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You’ve probably run into the “diabetes police” without even realizing it. You know the sort: an aunt or uncle, friend or coworker, or complete stranger in a grocery store aisle who feels the need to comment on your life with diabetes.

These people often mean well. They are trying to help us. Yet, for people with diabetes (PWDs), their comments often come across as meddling, and attempt to “police” our lives with unwanted or even dangerously misinformed advice. Hence, the term.

You’ve likely heard any number or variety of these proclamations:

  • “You can’t eat that!” (no matter the food, drink or occasion)
  • “My best friend’s grandma has a cat with diabetes, and they did XYZ… and the cat was cured” (just, no)
  • “So my aunt lost her leg to diabetes, and…” (anything that follows is now irrelevant, but to that person it means they believe they know all about diabetes)
  • “Just eat fewer carbs because then you won’t need so much insulin and you won’t have diabetes anymore” (hello, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin no matter how few carbs they may consume!)
  • “Maybe if you tried an insulin pump instead of injecting with needles, you’d have your diabetes under control” (ugh, this is a personal choice on how to manage one’s diabetes)
  • “If you eat that piece of candy, you’re going to suffer grave consequences and you’re a terrible person for mismanaging your diabetes” (wrong, PWDs can eat candy if managed properly, and sometimes candy is in fact medicine to treat low blood sugars)
  • “Don’t you know you can reverse diabetes?” (queue major eye rolls here)

And the list goes on.

Our Diabetes Community has been griping about these so-called “diabetes police” for years, often over the holiday season when friends and family gather over big meals. While it’s true that this time of year often presents the most challenges for PWDs with fluctuations in glucose levels (aka “glucoastering”), the actions of these “diabetes police” types only serve to frustrate us further.

Today, we’re addressing how best to deal with those individuals in our lives who believe they know all about diabetes, and what we can or cannot eat. Here are some thoughts on how we can push back, diplomatically.

A number of years ago, clinical psychologist Dr. Bill Polonsky, founder of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute (BDI) created a diabetes etiquette card for friends and loved ones of PWDs.

Dr. Bill Polonsky

Available in both English and Spanish, it lists the top 10 “DOs and DON’Ts” of loving, supportive communication from the “sugar-normal” (nondiabetic) side of the fence to us.

For example, number three reads: “DON’T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes you have heard about. Diabetes is scary enough…” Naturally, it goes on to remind everyone that handled well, the odds are extraordinarily good that anyone with diabetes “can live a long, healthy and happy life.”

The BDI also created a card for parents of teens with diabetes, which lists nine essential tips. Fore example, number three on this list is: “Please acknowledge when I’m doing something right, not just when I’ve messed up.

Polonsky spent more than 2 years surveying several hundred PWDs from around the country to identify the top things that sugar-normals do, or don’t do, that drive us batty. Then he and his team went to distilling it all down to those magical tip cards.

A preview version can be downloaded directly for printing from your own computer, or you can order them in slick business card format for $1.25 each here.

When DiabetesMine asked Polonsky about the biggest lesson behind creating those key tips, he simply stated what many know as “the golden rule.”

“I think as the first guiding principle, we need to acknowledge that we must treat everyone with the same level of respect that we want for ourselves,” he said.

As noted, there’s been a lot shared about the so-called diabetes police over the years in our Diabetes Online Community (DOC). That includes a number of funny videos, including one by professional actor Jim Turner, who’s lived with type 1 diabetes for decades himself. Aside from having some fun with the topic, Turner emphasizes in his video that we need to remember these annoying comments generally come from well-intentioned individuals, so it behooves us to be measured in our response.

He identifies “diabetes policing” as anything that says:

  • you can’t…
  • you shouldn’t…
  • you’d better…

“Support me, don’t police me!” Turner says.

In addition to being respectful and engaging in civil discourse, we should try our best to be kind, he adds.

One idea might be to simply say: “Please don’t do that.

To which, your surprised D-Police agent will likely respond, “Do what?

From there, with a sad smile, you could reply: “Please don’t (tell me how to manage my diabetes / dictate to me what I’m allowed to eat / give me advice about what meds to take / tell me when to check my blood sugar).” Then end with a forceful: “I’ve got this.

And if that doesn’t work, it’s not a bad idea to order a pile of Polonsky’s etiquette cards and have them ready to hand out to meddling friends and relatives — especially over the holidays.

Remember to be both nice and respectful when you hand a person the card. You could say: “I’m glad you are concerned about me. Would you please read this?

Unless your blood sugar is running low. Then you might not be able to stop yourself from saying, “Thanks! Now here’s YOUR advice!”