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6 Things That Aren’t Helpful to Say to Someone with Type 2 Diabetes — and What to Say Instead

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by Mary Van Doorn

•••••

Tiffany Taft, PsyD

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

by Mary Van Doorn

•••••

Tiffany Taft, PsyD

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

We aren’t looking for you to solve our issues or do medical research. We just want your friendship, love, and compassion.

When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I carefully chose how to share this news. In a world where type 2 is looked at strictly as a lifestyle disease, sharing my diagnosis was not something I was looking forward to.

Once it became common knowledge, well-intentioned family and friends started offering unsolicited advice and sharing anecdotes that weren’t warmly received. What was supposed to come across as caring and interested came across as condescending and rude.

Now, in the age of social media, well-meaning strangers have joined the discussion.

Type 2 diabetes is a very individual and complicated chronic condition. The world tends to minimize diabetes management by focusing only on weight loss, diet, and exercise.

The reality is, so much more affects our numbers: stress, weather, medications, mental health, illness, sleep, and what color socks we’re wearing. (OK, that last one is a joke. But in all seriousness, it seems everything can impact our blood sugar levels.)

No matter the intentions behind your advice, please think twice before saying any of the following to a person living with type 2 diabetes.

No matter what

If someone close to you confides in you about their diagnosis or medication side effects, listen with compassion without thinking about what you’re going to say next and without trying to solve anything.

Don’t say: ‘Just lose weight and you’ll be fine!’

While weight loss can certainly help lower blood glucose in people with diabetes, it is not a cure.

Any sentence that starts with “just” trivializes the complex nature of glucose control. “Just watch what you eat,” “just count carbs,” and “just exercise” are other statements that fall into this category.

If it were “just” that easy, the millions of people living with type 2 diabetes would have done it already.

Instead, try this:

“That’s a lot to take in, how are you coping?”

Don’t say: ‘Have you tried eating/drinking/taking this?’

There are so many shakes, supplements, and “magic potions” specifically targeted to people with diabetes.

Someone once told me if I drank okra water daily, it would cure me. First, yuck, and second, if there was a miracle cure out there, the whole world would be talking about it.

We know that real progress is based on sustainable lifestyle changes. Please don’t try to sell us on a “quick fix” you read about on social media.

Instead, try this:

“That’s a lot to deal with, have you made a plan with your medical team?”

Don’t say: ‘My grandma had diabetes and went blind/lost her leg/[insert horror story here]’

First, every person’s diabetes is different. So, your grandmother’s diabetes is not my diabetes.

Most patients with a type 2 diagnosis are well aware of the complications that may arise as a result of the condition. Some may even use this knowledge as a motivator to eat well, take their medications as advised, and exercise more.

Hearing secondhand stories like this can take that motivation and turn it into fear, causing us to live in a constant state of anxiety. We know the realities that come with this disease and are trying our best to stay positive and control the things we can, like how we eat, how we move, how we think, and how we react to others.

Instead, try this:

“That’s a lot on your shoulders, how are you doing?”

Don’t say: ‘At least it’s not cancer’

This statement is harmful for so many reasons, and I’m not even sure I understand the intent. Is it to make us feel better by comparing our chronic condition to someone’s cancer battle?

It’s never OK to minimize a person’s feelings by saying it can always be worse. This goes for pretty much any scenario in life, but medical conditions especially.

Instead, try this:

“That sounds heavy, how are you handling everything?”

Don’t say: ‘You must be doing something wrong if you’re on medication’

There’s a misconception that type 2 diabetes can be cured or reversed using a specific diet or by losing a significant amount of weight. Diabetes remission can be achieved by some, but not everyone is able to completely get off medication, even if they are doing everything “right.”

Implying that a loved one (or stranger) must not be trying hard enough because they need medication only serves a healthy helping of shame and guilt, emotions they may already feel due to the pressure they put on themselves.

Instead, try this:

“That sounds frustrating, have you shared your concerns with your doctor?”

Don’t say: ‘Should you be eating that?’

I saved the best and most frustrating for last. Every person I know who is living with diabetes has had this sentence said to them.

Living with type 2 diabetes is a 24/7 job. We are always thinking about food and the way our bodies are going to react to our choices. But that doesn’t mean we need policing.

Being a grown woman with type 2 diabetes does not mean I should never enjoy a tasty treat. It’s likely if I’m eating something indulgent, I’ve planned for it, and am excited about it.

The “food police” comments may be made with genuine concern, but to the person living with type 2, they only serve as a vehicle to shame us for our choices under the guise of being worried about our health.

Instead, try this:

Say nothing.

If you’re out with a close friend who has type 2 diabetes, enjoy their company without scrutinizing their food choices.

The bottom line

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be difficult to navigate. We want support from our friends and family without unsolicited advice.

When we’re sharing our frustrations and emotions, we need two things from you: a safe place and open ears.

We aren’t looking for you to solve our issues or do medical research. We just want your friendship, love, and compassion.

Remember, we’re given two ears and just one mouth for a reason — so we can listen twice as much as we talk.

Article originally appeared on October 13, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on October 11, 2021.

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