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How to bust diabetes myths

Facts matter. Knowledge is control. Knowing the truth is useful – especially when your health and well-being are on the line.

If what you believe about type 2 diabetes is unfounded and wrong, then it will at best confuse and inconvenience you, at worst cause harm to your health.

Learn from Derek Jamieson about how to handle misinformation and misconceptions about diabetes and how to separate diabetes myths and facts.

Separating diabetes myths and facts

Take a moment to think of those 3500 or so years. They underscore just how intractable the problem of treating this chronic disease is. This disease has challenged humanity since the dawn of time. An actual cure still doesn’t exist. Diabetes is hard. And in that light, the fact that misconceptions about diabetes continue to circulate is less surprising.

In this blog post I will share some advice helping you debunk or bust diabetes myths and arrive at the facts. I will encourage you to develop a critical mind in the midst of all the information available about type 2 diabetes. And I will tell you how to react to those muddying the waters by spreading misinformation.

Tip 1. Do your own research into diabetes

Knowledge is empowering. Having the facts puts you in control. The truth shall set you free. We’ve all heard these catchphrases before. That is probably because, cliche or not, they contain a grain of truth.

In the context of type 2 diabetes, they are highly relevant. And that’s why my first tip is to do your own research into diabetes.

When you do your own research, you take control of your condition, your personal situation, your own treatment even – although of course your doctor or GP will remain a source of invaluable support and guidance.

As a rule of thumb you can take your doctor’s words at face value. But in my opinion, a great relationship with healthcare professionals is a product of you doing your homework, too.

Be like a child. Ask any question you want, of your doctor and anyone who might hold useful answers. Other people with diabetes can be especially knowledgeable.

Try to get your hands on some reliable diabetes information in the form of books, too. Be slightly more critical about things you read on social media or the web. If you’re up for it, look into published scholarship in credible medical journals.

Why? Because you’ll gain an empowering sense of being on top of your condition. You’ll know – really know, almost at a cellular level – what it means to rely on and benefit from insulin. You’ll know not just that it works, but how it works. And you’ll be able to make wiser decisions and plan your day more successfully.

It will also protect you from counterproductive, potentially harmful diabetes myths and misconceptions about diabetes. You’ll simply be able to spot them sooner – before adopting whatever misguided action they advise.

illustration woman with her laptop

Tip 2. Talk openly about your diabetes

People tell me I don’t look like “a diabetic”. Whenever I hear this, my response is always the same: “What does a diabetic look like?” I rarely get a response.

This is a good example of a specific diabetes myth that’s still common: That all people with diabetes look the same. Or that diabetes makes you look a certain way.

Diabetes myths are the product of many things. Misinformation and miseducation are in my opinion near the top of the list. But people’s (understandable) need to break down and simplify something they don’t understand might also be a factor.

As a person living with diabetes, you are in a unique position to reflect and promote a true understanding of diabetes. By talking openly about the disease, by sharing your personal thoughts, everyone engaging with you will come away a little smarter about diabetes.

And by showing the people in your life that you trust them to be thoughtful and understanding towards your experience, you invite them to share, too – whether they are patients or not. In this way, any lingering stigmas or taboos can be loosened and dispelled.

Diabetes is not something you should ever have to “hide” from others. By censoring or filtering your own thoughts too much, all you risk achieving is turning diabetes into “your little secret” – something you’re not prepared to admit to. And that can lead to loneliness and social avoidance.

Illustration: happy woman and man having coffee

Tip 3. Turn your knowledge into healthy routines

As anyone living with type 2 diabetes knows, your health and well-being are in constant need of management. You manage them by taking a very specific approach to such things as physical exercise, diet, sleep, medication and blood sugar monitoring. And, not least, by having an open, honest and ongoing dialogue with your doctor.

Living with type 2 diabetes in a way that allows you to manage and minimise the impact of symptoms is constant work. You don’t get to take a day off. You can’t ask someone else to do it for you. And every day is a school day.

Your goal is to learn enough healthy routines to get you safely through the diverse activities that make up a healthy enjoyable life. You need to know what to do in order to travel safely, eat safely, exercise safely, party safely, study and work safely, holiday safely, sleep safely, etc. By safely I mean: in a way that keeps your blood sugar level as steady as possible, and your well-being protected.

Each of these routines is based on your knowledge. Helpful routines are built directly on top of good knowledge. So never stop chasing better and better answers to your questions. Never stop adding definition and nuance to your understanding of diabetes.

In short, become a diabetes management expert. It’s the only way to outsmart your diabetes!

Illustration: woman out for a run

Bonus tip: Be patient with myth pushers

Myth pushers are how misleading and unhelpful diabetes information gets around. Remember that myth pushers are not bad people – they generally think they’re offering helpful advice or setting you straight. But remember that the effect of the particular misconception about diabetes they are pushing can be very bad.

My bonus tip for you is to be patient, polite and diplomatic whenever you talk to a myth pusher.

Let’s say you meet a person who is trying to persuade you to believe something you know is neither helpful nor true. Rather than offer a stern and prompt dismissal, it’s way better to offer a gentle response, something like –

“Ah, I see what you’re saying. Many people think that, but in reality…”

By dismissing someone outright, you risk making them feel misunderstood or reprimanded, from which they might conclude you are an ill-tempered crank, someone whom they can safely ignore. And then they’ll just take the myth with them and push it on other people.

You can’t expect everyone to be a critical and fact-based thinker. Your job – as the better-informed person – is to remember that no one ever served the truth by having no patience with those still confused by it.

Instead, try to spark a meaningful conversation in which you can sprinkle a few facts. And lead by example! Try to explain or translate misconceptions about diabetes into something that people can relate to.

photo of two people having a conversation

Final thoughts – and good luck!

Remember, too, that very often a myth is half-true – meaning it already contains a grain of truth. Your task is to grow that grain and weed out all misleading elements.

There can be pleasure in realising that it’s not that one was “wrong”, end of story. It’s that one was only half-right up until this moment, but hey! Here’s a better description of things, here’s how everything still makes sense, but with sharper facts and at a higher level of abstraction.

Helping a myth pusher make that leap takes a certain amount of grace and diplomacy, I know. It’s not easy.

But I’m sure you can do it!

The advice is based on the writer’s experience and may deviate from professional opinion in medicine and science. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management routines.

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