Unhelpful Things to Say To Someone With Type 2 Diabetes

Find out 6 things that aren’t helpful to say to someone with type 2 diabetes, and what to say to support them instead.

by Emma Hall

When someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is normal for them to feel anxious, scared or intimidated by the medical condition. These feelings are sometimes exacerbated by well-meaning loved ones who ask unhelpful questions or make comments that can make the diabetic person feel worse about themselves. However, it is possible to provide support and empowerment to someone living with type 2 diabetes. We take a look at what you should and shouldn’t do.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes in a medical condition in which the body becomes resistant to insulin. Insulin is a peptide hormone that is produced in the pancreas. It helps to regulate the metabolism and promote the absorption of glucose from the blood. In type 2 diabetes, the body loses the capacity of produce enough insulin in the pancreas.

Of those living with diabetes, about 85 per cent of them have type 2 diabetes. It is more common in older people, but can occur at any time of life, including in children and adolescents. 

When someone has type 2 diabetes, they initially suffer from insulin resistance. Insulin becomes ineffective at managing the levels of glucose in the blood, leading to the pancreas responding by producing greater amounts of insulin. Insulin overproduction can cause the cells in the pancreas to wear out. By the time they are diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes have lost half of their insulin-producing cells. 

Many people with type 2 diabetes will need to support their body through medication or insulin.

What Can Cause Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes runs in families. If you have a family history of the condition, or you’re from a particular ethnic background, you are far more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. As well as a genetic disposition towards the condition, there are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing type 2 diabetes.

Some of these risk factors include being of an older age (over 55), being overweight, and having high blood pressure. Women who have had gestational diabetes when pregnant or who have had a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are also at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

You can read more about symptoms, causes, stages & treatment of type 2 diabetes here.

5 Common Misconceptions About Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is an often-misunderstood condition. Unfortunately, people who live with type 2 diabetes are frequently judged or blamed by people who think they contributed to their condition through lifestyle choices. 

In fact, type 2 diabetes is a complicated condition that is experienced differently by different individuals. There is no one factor that causes type 2 diabetes. 

Myth 1: Only overweight or obese people develop type 2 diabetes

Although weight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, it is not a direct cause. Some people are a healthy weight and can still develop type 2 diabetes. Additionally, not all people who are overweight will get the condition.

Myth 2: People with type 2 diabetes can’t eat sugar

Diabetes affects glucose levels in the blood, often known as blood sugar levels. Because of this, many people think that people with diabetes cannot eat any sweet foods, including natural and processed sugar. However, diabetics can continue to enjoy their favourite treats – they just need to make sure that everything is being consumed in moderation. People with type 2 diabetes need to be especially careful about monitoring their sugar intake.

Myth3: Only older people get type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes most commonly develops in adults over 45 years of age. However, this doesn’t mean that younger people cannot have the condition. Doctors are seeing increases in younger age groups developing type 2 diabetes. If you have other risk factors, you should be aware at any age.

Myth4: People with type 2 diabetes shouldn’t take medication unless they really need to

Some people feel a sense of shame or stigma around having type 2 diabetes, and this can cause them to avoid taking medication when they are first diagnosed with the condition. This is a mistake – the faster you achieve good blood glucose levels, the better. Medications can help you to maintain healthy levels and manage the condition more effectively.

Myth5: People with type 2 diabetes can’t exercise

Exercise is actually an important tool in controlling and managing diabetes. People that use insulin need to carefully balance medication and diet with exercise, but when you work with your doctor, you can develop an exercise program that suits you.

6 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone With Type 2 Diabetes

If you have a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may be tempted to offer advice. However, because diabetes is so misunderstood, it is possible that your well-meaning words could be more hurtful than helpful. Here are some of the comments to avoid when speaking to someone with type 2 diabetes.

1. You need to lose weight

It is true that losing weight can help to manage diabetes. In fact, through diet changes and weight loss, some people are able to reverse the condition if it is diagnosed early.

However, telling someone with type 2 diabetes that the only thing they need to do is lose weight is unhelpful. Controlling blood glucose levels is far more complicated than simply shedding a few extra kilos. It’s possible that the person with type 2 diabetes is already at a healthy weight and has developed the condition anyway. 

Nobody likes other people commenting on their body shape and size, and when that person has recently had a difficult medical diagnosis, it can be especially upsetting. 

2. You need to eat or drink this

There is no secret cure to diabetes. Managing the condition is based on a series of small lifestyle changes, not eating or drinking an obscure supplement or special food. While many people hear urban legends about diabetes being improved by different ‘super foods’, the reality is that the person diagnosed with diabetes isn’t looking for a quick fix. Instead, they want a kind and supportive ear as they process their new lifestyle. 

3. Diabetes can cause serious medical problems

You may have heard of the additional health problems that can beset people with type 2 diabetes. These include vision loss, numbness in hands and feet, and difficulty healing from cuts and sores. In more serious cases, diabetics can suffer from nerve damage, kidney disease, sleep apnoea, and loss of limbs such as toes. 

However, if you’ve heard of these comorbidities, it’s very likely that your loved one with diabetes has as well. There is no point scaring someone with worst case scenarios. It is better to be a compassionate support to them as they work to manage their condition, so that these serious outcomes don’t occur.

4. You don’t need medication

Using medication is a normal part of controlling and managing diabetes. Although some people can take no, or very minimal, medication and control their condition through diet and weight loss, most people will require medicine. This doesn’t mean that they are not doing enough to improve their lifestyle. 

Using medication is the best and most effective way to get blood glucose levels under control and prevent the kind of serious damage that diabetes can cause if left untreated in the long term. 

It isn’t kind to imply that someone doesn’t really need medication or that they need to try harder to alter their eating habits instead. Instead, you should try asking them if they feel okay about their medication and if they need any help getting to doctors’ appointments.

5. You shouldn’t eat that thing

People with type 2 diabetes face a lot of judgement and stigma around their weight and the food that they consume. Some people think that people with diabetes need to eat a highly controlled and restricted diet, with no indulgent treats. 

However, people with diabetes are for the most part capable of making their own informed decisions around their diet. Diabetics watch their food intake carefully, monitoring the way that their body reacts to everything they eat. They will normally plan for a sweet dessert or a different treat ahead of time, and this anticipation can actually add to the enjoyment. 

But feelings of guilt or shame brought on by another person’s question can ruin this rare experience. Even if the comment is made with genuine concern, it is best to refrain from questioning your loved one’s food choices and instead trust them to make the right decision for their body.

6. It could be worse

Finally, you should never suggest to a person diagnosed with diabetes that the condition is not that serious or that they should feel lucky not to have another medical condition. Diabetes is a condition that can be well managed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary or daunting, especially for people who have recently been diagnosed. 

Never compare diabetes with other diseases or conditions such as cancer or heart disease. This doesn’t make the person with diabetes feel any better. In fact, it can minimise their feelings of fear and concern and make them feel like you are not supporting them in this difficult time.

How to Support and Empower Someone With Type 2 Diabetes

If you have a loved one with type 2 diabetes, there are lots of things you can do to be supportive of them during this challenging time. The first few months after a diagnosis are key to showing them that they are loved, respected and admired, regardless of their condition. Try these five tips for empowering someone with type 2 diabetes.

1. Make changes to your diet together

All people with diabetes need to eat a healthy and balanced diet. But this kind of diet is beneficial to everyone, regardless of weight or medical condition. Instead of letting your loved one change their diet alone, why not make the changes with them and become healthier together.

This can be especially beneficial if you and your loved one with diabetes live together. Seeing you eat fatty and sugary foods can be hard for them, but if you both eat the same balanced and nutritious diet, they will feel much more supported. 

Discovering new recipes and ways of cooking food can be a fun bonding exercise. Plan your meals together and enjoy experimenting in the kitchen with wholesome, diabetes-friendly recipes.

2. Attend doctors’ appointments with them

Regardless of what kind of medical condition a loved one is suffering from, it’s a good idea to offer to attend at least some of their doctors’ appointments. We all can feel a bit overwhelmed when going to the doctor, and sometimes important information is forgotten by the time the appointment is over. 

Attending doctors’ appointments with your loved one with diabetes ensures that they have a second person to listen to instructions, ask questions, and find out key details. It can also be reassuring to know that someone is with you if you are going to receive difficult news. 

3. Try a new exercise program together

People with type 2 diabetes need to keep active to control their blood glucose. Having a buddy to work out with improves motivation and can help them to reach their exercise goals. It can also be fun to think of new exercises and routines with a loved one.

An added bonus is that if your loved one with diabetes does have any issues while out exercising, you will be close by to help them as needed.

4. Help them find a support group

Support groups for people living with diabetes allow diabetics to connect with other people experiencing the same things as them. Help your loved one find a group close by and encourage them to attend. Sometimes, only people living the same reality can truly understand and provide advice.

5. Always be positive 

It’s important not to nag or hassle the person living with diabetes. Instead, remain positive and always encourage and empower them whenever you can. Remember that it’s not your job to “fix” their condition or to manage it for them. All you can do is be supportive and make controlling diabetes as easy as possible for your loved one.

Resources for Diabetes Patients in Australia

There are lots of resources available to help people living with diabetes.

Online

Check out Diabetes Australia. They offer information, research, publications and more. 

In-person

Peer support groups are a great way to connect with other people and share experiences. Find one close to you through Diabetes Australia

If you have a close friend or family member with type 2 diabetes, remember that it is their medical condition and it is not your position to judge or question them. Instead, try to be as supportive as possible and help them to manage their diabetes in kind and loving ways.

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References
 

  1. Can You Reverse Type 2 Diabetes? (2018, December 24). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/can-you-reverse-type-2-diabetes
  2. Higuera, V. (2020, January 16). 7 Ways You Can Help Someone Living with Type 2 Diabetes. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/support-someone-living-with-type-2-diabetes#3.-Attend-a-diabetes-support-group-with-them
  3. Homage Australia. (n.d.-b). Type 2 Diabetes 101: Symptoms, Causes, Stages & Treatment. https://www.homage.com.au/resources/type-2-diabetes/
  4. Myths and Facts about Diabetes. (2020). Diabetes Australia. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/myths-facts/ 
  5. Support Groups. (2021). Diabetes Victoria. https://www.diabetesvic.org.au/support-groups 
  6. Type 2 Diabetes. (2021). Diabetes Australia. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/type-2-diabetes/
  7. van Doorn, M. (2021, October 13). 6 Things That Aren’t Helpful to Say to Someone with Type 2 Diabetes — and What to Say Instead. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/things-that-arent-helpful-to-say-to-someone-with-type-2-diabetes-and-what-to-say-instead
About the Writer
Emma Hall
Emma Hall is a professional writer with experience in healthcare and wellness. She loves to write clear and helpful articles about health, fitness and more. Emma lives in Melbourne and loves coffee, running, and her pet dog Bernie.
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