Five Things Never to Say to a Diabetic

Note: Congratulations to Deborah Weber, who won the book. And thanks to all of you for your great ideas of what to do with the flash cards.  Now to decide which ones to try.. . .

When in full snark mode combined with teacher mode, I make lists of things not to say. I’ve done one for funerals and one for writers, and now it’s time to stand up for diabetics.

drug_development_cost_diabetes_prevalenceWith the zeal of a new convert to a strange religion, I’ve decided not to hide and pretend I’m on a fad diet. Fueled by the acceptance of fads but the fear of disease, our culture accepts almost any diet as a brave attempt at carving out a slim line from a hunk of fat. . . except for diabetics. We, it seems, are fat because we chose to be. Here are five things diabetics do not want to hear you say:

1. “Is it Type 1 or Type 2?” Unless you have just discovered the cure for one of them, there is no reason to ask. What in the world do you need that information for? To decide if they got a bad genetic download? (Type 1) Or if it is “your own fault”? (Type 2). See? You just want to judge. Don’t.

2. “You know, there’s this great new cure I just heard about. . .” Most diabetics have a doctor or a dietician. If you have a new cure, call the American Diabetes Association, or Diabetes is a complicated hormonal and endocrinological disease, and whatever you read online that starts “one weird old way. . .” or “why your doctor doesn’t want you to know about. . .” is not the answer.

The same advice goes for asking if we can’t just eat gluten-free or paleo. Here’s the answer: No. Diabetics aren’t allergic to gluten, it’s all carbs they have to watch out for. Gluten sensitives can eat rice. diabetics can’t.  So glad you love your paleo diet. Please don’t try to foist is on me.

3. “You can’t stay on that diet all the time. You have to treat yourself.” Most diabetics have learned to “treat themselves” in ways that don’t involve food. What you are doing is indicating that you are unhappy with the change your friend went through”, and you are giving a “switchback” message. “I liked the old you better.” Diabetics liked the old diet, too, but it’s killing them.  That remark is not far from telling an alcoholic that “one drink won’t hurt.” Take the cue from the diabetic. They know more about their disease than you do.

4. “Can’t you just eat one dessert and then take more medication?” Is there an M.D. after your name? No? Then stop giving medical advice. The medication your diabetic friend is on depends on a diet to make it work. Insulin is not the “morning after” pill, it’s a way to balance what the body no longer produces. Messing with it leads to blindness, kidney failure, and amputation. Ready to give up a kidney?

5. “Just how much weight have you lost?” is not as charming as it sounds. Instead, say, “You look great!” –it’s a phrase that doesn’t seem to have any strings attached.

Bonus #6: “I could never jab myself like you have to.” Lucky you don’t have to then. And no heroin jokes, either. I’ve heard them all. And no, you may not look at or use my test kit.

Quinn McDonald has noticed that the test strip container is just large enough to hold some darning needles, or a pencil sharpener. How convenient.

39 thoughts on “Five Things Never to Say to a Diabetic

  1. Years ago I read Dawn Steel’s autobiography, ‘They Can Kill You, But They Can’t Eat You.’ She was the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio just over 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten the quote, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. You waste your time and you annoy the pig.” I can spot a pig a mile off and I think you can too.

  2. Excellent list, but I get stuck at number 1. Weight is just about the last place where it is still acceptable to judge, and diabetes gets mixed up in that. People think you get diabetes because you are fat. Or because you have no self-control and eat a lot of sugar. Or because you are lazy and won’t exercise. If they can judge and find themselves superior, they feel safe from a scary disease. And sadly, they are wrong, it’s all so much more complicated than that.

    • Diabetes is an incredibly complex disease. Given that, it is so much easier to make up stuff and use half-baked ideas instead of facts. People do that with most complex issues, from politics to religion. Which is how come I’ve decided to be one of those people who speaks up. I’m not really sure I want to, but I can’t stand to listen to anger mixed with bad ideas, no science and topped with judgment. So I’m speaking up.

  3. “I liked the old you better.” Diabetics liked the old diet, too, but it’s killing them. –You said a mouthful. There but for the grace of genes or God go all of us, given how much sugar we have ALL ingested over our lifetime. Love you, kiddo.

    • We have serious mixed-message problems with sugar. Surprisingly, I have discovered some things I love that I didn’t eat before. Lentils. I used the red ones for thickening soups and chowder instead of flour. My seedy nut bars with low-glycemic coconut nectar. Mesquite flour. It’s good to discover new things. But yeah, I would love a sweet potato pie.

  4. Apart from lemon drizzle I don’t like cake anymore and have totally lost my taste for desert,which makes life easier keeping the weight off……think it would be more fun throwing it at people!! Because we never have cake at home my kids don’t like it! People think they are weird! Can’t win can you!x

  5. LOL – love your list! I’m off to get by HbA1c done shortly, to be followed by the annual doctors’ visit where they get to tell me I’m obese, and my control just isn’t good enough, and I should be eating a healthy diet. Just what is a healthy diet, I ask, and silence falls …

    Now I’m one of those banes of your life who is working on regaining her health with Paleo (and no, I won’t force it on you!!!! – never, ever!!!). I’ve learnt that carbs are my enemy – particularly at night – hello blood sugar spike! No, I can’t eat rice – in fact I can’t eat any grains, or most seeds. I also have FODMAPS (intolerance to fruit sugars, particularly fructose), so goodbye pip & stone fruit, onions, nightshades.

    October is going to be my n=1 experiment with my body month. No Gliclazide or metformin (I am so over the diahhrea and depression!) for a month, to see if it helps my leaky gut. But of course, I will still be testing my blood sugar levels, and if they start going up, I’m back on the drugs. It just seems counter-intuitive to force my pancreas to release what little insulin it still has, rather than reducing my carbs to as little as possible.

    Oh, and as for rolling my eyes … mwahahaha

    Awesome rant Quinn! Do it again!

  6. I appreciate your views and your snarkiness! I am still in awe of the way you handle diabetes. I am working hard to learn the hard lessons myself as I have too many relatives with diabetes; I’m realizing I may just be diagnosed at some point. I have denied that for way too many years.

    • Find out. Get tested. Test yourself if you have to. The damage that diabetes causes is silent and serious. The upshot is that small capillaries become brittle and burst. Not so bad, most of us think. Until we lose feeling in our feet or fingers, or until those capillaries are in our eyes, brains and kidneys and cause irreparable damage. Caught early, you can live a longer, more comfortable life. Denied or unknown, diabetes generally is recognized by symptoms that can’t be reversed.

      • I’m already on it. I have labs scheduled for this week. A1C front and center. Last fasting BS was 105 which is now considered pre-diabetic. One of my (many) problems is, I am a nurse who learned that anything below 120 was perfect; I have to unlearn things all the time!

        • There is so much conflicting information on what is OK and what is not, I want to bitch-slap the whole diabetic/drug/dietician community. My doctor says one thing, the dietician another, websites a third. Popular TV doctors give much lower numbers, and when I ask the dietician why that is, she just shrugs. It’s maddening.

  7. You’re my hero, Quinn! You have done EXACTLY what you needed to do and you’re winning. You look fantastic but more important is how you feel. XO

      • You are absolutely the right person to speak up. You are taking care of yourself in a perfect way and I know how difficult the journey has been for you. That’s why you’re my hero…so many other people would have taken a completely different path but you have stayed true to yourself and have done what’s right for you, and you alone.

        On a side note, I hope I’ve never said any of the things on this list. My mind is racing…wondering if I’ve said the wrong thing. I sure hope not because I would never want to hurt or offend you.

        • No you haven’t, Traci–and you know me, I would have said something! i also find it different when friends say something or strangers do. And strangers say the oddest things. And thanks for letting me be a hero. It’s not often I get to do that. But no tights. I’m not ready for that yet!

  8. Missing from your list:
    “Oh, my cat has diabetes. I just give him a pill…it’s no big deal.”
    (gee, thanks, I feel SO much better now…)
    We heard this a shocking number of times soon after my son was diagnosed and we were learning the ropes of diet, testing, and insulin injections. Obviously I restrained myself because I’m not serving time, but REALLY people!
    PS. I enjoy your blog immensely. Thanks!

    • Yes, there does seem to be a lot of confusion between animals and people lately. I’ve heard that, too. I’ve had a diabetic cat. It’s not the same. In fact, much as I love my cats (and I do), they aren’t people.

  9. As a diabetic, I’m all in with you in this. I would like ad few things: we are not ALLERGIC to sugar like some are to peanuts. I won’t go into an anaphylactic shock if I eat one of those weird candies you brought from your holiday to Japan. Secondly, if I say my blood sugar is low, I really mean exactly that. I need a break, I need to sit down for a while and eat/drink something sugary. I can’t go on running about or participate in the meeting. I’m not being difficult or lazy, it’s just my body running on its own schedule and I really don’t have it under my command. AND if you find me passed out somewhere DON’T do like they do in the movies and inject more insulin into me, that will just make things worse. Just call the freaking ambulance and let them deal with it. And yes, a person can have diabetes, even the type 2 too, even is she is thin. It’s not that simple.

    Ah, that felt good. Thanks for the rant and the opportunity to have one myself! 🙂

  10. Re: 4 – There’s one thing I’ve never understood: How can it make somebody else happier, if I have cake or dessert (or drink or whatever)? Is it that group thing, which I never got the hang of, that life is safer/better/something if we’re all doing the same, thinking the same, wearing the same etc? And WHY is that safer? *shaking my head*

    • In our American culture, we are very much individuals acting within a narrow range of acceptable behavior and dress. Dessert at a women’s luncheon is an amazing event–there has to be denial, then sharing. But if one of the participants is overweight, there also has to be assurance that she’s not fat, then judgment. And group behavior is very important. I no longer care if people around me eat dessert–except for very few items, I’ve lost my taste for desserts, but the pressure to participate is huge.

    • Two things: I was raised to believe that cake/pie/any good sugary dessert was the key to happiness and was issued for all glad/sad/happy/mad times! (Can you see that I’m struggling to unlearn a lot of things?) And my daughter used to ask as a teenager just how I knew she was rolling her eyes even if she was behind me. I told her as an adult that it was because that was exactly the time I would be rolling my eyes at my mother and/or anyone else!

      • My entire cultural experience is based around food. Food was a reward, a celebration, a comfort. Certain food indicated certain holidays. There was jam making and bread-baking as regular events. Pies and cobblers were standard fare at our house. And the food that were celebration and comfort were heavy in carbs, as was the whole immigrant diet. In the olden days, carbs were worked off by hard field work. By the time I was a young adult, I had a heavy sugar addiction. Each time I gave it up, I lost weight, and each time I got off the diet, I would tell myself I could “handle” or “modify” my love for sweets. And I could not give them up. Last October 3, when I ate my last sugary sweet, I was not sure I wanted to live this way. But now I do. I am still struggling to learn a different way. And if you are holding a piece of pie, watch out, I’m pretty strong and very fast!

  11. That was brilliant,nothing like a good rant! Can you post all your lists like that of various subjects!!! I am smiling and havent had my first cup of tea yet!! Black and a pinch of sugar! I love your sense of humour and sarcasm ,and no,it isn’t the lowest form of wit,it’s funny!!
    That’s why I love you,
    Who won the collage book by the way,seemed to have missed that? Shame,fancied that one!!!!
    What are you doing with those flash cards ??
    Happy Sunday……xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Deborah Weber won the book, and it has arrived already. I put the note on the flash card post, but I added it to today’s blog, too. Thanks for reminding me. I used one for a postcard on my international postcard swap, and am still thinking, because i got so many good suggestions. That tea does sound nice and cozy–I’m sure you woke up to colder temps than I did!

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