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Diabetes Misconceptions

There are a lot of misconceptions about diabetes, from both people in the community and from people working in healthcare. If you’re living with diabetes I’m sure you’ve come across people who assume things about the illness. I’ve written this post containing some of the misconceptions I’ve had to deal with in my life with diabetes.

Starting with the most common misconception, “Can you eat that?” or “Should you eat that?” are two common questions I get asked. Whether it’s a chocolate bar, a slice of cake, or a packet of crisps, I can see the confused look on people’s faces and I know what question is coming.

Having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11 and now being 27, I’ve had my fair share of diabetes experiences. I have no problem in talking to people and educating them a little on the illness, however sometimes a little part of me cringes when I’m asked. Some people have even argued with me regarding my diet and what is better for me and my health. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that eating healthy, drinking adequate amounts of water, and getting regular exercise is important for diabetics, but it’s just as important for a non-diabetic to do those things too.

When people ask me whether I should or shouldn’t be eating something I usually ask them if they follow healthy eating guidelines. No one is perfect in what they do on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s drinking too much alcohol, skipping exercise, smoking or eating a bar of chocolate, we all have our vices. In a way I find myself lucky to have Type 1 diabetes, as I count carbohydrates, I can easily add up the amount of carbs I’m eating, and bolus insulin for these carbohydrates. Type 2 diabetes is a little trickier, however we still say to have treats or an odd cheat day. Everything in moderation!

Other misconceptions I’ve come across in my 16 years of diabetes have been from healthcare professionals taking care of me. I’m not sure if it would be classed as a misconception but “what did you do wrong?” was a regular question growing up when trying to figure out the cause of high or low blood glucose readings. It might’ve not necessarily been my fault, however, I usually felt shame for not being a ‘perfect’ diabetic. There are 42 things that can affect blood glucose levels! Yet, coming out of clinic appointments I usually felt deflated and blamed for poor control. At an appointment I was once told by a nurse that “an office job would be more suited to you” when I told her that I wanted to become a nurse. I was 16 and even at that age I was shocked. It still bothers me now when I think of it. Diabetes shouldn’t hold you back from doing anything in life that you want to do.

How to combat misconceptions? Education! For people in the public, the media has a huge input in how they see diabetes. If they don’t know someone with diabetes, this is their only portrayal of the illness. On photos or videos of sugar laden meals you’ll commonly find comments stating “it’ll cause diabetes” or “diabetes on a plate” because people don’t know the causes or types of diabetes. Online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are a great source of information as they house thousands of accounts of real-life diabetics, living life day in and day out with diabetes. There has also been a rise in multiple podcasts on the illness helping those with diabetes but also being a source of information for those without.

I thankfully never had any issues or fears of showing off my diabetes, I still to this day wear my robot parts with pride. I love to talk to people and educate them on the illness, which is so unbelievably complex. Hopefully in years to come knowledge will be more widespread and diabetics won’t have to defend their food (or career) choices.

Eimear Sharkey
Type 1 diabetic for 16 years. Currently on a Medtronic pump with connected CGM. I’d be lost without diabetes tech. Qualified general nurse and now training to become a diabetic specialist nurse. I love to travel and my favourite place I’ve been is Boston, where I spent a summer on a J1 visa. For years I felt alone living with diabetes but since joining the diabetic online community in August 2020, I’ve connected with so many people and learned so much.

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