You’ve probably come across the âDiabetes Policeâ without even realizing it. You know the kind: an aunt or uncle, a friend or coworker, or a complete stranger in the aisle of a grocery store who feels the urge to comment on your life with diabetes.
These people often have good intentions. They are trying to help us. Yet for people with diabetes (PWD), their comments often appear to be meddling and attempt to “regulate” our lives with unwanted or even dangerously ill-informed advice. Hence the term.
You’ve probably heard any number or variety of these proclamations:
- “You can’t eat this!” (no matter the food, drink or occasion)
- “My best friend’s grandmother has a diabetic cat, and they did XYZâ¦ and the cat was cured” (just not)
- “So my aunt lost her leg to diabetes andâ¦” (all of the following don’t matter anymore, but for this person it means they think they know everything about diabetes)
- “Just eat fewer carbohydrates because you won’t need as much insulin and you won’t have diabetes.” (Hello, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin no matter how little carbs they eat!)
- “Maybe if you tried an insulin pump instead of injecting yourself with needles, your diabetes would be under control” (ugh, it’s a personal choice on how to manage your diabetes)
- “If you eat this candy you are going to suffer serious consequences and you are a terrible person for mismanaging your diabetes” (false, people with disabilities can eat sweets if managed properly, and sometimes sweets are actually drugs to treat hypoglycemia)
- âDon’t you know you can reverse diabetes? “ (the queue rolls here)
And the list continues.
Our diabetes community has complained about these so-called âdiabetes policeâ for years, often over the holiday season when friends and family get together over big meals. While it is true that this time of year often presents the most challenging for people with disabilities with fluctuating glucose levels (aka âglucoasteringâ), the actions of these types of âdiabetes policeâ do nothing but. frustrate us more.
Today we’re taking a look at how best to treat the people in our lives who think they know all about diabetes and what we can and can’t eat. Here are some thoughts on how we can push back, diplomatically.
A few years ago, clinical psychologist Dr. Bill Polonsky, founder of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute (BDI) in San Diego, California, created a diabetes etiquette card for friends and relatives of people with disabilities.
Available in English and Spanish, it lists the top 10 âDO’s and DON’TSâ of loving communication and supporting the ânormal sweetâ (non-diabetic) side of the barrier for us.
For example, the number three reads as follows: “DO NOT tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes that you have heard of. Diabetes is pretty scary …“Naturally, he reminds anyone who has managed well, the odds are extraordinarily good that anyone with diabetes” can live a long, healthy and happy life. “
The BDI has also created a map for parents of teens with diabetes, which lists nine essential tips. For example, number three on this list is: “Please recognize when I’m doing something right, not just when I’ve messed up.“
Polonsky has spent over 2 years surveying several hundred people with disabilities across the country to identify the main things normal sugars do or don’t do that drive us crazy. Then he and his team set about distilling it all down to those magical advice cards.
A preview version can be downloaded directly for printing from your own computer, or you can order them in business card size for $ 1.25 each here.
When DiabetesMine asked Polonsky about the biggest lesson behind creating these key tips, he simply said what many call “the golden rule.”
âI think as a first guiding principle we have to recognize that we have to treat everyone with the same level of respect that we want for ourselves,â he said.
As noted, there has been a lot of stuff about the so-called Diabetes Police over the years in our Online Diabetes Community (DOC). This includes a number of fun videos, including one from professional actor Jim Turner, who himself has been living with type 1 diabetes for decades. Besides having fun with the topic, Turner points out in his video that we need to remember that these annoying comments usually come from well-meaning people, so it’s up to us to be measured in our response.
He identifies “the diabetes police” as anything that says:
- you can notâ¦
- you should notâ¦
- you should rather …
âSupport me, don’t control me! Turner said.
In addition to being respectful and engaging in civil discourse, we need to do our best to be kind, he adds.
One idea might be to simply say, “Please don’t do this.“
To which, your surprised D-Police officer will likely respond, “Do what?“
From there, with a sad smile, you could answer: “Please don’t (tell me how to manage my diabetes / tell me what I am allowed to eat / advise me on what medication to take / tell me when to check my blood sugar).Â»Then end with an energetic:Â«I have this.“
And if that doesn’t work, it’s not a bad idea to order a stack of Polonsky etiquette cards and have them ready to hand out to mingling friends and relatives, especially during the holidays. .
Remember to be both kind and respectful when giving the card to someone. You could say: “I’m glad you care about me. Could you please read this?“
Unless your blood sugar drops. Then you might not be able to help but say: “Thank you! Now here is YOUR advice! “