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8 Things People With Diabetes Wish You Knew

The right (and wrong) things to say to somebody living with diabetes.


It’s not just “diabetes”

Most people don’t understand the major differences between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. (There are actually five types of diabetes, but these are the most common). Type 1 diabetes typically has its onset in childhood or young adulthood. The immune system destroys insulin-releasing cells, eventually completely eliminating insulin production. The body’s cells need insulin to absorb sugar for energy.

In type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to use insulin correctly. As the disease progresses, the pancreas may make less insulin, resulting in insulin deficiency. Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adulthood.

iStock/Susan Chiang

I didn’t ask for this

Yes, you may prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes with healthy diet and exercise. And yes, being overweight or obese increases your risk. But thin people can also develop diabetes, not every overweight person gets diabetes, and genetics play a role (people with a family history of diabetes have a higher risk). As for type 1 diabetes? There’s absolutely nothing that can prevent its onset. In other words, I don’t have diabetes just because I, say, ate too much candy. It’s not that simple. (In addition, these other complications become even riskier as a diabetic.)


Your raw food diet won’t fix it

I know you’re trying to help, but I am bombarded by emails, videos, and social media posts that tell me some magical food or supplement will make me better (luckily, the FDA has sent warning letters to many companies that market these bogus therapies). Hemp seed oil or cinnamon will not “cure” diabetes. Neither will veganism, low-carb diets, or raw food diets. A restrictive diet can help someone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes reach healthier blood sugar levels, but that just means that person is using it as part of daily diabetes management. The diabetes doesn’t go away.


On that note, please let me eat my cookie

Yes, I can have a sweet treat on occasion and be perfectly OK. People with diabetes can eat sugary foods in moderation. Since most sweets are high in carbohydrates, the American Diabetes Association suggests keeping dessert portions small. But if I have dessert, trust me, I’ve probably already swapped out another carb-heavy food in my meal (like mashed potatoes) to make up for it. Every day is a balancing act, and your concern may come off as food policing.


I am not your grandma

It’s very difficult to compare one diabetes case to another. Symptoms, treatment plans, and care for people with diabetes vary from patient to patient. And, yes, we’ve already heard scary stories about people who lost their legs or eyesight from diabetes. Today we have medical advances help us manage diabetes so we can live long, healthy lives without these preventable complications.


Insulin isn’t a cure

It’s only a treatment. There is no cure for diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, 90 percent of the body’s insulin-producing cells have been destroyed. If type 1 diabetes symptoms appear when someone is sick—say, with a virus or cold—the body’s remaining insulin-producing cells may be adequate once the patient is healthy again. However, the same process that killed the other cells will also ultimately destroy the remaining insulin-producing cells. The amount of insulin the body needs will increase until it is completely dependent on insulin injections.

In type 2 diabetes, losing weight and regular physical activity can help blood glucose return to normal, but it doesn’t completely eliminate diabetes. The same metabolic processes that decreased insulin production can intensify over the years, and eventually the patient may need oral medications or insulin injections to help keep blood glucose stable—in addition to diet and exercise.

iStock/Martin Dimitrov

Diabetes can affect my emotional well-being

People with diabetes may be four times likelier to become depressed than people without diabetes. A probable cause: feeling helpless.  The daily stress of diabetes management can be isolating and take a toll. Sometimes people with diabetes don’t know if it’s depression or the diabetes—poor blood sugar control can cause sleepiness, anxiety, or insomnia. It could also be a side effect of certain medications. Whether you have diabetes or not, talk to your doctor if you notice depressive symptoms (such as loss of pleasure, nervousness, guilt, or suicidal thoughts), and never stop taking medication without a doctor’s approval.


This can be hard

We never take a break from having or managing diabetes. There are many other possible side effects we rarely mention—decreased sex drive and mood swings, to start. But we do appreciate the family and friends who offer help (without acting judgmental or getting all Diabetes Police on us). If someone in your family is diagnosed with diabetes, help the entire household adopt healthy habits, such as making time to exercise or cook healthy meals together. Be there to talk and offer support. It can make living with diabetes far less isolating for the person with it.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Kelsey Kloss
Kelsey Kloss is a writer and editor based in New York City, who writes about health, food, home, and lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Prevention, Redbook, and Reader's Digest, among others. Visit her website: Kelsey Kloss.