Etiquette for People Without Diabetes

By Richard157 Latest Reply 2009-12-22 14:20:56 -0600
Started 2009-12-20 14:43:29 -0600

Dr. Bill Polonsky, PhD, CDE,is the founder and president of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute (BDI) in San Diego, California, and a member of Diabetes Health's Advisory Board.

A few years ago, Dr. Polonsky addressed the frustration experienced by people with diabetes when it comes to other people's reactions to their health. He developed a very popular Diabetes Etiquette Card that helps express those feelings. It's not necessarily meant to be handed to another person, however. Instead, it is more an acknowledgment that we have all felt this way at one time or another and that it's all okay. Dr. Polonsky says that it might be time for you to try talking to the family members who "only open their mouth to change feet" when it comes to your diabetes. They usually mean well, but they probably just don't understand how it is for you and how they can help you. You can let them know what's it's like for you gently and with empathy.

Here are Dr. Polonsky's 10 etiquette tips for people without diabetes, written from the perspective of someone with diabetes:

•1 - DON'T offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of diabetes. You may mean well, but giving advice about someone's personal habits, especially when it is not requested, isn't very nice. Besides, many of the popularly held beliefs about diabetes ("you should just stop eating sugar") are out of date or just plain wrong.
•2 - DO realize and appreciate that diabetes is hard work. Diabetes management is a full-time job that I didn't apply for, didn't want, and can't quit. It involves thinking about what, when, and how much I eat, while also factoring in exercise, medication, stress, blood sugar monitoring, and so much more - each and every day.
•3 - DON'T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes you have heard about. Diabetes is scary enough, and stories like these are not reassuring! Besides, we now know that with good management, odds are good you can live a long, healthy, and happy life with diabetes.
•4 - DO offer to join me in making healthy lifestyle changes. Not having to be alone with efforts to change, like starting an exercise program, is one of the most powerful ways that you can be helpful. After all, healthy lifestyle changes can benefit everyone!
•5 - DON'T look so horrified when I check my blood sugars or give myself an injection. It is not a lot of fun for me either. Checking blood sugars and taking medications are things I must do to manage diabetes well. If I have to hide while I do so, it makes it much harder for me.
•6 - DO ask how you might be helpful. If you want to be supportive, there may be lots of little things I would probably appreciate your help with. However, what I really need may be very different than what you think I need, so please ask first.
•7 - DON'T offer thoughtless reassurances. When you first learn about my diabetes, you may want to reassure me by saying things like, "Hey, it could be worse; you could have cancer!" This won't make me feel better. And the implicit message seems to be that diabetes is no big deal. However, diabetes (like cancer) IS a big deal.
•8 - DO be supportive of my efforts for self-care. Help me set up an environment for success by supporting healthy food choices. Please honor my decision to decline a particular food, even when you really want me to try it. You are most helpful when you are not being a source of unnecessary temptation.
•9 - DON'T peek at or comment on my blood glucose numbers without asking me first. These numbers are private unless I choose to share them. It is normal to have numbers that are sometimes too low or too high. Your unsolicited comments about these numbers can add to the disappointment, frustration, and anger I already feel.
•10 - DO offer your love and encouragement. As I work hard to manage diabetes successfully, sometimes just knowing that you care can be very helpful and motivating.

For more details on this article and steps needed to get one of these etiquette cards, follow this link:

16 replies

DiabetesDiva 2009-12-21 20:11:41 -0600 Report

What upsets me the most is hearing 'Oh, diabetes. Everyone has that. You just have to not eat sugar". I don't think it's said to be mean, just that the person is uninformed. I admit, sometimes i'd like to throw a loaf of bread at their head!

deafmack 2009-12-21 20:36:47 -0600 Report

Yeah, I know what you mean. I had a friend bring a completely decorated sugar free cake yesterday to a church dinner. No matter how many times I tell her it is not about sugar but about carbohydrates, she just doesn't get it. She insists on calling it "sugar diabetes" I have to admit though that she does it out of love. She is so sweet and innocent about it.

Sue Turner
Sue Turner 2009-12-22 14:20:56 -0600 Report

That sounds like my sister who always gave me parfume for Christmas, birthdays, etc., I had told her a million times, that I am allergic to parfumes, but every year it was the same thing. But, I also knew that it was given out of love, so the only thing I could do was be kind and polite to her, thank her, and accept her gift! It was kinda funny in a way; I had to laugh about it.

Deb-G 2009-12-22 07:59:47 -0600 Report

Ok…that made me laugh…lol…I guess cause I can relate to that desire to rocket a loaf at someones skull…tooo funny! lol

sweething 2009-12-21 08:18:02 -0600 Report

Very good information for the diabetic facing social situations. If only these could be sent to every person in a diabetic's life, soon the world might understand in infinitismal amount of what it is to live with diabetes. Thank you, Richard.

Deb-G 2009-12-20 18:32:03 -0600 Report

This is why I tend not to discuss things with even family (not counting my immediate family cause they see and deal with it directly lol)…but its just not worth the irritation sometimes of the comments like "it could be worse, you could have cancer"…well..sure..but atleast there's a chance of curing that?

Anyway…this was good, and so true…and I find it easier to just avoid the subject with folks outside diabetic circles..its like discussing politics…never ends well LOL

Thx Richard…good reading :)

Sue Turner
Sue Turner 2009-12-22 14:04:40 -0600 Report

I get those kinds of comments from my daughters. They just don't get it. They tell me all the time, "there are millions of people with diabetes; they eat what they want, do what they want, and they do just fine, I don't know what your "problem" is mom!" I just hope that they never have to know.

Thanks Rich.

Deb-G 2009-12-22 14:11:42 -0600 Report

Dont let it get cha down Sue…I think people dont realize how many forms there are and how many varying degrees of problems there are…and you are right…hopefully they will never need to know despite themselves…

I dont think children get sensitive to the needs of their parents till later on…Takes us all a while to get past ourselves lol..I know I am much more in tune to my parents medical needs now then I use to be…hopefully it wont take my own kids that long hahaha!

2009-12-20 15:28:57 -0600 Report

we all have been at least annoyed before i am sure
thnks, interesting reading

spiritwalker 2009-12-20 14:52:04 -0600 Report

Thanks for sharing ! Its a great piece I intend to share with
friends. Many of them don't have computers and I know will
enjoy and share it with others including family.

Richard157 2009-12-20 15:01:41 -0600 Report

Be careful friend, some nondiabetics may not react kindly to seeing this. I think some diabetics should also follow this advice!!!

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