"Should You Really Be Eating That?"
How to deal with insensitive questions.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
November 2011 — When I looked at dLife.com the other day, I saw that one of the topics that will be discussed on an upcoming episode of dLifeTV is the most insensitive question that anyone has ever asked you about your diabetes. When I posed that question to my son, he had a hard time narrowing it down to a few, much less only one. It is fascinating to me how people feel that someone's disease is considered fair game to express an opinion on without being asked. My son has had more people than he could count ask why he is eating something sweet, if he can do normal activities, or — my personal favorite — if "he has it regulated yet?"
These questions probably don't sound that unreasonable or insensitive to most people, but I find that a lot of how they are taken depends on your relationship with the person asking the questions and the way that person phrases the questions. My best friend could ask the same question as a judgmental relative and get a very different reaction from me or my son. There is also a huge difference between someone asking because he is legitimately trying to gain information and someone asking because he is judging the person's choices. For example, asking "Are you able to eat basically what you want to even though you have diabetes?" sounds very different from "Should you really be eating that? Don't you have diabetes?"
When someone asks questions about what people with diabetes can eat or do (or not eat or do) there is also the implication that there are serious limitations that diabetes imposes on them. Our son resents this implication so much, and we take some pride in that. We have tried to raise him in a way that he would never believe that diabetes puts limits on his life or what he can do. While we are happy that he has clearly adopted this way of thinking and does not see himself as having any limits, we all need to understand that when people ask these questions, they may not be asking because they are making a judgment, but because they really don't know and want to learn more. And what a great service we can provide them by teaching them that people with diabetes don't need to have limits placed on what they can do, and usually not on what they can eat. We can explain to them that they can eat sweets in moderation and do "normal" activities, and that regulating diabetes is a constant process that goes hour by hour, meal by meal, activity by activity, and snack by snack.
I find that many of the questions people ask about diabetes come from them needing to feel better about the whole thing. They want things to be smooth, easy, safe, and automatic. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't use any of those words to describe diabetes, and I don't even have the disease. For example, when someone finds out that Joel has an insulin pump, they usually make a statement like, "Oh well at least he doesn't have to take shots and he can get his insulin automatically." They also think that a pump takes the place of testing, that it monitors his blood sugar. Of course it doesn't, and when I explain that, it seems to leave them unsettled. I also get asked about how often he has to test. When they find out how frequently it is, they seem a little overwhelmed by it and what a burden it must be.
My point here is that even when our friends and family members ask questions about diabetes that seem insensitive, we need to try to be patient and realize that they usually come from a place of them wanting to make things easier than they are. As much as we may be frustrated by the way they ask, we should try to appreciate that their motivation is wanting to make life easier.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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