Dispelling common myths and misconceptions
When they’re first diagnosed with diabetes, says Meredith Cotton, RN, a Kaiser Permanente Washington diabetes educator, many patients have a number of misconceptions about the disease, including these:
1. Some foods will be off-limits forever.
It’s true that most people will need to make changes in their diet to manage their diabetes, says Cotton. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to eat the foods that you love. For example, if chocolate cake is a favorite food, you may need to eat a smaller portion and only enjoy it occasionally. And on the day you decide to have cake, you may need to eat less of other foods that contain sugar and carbohydrates. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance of daily nutrients to meet your body’s needs,” Cotton says.
2. I won’t be able to regulate my blood sugar.
Patients who are newly diagnosed will need to spend some time studying the impact of various foods and exercise on their blood sugar, Cotton says. “Blood sugar testing is one of the most effective tools for helping patients see the ‘what happens when’ principle in action. ‘What happens when I eat three pieces of pizza instead of two? What happens when I go too long without eating and I’m really famished at dinner? What happens when I go for a brisk walk after dinner?’ By testing their blood sugar, they can get some really useful feedback,” says Cotton. “And a diabetes educator can help them figure out how to do this problem-solving.
3. Diabetes is my fault.
“Diabetes is a genetic problem that you inherit from your relatives,” says Cotton. While environment and lifestyle choices might make the disease show up a little earlier, people don’t get diabetes if they don’t have the genes for it, she says. But feeling guilty and blaming yourself is part of the emotional response to a diabetes diagnosis, along with denial, anger, and depression. “The emotions related to diabetes will come and go over time,” says Cotton. “Sometimes you’ll feel like you are really capable of handling the disease and other days you’ll feel like throwing caution to the wind. That’s reality. That’s real life and it’s normal.”