Stigmatising Food

A few days ago, I stumbled across this article that really spoke to me (even if it did fall short of acknowledging that these outcomes are equally likely to affect people with type 2 diabetes). It was equally refreshing to see photos of real people with diabetes rather than the usual cringeworthy stock photos, one of whom was even sporting a t:slim.

The point that really hit home for me was that people with diabetes are often seen to lack control or ability to properly care for ourselves. Food police, which are an unfortunate reality of living with diabetes, are quick to judge when they see you reaching for that donut at morning tea.

I’ll go as far as to suggest that very few interactions around food have supported me, as a person living with diabetes. Things like being asked at the dinner table what my levels have been like, if I have to be ‘careful,’ or even being told that certain food choices are ‘not good for diabetes.’ Bonus points if you can say it nice and loudly and turn it into a punchline.

In the diabetes community, we are passionate about so many different ways of eating. Sadly, we’re not very good at embracing all of these different ways. I think this is really hurtful, especially for the newly diagnosed who may feel that there is only one right way of eating. Unfortunately, many in the community add to the stigma around food by demonising some ways of eating at the expense of pushing others.

There is so much stigma around food when you live with diabetes. Conversations around diabetes and food have always been ill-timed, demoralising and left me feeling small. Coming off of National Diabetes Week, it definitely takes a toll on your mental health.

I know I’m not supposed to care about what other people think, but the overarching feeling is that others don’t think I’m taking care of myself. Language Matters. The words we use, and the attitudes we convey – they become reality. That in turn leaves me feeling like I’m not taking good care of myself.

I continually find it frustrating that so many of my peers only seem to acknowledge that I’m living with diabetes when it’s dessert time. Food police do a terrible injustice to the realities of living with diabetes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. They’re ignorant to the fact that living with diabetes stretches a lot further than the dessert table. It’s a life of blood glucose monitoring, insulin administration, decision making, carefully planned activities and mental burden. So much mental burden.

I’m not actively looking for a pat on the back, but living with diabetes is largely invisible to the people without diabetes in my life. When the people around me don’t often get to see all of the aspects that there are to living with diabetes, it gets lonely. It genuinely is nice to be engaged in real conversations around diabetes from people without diabetes, because it gives me that little bit of acknowledgement. I feel that little bit less invisible.

So, talk to me about my diabetes. I’m always happy to help spread a bit of awareness.

But know that it is never okay to comment on the food choices of another person – diabetes or not.

9 Comments

  1. Lynda Ledger CDE

    I hear you Frank. It amazes me that people think they know more about your diabetes than you do. It is a common misconception that people with diabetes can’t eat desserts and I encourage my patients to tell these nosey people that they are aware of their carbohydrate intake and will either do some exercise if necessary to burn extra blood glucose or have extra insulin if they are injecting. They (the nosey ones) need educating that your diet is no different to the healthy diet they should be following.

  2. Rick Phillips

    Unless of course you have ice cream and do not get me some. I mean then it is ok.

    Look I agree Frank. Ill do my food, you do yours and we should only wish each other good health. I love popcorn. I would do about anything for popcorn. I just love it. You may love ice cream. Who knows what you give up for it. you have no idea what I give up for popcorn.

    Popcorn means that much to me. I am delighted for whatever makes you happy. Now lets talk about what is important. Oh it is sure isn’t food.

  3. Tony Sangster

    Thank you Frank for this post. What most of us have not been informed about or not decided to find out about is the history of diets to do with diabetes. Starting with the Banting diet way back not much after the discovery of insulin. It seems Banting figured out that having lots of carbs in the diet was not helpful in controlling the amount of sugar in the urine of diabetics newly commenced on the wonder life-saving drug, insulin. So the Banting diet was low in carbs – elementary and sensible. Then in the 60’s we had scientists raving about fat and heart disease And a bit later sugar was also seen as a problem for heart disease. So the sugar industry paid scientists at Harvard School of Nutrition to write articles that downplayed sugar’s bad rep and deflected the blame back on fat. Other scientists followed this lead with research in which to role of sugar in heart disease and the lack of evidence for fat as the culprit were suppressed. The food industry lapped this up aided by a particular religion which got into food manufacture, the low fat diet era was born. In 1977 a US senator set down the first US dietary guidelines And other coutr gullibly followed. So low fat high sugar diets included those for diabetics – never mind that obesity and Metabolic syndrome/type two diabetes and heart disease epidemics that followed. And to this day diabetic children are still encouraged to have breakfast cereal and high carb diets despite the lack of clear evidence for its safety. And the plethora of products with fructose in it is egregious as Prof Lustig points out fructose is handled in the liver like alcohol- produces fatty liver which is a precursor for heart disease. What don’t dietitians and paediatricians get about this? One could wonder, sadly whether all cgms do is document the damaging the highs and lows of inappropriate diets – because the Aussie Dietetics Association will not endorse low carb diets for diabetic children. This aAssociation gas ben rilling ot and supporting the same ild low fat guidelines for decades whilst being sponsored by the food industry ( they say they stooped sponsorship in late 2018 – but who can believe? So next time the processed food of the food industry makes you fell guilty realise you, your doctor, dietitian, parents have all been conned, and generations before. The facts above are all documented.

  4. Very relevant post for me today as I am at the end of the week from Blood Sugar hell. So many lows and way too many highs and real anxiety about eating, dosing and not getting it right. Funny thing is I am eating exactly the same as I was the week before. So go figure. I am loving discovering that there is no right way to eat ( having been in that camp for way too long) and looking forward to the day when we share a cannoli! Great words my friend

  5. Roisin

    I’m a parent of a Type 1 and when this arises I give the following answer – I’ve found this approach really helps to both educate the other person and to break the tension/anger that inevitably starts to boil in me!

    ‘There’s 3 things nobody with Type 1 can eat’, I say. ‘They’re known as the 3 Ps and we have to be very careful he avoids them’.

    ‘Oh really? What are those?’ they say, leaning in curiously.

    ‘Poison, Pets or People.’ 😉

    After the initial shock, we have a laugh and they go away with the point absolutely driven in. If they grasp that much I’m happy.

  6. So glad to have found your blog through a Twitter post just now.
    My 13 year old son was diagnosed in September last year and is constantly questioned about what he eats. He is amazing at working it all out and dosing his insulin accordingly. School teachers have even questioned him for eating his cooking in food tech classes. Hoping I can get him to follow your blog too.

  7. Jane

    I had a relative who constantly picked on me for my food and drink choices. I initially seethed inwardly and said nothing. Then I hit back at her, and tried to educate her. Unfortunately, there are some people who can’t be educated. My diabetes, my food choices, my rules (to borrow from Renza Scibilia). It is irritating, but ultimately it is our lives, and our choices. Bolus and live long.

  8. Karl

    I try to avoid having food, some days I don’t even have lunch. One less injection I don’t have to have to cover the carbs. Thanks Frank, for emailing me your articles on diabetes.

  9. Patricia

    Wow some really good comments there. Hey Frank, as always well said ! My daughter is the food Police, Mum you can’t eat that.🤣🤣 She thinks it’s a death sentence. I keep telling her I’m still here, still going to haunt you. God bless all.😍

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