How to Turn Down Bad Diabetes Advice

I read a blog post recently from someone writing about how infuriating it can be when people don’t know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The writer was writing from the perspective of a Type 1 (like myself) who receives all kinds of advice, admonishments, and suggestions from those around her who simply assume she “has to eat less sugar,” “lose some weight,” or otherwise manage her condition with wildly inaccurate ideas.

Of course, most of what she was receiving was probably well-intentioned advice, with the occasional exceptions of that “way-too-judgmental-uncle.” But it clearly bothered her nonetheless, just as it bothers me on some occasions and undoubtedly bothers others of you reading this.


And so, I thought today I might write a kind of follow-up to the issues raised in that blog post. That is, what should you say to your friends and family who intrude into your business too often, or who offer advice that has no grounding in reality.

1. Well-intentioned yet wildly ill-informed advice
This is number one for a reason. We get this kind of advice an awful lot living with diabetes. I’ve received some whoppers in my time. I was once told by a holistic health practitioner that if I just took a certain set of dietary supplements and STOPPED taking my insulin, I’d be “non-diabetic within three days.” That was undoubtedly the worse advice I’ve ever received, but even that was well-intentioned.

Of a much lesser degree of severity are all of those little daily suggestions we get all the time. Advice like, “if you just lose some weight you wouldn’t need insulin anymore” (no, I’m Type 1 — I’ll still need insulin), “you shouldn’t drink that juice, it has sugar” (no, my blood sugar is low — I’ll actually pass out if I DON’T drink that juice), and other suggestions of the sort.

The defining aspect of this strand of bad advice is that it’s ill-informed. It’s often based on a notion that there is only one type of diabetes, or a suggestion that is based on a small bit of real knowledge embellished with a large helping of fantastical hypothesizing on top of it.

Turning down this kind of advice should always start with a dose of gratitude for the intention (even though you may be going bonkers on the inside as you say it), followed by some education for the offending party. If your friend or family member really doesn’t know any better, it’s hard to fault them too much. Now, if this advice is coming from someone in a position of more authority — a doctor or other health-care professional who really should know better, perhaps — a stronger response is perfectly warranted. After all, in such a case as this, that advice could lead to serious harm to innocent people.

2. Overly-judgmental advice
On occasion, every one of us will slip up. We have just a bit more food than we probably should, knowing we’ll probably pay for it with a bit higher blood sugar than is ideal. We slack off exercising. We cheat on our diet. In other words, we have human lapses of will or judgment.

In such cases, we might open ourselves up to those “know-it-all” advice givers who seem to be just waiting for us to make a mistake so they can jump in with a “tsk-tsk-tsk-BAD-diabetic” kind of admonition. I personally have less patience with these advice givers than I do with the first type.

Whether we’re making a wise or foolish decision falls on our shoulders. The consequences are ours to deal with, and frankly it’s not anyone else’s business to judge. Now, if you’re chronically ignoring your condition, of course your loved ones should try to help you improve your actions. But I’m talking about those advice-givers who just seem to be constantly poised to “catch you” being “bad” with your diabetes.

You often need to take a harder line with these people. You should lead with a firm statement of your own needs — for example, “this is my condition, sometimes I slip up, and your judgment only hinders me; you need to stop.”

It looks like space is running out for this week’s entry, but before I sign off, let me invite readers to share your experiences. What kind of bad advice have you had to deal with? And how have you dealt with those giving you that advice?

  • Christie

    About 28 years ago, I had two young daughters and was trying to manage my type 1 while caring for myself, them, and my husband. Some days were more difficult than others! One day while dealing with my youngest daughter who was crying hysterically just outside of the church meeting, a well-intentioned parishioner told me that she had read that if I just started eating more green beans, I could cure my diabetes!
    i was actually so stunned I could hardly speak. Once I regained my composure, I thanked her for the “suggestion” but decided to educate her and told her that there was no cure for type 1 diabetes and that insulin was what kept me alive. I felt like telling her that if green beans could cure diabetes, I would have everyone I possibly knew growing them 24/7 in their garden for me! I got a good laugh out of it all….

  • Donna Morgan

    Worst advice I ever received was from the doctor who diagnosed my diabetes. He told me that diabetes could not controlled with diet and exercise. WRONG!!! Fourteen years later my last A1c was 5.4. Secret? Control the carbs, exercise and keep a positive attitude. Life is more important than a piece of cake.

  • Jeffrey Cutler

    It was 1977. I hurt my knee playing softball. I had to have orthopedic surgery to repair damaged cartilage. The surgeon asked me what a type 1 diabetic was doing playing softball. I told him it’s not a death sentence!

  • GlennC

    “Non-diabetic” was correct. If you stopped taking your insulin, you would not be diabetic in three days. Corpses do not have diabetes. 😉