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Diabetes Stigma: The Blame & Shame

Ask anyone you know, "What is diabetes and how do you treat it?" You'll hear all kinds of answers.

People are generally confused about this disease that affects 37 million people here in the United States.

With this state of confusion, it's no wonder women living a life with diabetes feel a "Stigma" attached to their diagnosis.

What is Stigma?

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. A discrediting attribute minimizing a person's value.

I take this definition a step further. I see diabetes stigma as a circumstance that is marked with disgrace, and if time isn't taken to understand or learn about it, we continue to be misjudged.

Even people who are close to someone managing diabetes remain in the dark, and as a result, little is understood about how it is diagnosed and how the different types of diabetes are treated.

It's simply not because we ate too much sugar as a child. We are not to blame, and shame has no place here. Like with anything, we base our beliefs on what we see, hear, or are told, even if it doesn't ring true.

No More Blame & Shame!

The stigma of diabetes is even more evident for women. When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1982, the root cause of this chronic disease was a mystery and wasn't explained to me.

So, I created my own stigmas. I hid my diagnosis and downplayed it. I felt ashamed. Even I didn't understand diabetes. I couldn't explain diabetes to myself let alone to anybody else!

We ignore what we don't understand and then we put false expectations around it. The stigma around what a person with diabetes should eat can impact our relationship with food and our ability to feel comfortable in social settings.

Do we have limitations? What is a healthy weight when we're in control?

And the biggest diabetes stigma of them all... Can we have that dessert?

All the misinformation and judgment are simply not fair. Women with diabetes who want to rise above this need to ask questions and talk openly about our disease.

Education and getting closer to the disease are the only ways to break the diabetes stigma.

The Different Between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

The pancreas no longer makes insulin, so blood sugar cannot enter the cells to be used for energy. Those of us with type 1 diabetes require insulin to survive and must be injected daily. The cause of type 1 is unknown, but the occurrence is greater if a parent or sibling also has type 1 diabetes.

Environmental factors, recent illness, or stress have been possible markers in some diagnoses.

Type 2 Diabetes (also pre-diabetes, type 1.5, gestational)

With type 2, either the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body is unable to use insulin correctly. There are a variety of treatments including medication, diet changes, and exercise. Causes of type 2 include many factors such as family history, age, environment, pregnancy, physical inactivity, poor diet, and more.

LADA Diabetes

Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, sometimes called type 1.5 is a slow-progressing form of autoimmune diabetes. Like the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes, LADA occurs because your pancreas stops producing adequate insulin, most likely from some "insult" that slowly damages the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. But unlike type 1 diabetes, with LADA, you often won't need insulin for several months to years after you've been diagnosed.

6 Things to Remember About Yourself and Others Living with Diabetes:

  1. Diabetes of every type is a complex, constantly changing, challenging condition. It's 24/7, with no days off.

  2. Everyone living with diabetes deserves to be treated with respect. If you're unsure about what we are or aren't doing "right", don't judge us, just simply ask.

  3. A diabetes diagnosis is not a personal failure. It takes strength, perseverance, and patience to live with this health challenge.

  4. Try to avoid assuming or judging when you meet someone with diabetes. Instead, focus on helping each other learn and to better understand.

  5. Taking control of diabetes and managing blood sugar is possible. Prediabetes is a warning sign. It's a great signal that makes you aware that your body is not functioning optimally.

  6. Lifestyle, support, and turning basic practices into a consistent routine can reverse a type 2 diabetes diagnosis and contribute to thriving with all types of diabetes.

The judgment, labels, and minimizing of a person's value, are beliefs used to characterize those of us living with diabetes. The stigma around many things in life can be hard to turn around, it begins with our own thoughts, and limiting beliefs.

With more knowledge and grace for ourselves and each other, we can move forward. When we give and receive compassion anything is possible.


Looking for help overcoming the stigma of diabetes? Interested in a safe and empowering environment with ongoing support to help you feel less alone? Learn more about our "Sweet Support" Group Coaching, here!

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