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Type 2 Diabetes and the Blame Game

September 4, 2012 in News

A recent editorial in Diabetes Health hit me hard – the article described one woman’s experience with confronting feelings that she was being blamed for her diabetes (you can read her article at the link below). One of my good friends received a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes recently, after having been prediabetic for many years. Initially, she didn’t tell me – the subject came up sideways during a get-together. I realized she was embarrassed to tell me, because she knows I work for studies focused on preventing type 2 diabetes. She told me that she was struggling with the diagnosis; she felt like a failure because she had been ‘unsuccessful’ at preventing herself from getting diabetes despite all her hard work.

The article echoes the feeling that the recent attention given to diabetes and diabetes prevention in the media has resulted in some non-diabetics coming to the conclusion that “that eating donuts causes diabetes.” Research has shown that diet and exercise can certainly help reduce your risk of developing diabetes, but as Ms. Esler points out: “The reality is that diabetes can strike anyone at any age. Genetics plays a large role in both types of diabetes, and neither type is caused solely by poor nutrition.”

My friend and I often swap healthy recipes; she’s taken her health very seriously ever since I’ve known her. Sometimes, doing everything “by the book” will not prevent diabetes from developing. I was, and still am, impressed by all she does to manage her health – but instead of being proud that she was already working hard at a healthy lifestyle, she was fighting feelings of failure and shame. I couldn’t help but look back over our conversations and realize that unintentionally, I had helped fuel the blame game. When we spoke about my job, I forgot to mention that I take it as a given that while these preventions steps can reduce an individual’s risk of developing diabetes, it may not necessarily work for everyone.

Ms. Esler points out that the need to raise public awareness of diabetes and diabetes risk needs to be balanced with the risk that incomplete or inaccurate information can lead to feelings of shame in those living with any type of diabetes. In a 2011 article from the American Journal of Health Behavior, Mary DePalma reported that a study conducted by herself and her colleagues suggested that “perceptions of responsibility and subsequent anger and selfblame may interfere with effective diabetes management.”1

Although I know she still struggles sometimes, my friend has turned her focus towards the same healthy habits she used as a prediabetic. The wonderful thing is that those same habits are still extremely valuable. The goal of the healthy eating and exercise may have shifted from preventing diabetes to reducing her risk of complications, but the behaviors remain the same. If you are struggling with feelings of failure or self-blame, you might try looking back on how those great habits you’ve already established help you manage your diabetes and lead a healthy life. You can also check out the American Diabetes Association web page about Diabetes Myths, which provides research-based answers to many of the common misconceptions about diabetes.

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