I’ve had type 2 diabetes for more than 18 years, and I’ve been writing about it for almost half of that time. Over the years, I’ve realized there are many things people don’t understand about diabetes. Here are four of them.
I may have diabetes, but please don’t call me a “diabetic.” I am a wife, stepmother, daughter, sister, aunt, sister-in-law, niece, cousin, friend, business owner, cook, writer, recipe developer, photographer, freelancer, rental home owner, bookkeeper, fitness enthusiast, traveler, advocate, reader, sports fan, and support group leader (among other things) — but I am not a “diabetic.” It breaks my heart when I hear stories about kids, especially, who are called “the diabetic” at school. For example, “Go get the diabetic. It’s time for his shot.” We are people with diabetes and we are all so much more.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. It causes the body to attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This means that a person with type 1 makes no insulin. Without insulin, you die. People with type 1 must inject insulin to stay alive. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies don’t use it very well. Over time, their insulin-producing cells may give up from exhaustion. Type 2 can be managed with lifestyle changes, medication, and sometimes insulin. In addition, there’s another type of diabetes known as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), sometimes called type 1.5. This condition has characteristics of both type 1 and type 2. It’s really annoying when someone finds out you have diabetes and asks: “Is it the bad kind?” None of them are good.
There is no one-size-fits-all diabetes management plan. Even if you find something that works, it may not 10 years down the road. Once I could easily eat 60 to 70 grams of carbohydrates at a meal; now I’m lucky if 40 grams keeps me in range. Other people with diabetes may only eat that much in an entire day. Everyone’s diabetes is different. For some of us, eating sweet foods, pasta, or potatoes in moderation is perfectly fine. We don’t appreciate comments like “Should you really be eating that?” We know how to best manage our own diets, thank you very much.
I really hate hearing jokes that go something like this: “That cake was so sweet, I thought I was going to get diabetes.” Repeat after me: Eating sugar does not cause diabetes. While it’s true that being overweight and not exercising regularly can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, there are many other factors that contribute as well: age, genetics, and being of certain ethnic backgrounds, to name a few. Please get over the misconception that those of us with diabetes are fat, lazy, and sit on the couch eating cookies all day, or that we “did this to ourselves” because of poor lifestyle choices.
In the United States, there are currently more than 30 million people with diabetes and 84 million with prediabetes. The more we all understand about what diabetes is — and what it isn’t — the better off everyone will be.
Shelby Kinnaird publishes diabetic-friendly recipes and tips for people who want to eat healthy at Diabetic Foodie, a website often stamped with a “top diabetes blog” label. Her motto is “a diabetes diagnosis is not a dietary death sentence.” Shelby is a passionate diabetes advocate who likes to make her voice heard in Washington, DC and she leads two DiabetesSisters support groups in Richmond, Virginia. She has successfully managed her type 2 diabetes for more than 18 years.