Amy Tenderich was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2003. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Diabetes Mine and co-authored the book Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes. You will frequently find her speaking at diabetes, health, and social media events across the country.
It’s not at all uncommon for close friends, family members, or even near-strangers who know you have diabetes to eye you reaching for some food item and ask, "Should you be eating that?" They mean well, but their meddling is really not helpful.
We call them the "Diabetes Police," and they are out in full force over the winter holidays.
You might feel like whacking them over the head with the nearest fruitcake, but don’t. There are better ways to handle this irritating situation and to gently remind folks to mind their own business. Above all, be positive! It’s better for your own piece of mind—as well as everyone’s around you—if you can stay cool.
As one of my readers with type 1 diabetes explains: “If I go into the situation with an attitude based on past annoyances, chances are it’s going to end up making both me and them uncomfortable. The only person I can really change is me, so I may as well reframe my attitude.”
Indeed the best defense is a smile when people say “you can’t eat that” or when they push you to eat a treat you don’t want.
When people get pesky about your food choices with diabetes, there are three basic strategies for responding in a positive way:
This could be your opportunity to explain how diabetes works. You can tell people how you count carbohydrates when you eat, and how if you’re on insulin, you can eat what you want as long as you dose correctly for the amount of carbs.
A reader named Debbie says that she likes to explain that, “diabetes is unique in the way it manifests itself in each person, and what foods each diabetic can tolerate and the amount is different for each of us. We are all different, just like snowflakes!”
2. Shut ‘em down
Sometimes you won’t feel like going into the whole “diabetes 101 lecture,” or you may feel that the person confronting you wouldn’t be receptive to the information anyway. In that case, you can kindly but firmly shush them by saying something like, “Thank you for your concern.” Then smile and quickly change the subject. Ask the person something about themselves; that’s usually a great way to defer their attention.
3. Kill ‘em with kindness
This approach uses a little bit of both of the above. Without getting into any of the disease details, you can simply explain diabetes to the person using my favorite approach, the car analogy: “Your healthy pancreas works like an automatic transmission, but mine is like stick shift. In other words, your body automatically adjusts in reaction to everything you do and eat, but I need to manually ‘shift my gears’ to stay healthy. I’m pretty good at it by now. Thank you so much for looking out for me, though!”
If they continue to badger you, it’s definitely time to paste on a big smile as you excuse yourself and move on to mix and mingle with other people.