expecting my Mazda 3 to drive me up the Eastern seaboard of the United States. The pump is a tool, and I have to tell it just what to do in order to get where I need to be. Fingers crossed for the bionic pancreas, right?

6. “You must have eaten a lot of sugar when you were a kid.” 

I’ll admit, I did have a vicious elementary school addiction to banana Runts, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my diagnosis. As discussed in item #8, Type 1 diabetes isn’t at all influenced by diet. It’s an autoimmune disorder, like multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis – and there’s no direct connection between those diseases and banana Runts, either.

5. “If you eat better and exercise more, you’ll get better.” If exercise cured diabetes I'd have a bicycle surgically attached to my butt

On some level, this is true. A healthy diet and regular exercise would probably make everyone better, to some extent. But it won’t cure any kind of diabetes. Folks who claim to have cured their Type 2 diabetes by losing weight and exercising – or by following a very low-carbohydrate diet – still have diabetes, they’re just beating it into submission. So yes, we can get better. But we can never make diabetes go away.

 

4. “I got you some sugar-free candy!”

 Thanks! I’ll see you in a week and a half, when I emerge from the bathroom.

 

3. “I’m so hungry I could pass out.”

I have to admit that I feel a little solidarity with anyone who utters this sentiment in my presence. We know this person probably won’t pass out from hunger, but I always get the urge to exclaim “Isn’t it horrible? Don’t you feel awful? What if this happened to you multiple times per week – out of nowhere? In business meetings and while you’re asleep! And what if you had to restrain yourself from eating entire boxes of Lucky Charms when you felt this way?”

 

2. “I know all about diabetes! My cat has it!”

Absolutely no sarcasm intended: thank you for your empathy. But my own anecdotal research has shown that feline diabetes may be the one and only type of “good diabetes.” What I mean to say is that human diabetes is complex and varied and emotionally draining, and cats mostly just get neck injections and special food and they still get to sleep all day. (And no one asks them if they got it because they’re fat.)

 

1. “They’ll have a cure in five years.”

they'll have a cure for diabetes in five years

I first heard this doozy in 1990, right after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. And in the 24 years since then, this proclamation has likely been made to thousands of kids and parents. It’s intended as hopeful, but it still causes a lot of heartbreak and resentment among people who’ve been waiting for decades, all while diabetic lab mice get cured by the hundreds. And if you’re reading this, we’re still waiting.

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26 Comments on "10 More Things Not to Say to a Person With Diabetes"

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Cass

Also told about the cure within 5 years… 20 years ago today!

And

<..>

Also had a strange addiction to banana runts in my primary school days…

Maybe we’re onto something here??

Judy

I was diagnosed with “bad” diabetes in 1964. Was told there would be a cure within five years. Ha!

Corinne

My 12 year old son’s favourite comment is when he needs to eat candy to treat a low and his friends say, “you get to eat candy at school! You are SO LUCKY to have diabetes. I know they are just kids but my son does NOT feel lucky to have diabetes!! 

d
Having gastric bypass done does not always mean you will have better blood sugar control. I had it done with the same advice and instead am very, very brittle. I’m told it’s because when I eat the food gets to my intestines faster so my blood sugar spikes (sometimes so high my meter can’t read it) then when I take insulin my blood sugar drops really fast (sometimes so low my meter can’t read it). Trouble is before you have the surgery no one knows if your resulting weight loss will help control your blood sugar or if the changes… Read more »
Thomas

My favorite was a fast-food coworker who kept making ridiculous comments on my diet. I had been diagnosed less than a year and she would say things like “you shouldn’t have that ketchup… it’s worse than a pound of sugar!” Finally i said, “Let’s make a deal… you can critique my diet when you quit smoking while being pregnant!” Harsh, I know… and she didn’t appreciate it… but it worked. And we were still friends, which is always a plus. :-)

LAB
What I love about the pump is that the F&I guy at a car dealership where I bought a car was forced into wearing one because his job hindered him from eating schedulously and properly.  The pump should never have to be used like that.  I feel for all you out there because even with the proliferation of diabetes, those who do not deal with it are woefully ignorant about the whole disease.  I am a T1 and got that diagnosis over the age of 50.  My dad got a diagnosis of T2 when he was in his 40s.  We… Read more »
Sandy

Thanks for the education!  In spite of knowing a few people with diabetes, I was woefully ignorant.  While I like to think I’ve been sympathetic and supportive, I fear my ignorance may have caused me to offend or hurt someone even though I didn’t intend that at all.  I’ll be much more thoughtful from now on, thanks to both articles and the many comments.  I’m slowly coming to terms with being told I’m “pre-diabetic,” so I’m seeking out as much knowledge – both anecdotal and factual – as I can.

Audrey

Out of the mouth of babes, my 8 year olds “boyfriend” recently asked his mum “if you marry someone with Diabetes, do you get Diabetes too?”.  Oh how young minds work ;)

Carolina B.

My favourite: “You CAN’T eat this!”
I think I’m able to choose what I should or should not eat, thank you very much… 

Joe

As a T2, I hear all the time that if I dieted and lost weight,  my Diabetes would be cured.  And I always call bullshite on those responses.  Also hear that if I have a Gastric bypass it will cure it also.  Again BULLSHITE!

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