Stigmas and diabetes: How you can overcome them
With more than 4.9 million people in the UK living with diabetes1, most people today know someone with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but there are still a number of stigmas associated with diabetes.
Diabetes is very complex, and while carrying additional weight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, many slim people can also develop the condition. There are a variety of risk factors, such as family history, that cannot be changed, yet people with diabetes continue to face obesity and diabetes-related stigmas.
Stereotyping anyone based on their weight is unfair. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen in society, but it can also occur in the medical field, too. If you’re frustrated with the obesity stigmas that surround diabetes, here’s a closer look at the sources of the stigmas as well as tips for dealing with them.
Understanding obesity and diabetes related stigmas
Many other conditions don’t bring with them the stigmas that diabetes does. There are many stereotypes and stigmas associated with diabetes that suggest people bring diabetes on themselves. Many diabetes related stigmas can cause people with diabetes to experience negative feelings like blame, rejection, or exclusion – the idea that you brought this on yourself or you should have done better. Sadly, more than half of people with type 2 diabetes report that they have felt stigmatised2.
Common sources of stigmas
Multiple sources of diabetes stigmas exist, and these messages negatively affect both the general public and people with diabetes. Stigmas may begin with:
- The Media - Media continues to drive stigmas, often portraying people with diabetes as couch potatoes who overindulge in sugar and never exercise. Type 2 diabetes is emphasised as being lifestyle-related with an emphasis on people being physically inactive and overweight.
- Some Healthcare Providers – Unfortunately, some healthcare professionals drive stigmas and shame among people with diabetes3. This could be by using language that implies blame4, or by focusing more on the numbers and what is going wrong rather than focusing on the individual and encouraging healthier behaviours.
- Family and Friends – Although loved ones may have good intentions, they may be subconsciously judgmental and hurtful to people who have diabetes. No one enjoys being told what they should eat or when they should exercise as if it’s their own fault for having diabetes.
Overcoming obesity stigmas when you have diabetes
As someone with diabetes you will know that these stigmas exist, and may even have experienced them firsthand, but what can you do about them? Here are some ways that you can overcome these stigmas in your own diabetes management while also changing the way people around you view diabetes.
Focus on self-care
Learn to focus more on self-care and diabetes management than your appearance. Your medical team can help you come up with a management plan based on self-care behaviors and not just the number on the scale or a blood glucose level.
Hone in on the actions you can take to manage your diabetes. This includes making healthy food choices, finding ways to be more active, checking blood sugars regularly, and following your diabetes care plan. Remember, many actions work together to improve blood sugar levels, no matter your body size.
Beware of social media
Social media and news posts often fixate on special diets and specific exercise programs designed to help people achieve what is considered the ‘ideal’ body size and shape. Unfollow sources of these types of posts that make you feel shame and instead join groups with more credible sources of help and support.
Help educate others
Some people believe in the stigmas surrounding type 2 diabetes because they are uninformed. Help educate your friends and family members about diabetes; teach them about the causes of diabetes and inform them that people of all shapes and sizes can develop diabetes. Even if you are regularly physically active and eat a healthy diet, if diabetes runs in your family, you still may develop it.
You can also educate loved ones on what it takes to manage diabetes and how stigmas negatively impact you physically and emotionally. Arming people around you with facts and eliminating common diabetes myths can help them develop empathy and compassion, breaking the cycle of stigmas.
Connect with like-minded people
The stigmas linked to diabetes can be difficult to live with. If you feel you’re having a hard time coping with stigmas, consider joining a support group of like-minded people or seeking help from a mental health professional that can help you start viewing type 2 diabetes in a more positive way.
Before making any changes to your lifestyle or medication, please speak to your healthcare professional to check it is suitable for you. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely – you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.