“You Have to Love Yourself”

A few weeks ago I wrote about having reasons to live. But this week a friend asked me, “Don’t you think most people already believe life is worth living? The problem is that we don’t think that we ourselves are worth any effort.”


I think he had a point. Most of us, if pressed, will admit that life is OK. But do we believe that it’s worth putting effort into ourselves and our bodies, or do we think we don’t deserve our own love and attention?

The conversation reminded me of an interview I did for my diabetes book. I was standing in a Men’s Wearhouse with my mother, telling her about looking for interview subjects, when a salesman came over and said, “I heard you talking about diabetes. I have that. Do you want to talk to me?”

His name was James R. He was 47, good looking, African-American, and very helpful. He told me about his diagnosis.

At that time, I was maybe 30 or 40 pounds overweight. I changed my diet completely to not eat any sugars and cut way down on carbohydrates. They had this little gym where I lived, and I started getting up at five o’clock every morning to work out. Now my sugars are pretty close to normal.

As simple as that? I couldn’t believe it. I asked James how he was able to quickly make such changes, when others struggle their whole lives and never get there. This was his answer:

I love myself. I think that’s the best thing I can do. Once you love yourself, then you’re going to take every resource possible to extend your life. That’s not being selfish. Sometimes you have to do things for yourself before you can do things for anybody else. If I don’t care about myself, how can I care about anybody else? These things are important to understand, that if you want to continue to stay on this planet and breathe this air, you have to love yourself.

He really impressed me. I’m not sure how many people, with or without diabetes, could say what he said, especially members of discriminated-against groups or heavy people in fat-phobic America. As I asked in my book, how do you love yourself when society does not seem to love you? Or when you feel unlovable because of absent or damaged parents, a history of trauma, or because your life doesn’t measure up to the images you see on TV or to your own expectations?

And really, isn’t it hard to love yourself when your body seems to be betraying you, or when you blame yourself for health problems? Or when you’re alone, or when nobody seems to care?

But if you don’t love yourself, how are you going to succeed at self-care? Why watch carbohydrates or check your blood glucose or get up in the morning to exercise like James R. does? And if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect your children to love themselves, or expect people in your community to treat each other well? These issues can determine quality of life and health for generations.

What Do We Do?
Most psychologists agree that self-love or self-esteem (which are similar, although maybe not exactly the same) begin in childhood. If your parents love you, you are likely to feel better about yourself. But many parents are too stressed or too wounded to give their kids that kind of love. As a result, people may feel unlovable or unworthy their whole life. Media images might reinforce those negative feelings.

Not everyone agrees that self-love is desirable. Some people think the whole self-esteem idea is wrong, that people should only feel good about themselves when they have done good things. I think people are much more likely to do good things if they believe they are good people.

What do you think? Do you love yourself? Is loving yourself important to living a good life? Is it important for diabetes management? And if we want people to love themselves, how can we help with that?

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  • Erica

    As a type 1 diabetic for 25 years and having spent a good 12 years of those 25 completely out of control, the thing that truly changed in my life that enabled to take care of myself was that I first had to learn to love myself.

    I am a highly educated, well-to-do, professional woman who comes from a seemingly loving family.

    During my teens when I became unable to take care of myself it was a mystery to me and my doctors. I spent the next tens years going from doctor to doctor to nurse educator to therapist, psychiatrist.

    When I finally stumbled upon the DOC and these generous people were sharing their stories about how they managed their diabetes, I was at first insanely jealous. Why could these people manage their diabetes and I could not? But as I read more and more I noticed that the one unifying them among people who were able to take reasonable care of themselves was healthy self esteem or self love. And I realized that even though I had succeeded in many areas of life, I had zero self esteem, in fact I hated myself.

    It has been a long, bumpy road, but I have started to learn to love myself and my diabetes care has improved. My last A1C was 7.4, which is not great, but for me it is fabulous.

    When I first realized that I had no self esteem, I was embarassed and ashamed, but my journey to find some true self love has been more valuable than any diabetes education I have ever received.

    Thank you for this post.

  • Sharey Travis

    I just came from having an A1C test which was 6.2. I have been really hard on myself and exercise daily and try to eat right. Last week my daughter-in-law asked me if I loved myself and I couldn’t answer her so I have done alot of thinking this week and I have decided that I am worth it. Being a diabetic who is managing it is alot of work and takes alot of meditation. You must spend alot of time daily by yourself learning to take deep breaths and just be. Try it and I believe you will like it. I lowered my A1C from 7.0 to 6.2 in the past 3 months. Take care of yourself and take your medicine, do your exercise and get enough rest. You are worth it. Good luck and let me know how you are doing.

  • Calgarydiabetic

    I like to exercise the problem is my body does not like it anymore. Bicycled for 1 hour yesterday and then woke up at 3 am with a super sore knee and it was game over for sleep. Still there is no option when for an hour today also. Hope knee wont be a sore.

  • Micalela

    I’m a bad diabetic. I don’t take care of myself like I should. And I have been doing that for years. Way before my diagnosis. I am obese and have used that as protection from the world. Though it doens’t work that well either.

    I found out yesterday that at 41 the dentist wants to pull all my teeth and give me dentures. Why because I have progressive gum disease and massive infection. But not taking care of my teeth growing up was something that I had control over like eating. I have learned to slowly love myself though I am no where near where I have to be to take care of my diabetes. But with not loving ourselves comes consequences that we never imagined. The saying is if we don’t love ourselves how can anyone else love us. I think it should be if we don’t love ourselves how will we know and truly feel when someone else does love us.

  • Cathy A,

    People, I have read Eric’s article and all of your posts. My conclusion is that we are all on this roller coaster we call life. It has ups and it has downs. In the past I have written sad comments when I have been on a down cycle. I am not on an UP by any stretch of the imagination, so I guess I am just on a flat point. After being a type 2 for 12 years, I have finally gotten my weight down to an acceptable (who am I kidding – it’s great!) level. My A1c has gone from 6.9 to 5.3 in 6 months. Lost 35 more pounds. How? I honestly don’t know. Have had every test in the book to make sure I’m OK. I’m fine, but I lost my appetite because my son has stopped speaking to any member of our family. We have done nothing wrong. So here I sit wit great numbers and no son. My cardiologist told me I needed to remove myself from the situation so I am going to go visit family in another part of the country and have some fun.

    That’s life. A size 8 blue jeans is no trade off for a son. However, I have no control over other people. Their actions affect me greatly, but I am finding I can’t let them hurt me to the point where it affects my health. So everyone, you’ll find me in the sun somewhere having fun, watching my carbs, and getting stronger every day. I have decided to be one of those who love life.

  • Mac Kapadia

    Our body is made up of Trillions of Cells and each CELL is itself an Universe.
    Most of us think NEGATIVE; WHY? Because we are all surrounded by NEGATIVE people and Negative enviroment as suh NEGATIVITY is stored in these CELLS.
    you think negative the Mind orders these cells to instruct the GLANDS to secrete juices with negative base and hence one invites diseases in the Body.
    If you start thinking Positive the entire concept will change and you can attain this through MEDITATION and your Health, your Attitude towards Life will change drasticaly and you will be a New person with POSITIVE attitude.
    In this RAT RACE world people are living a Tenseful life and consume Fast Foods and no exercise brings all ailments in the Body.
    Set your BIOLOGICAL clock and the Nature will help you so help yourself first.
    Mac Kapadia

  • Beth


    It may well be true that if you love yourself you can do more effective, sustained self-managment. This certainly does have the appearance of obvious validity.

    But I don’t see this as being very useful clinically. So if as a professional, I encounter a patient who cannot engage in much self-care, what am I supposed to do? Tell that person, “you should learn to love yourself more, so you can take better care of yourself”? Then in addition to whatever reason that person has for self-loathing, the guilt of not loving herself enough is added to an already heavy burden.

    If this insight is useful at all, it has to be in an indirect way. Maybe it could provoke a sense of understanding and compassion in people who do love themselves well enough to persist in self-care. Maybe it could stimulate an interest in finding authentic ways to give positive messages to people who are not always very lovable, to help build their self-esteem. I hope that could be the case.