Four Ways to Keep Loved Ones from Becoming the Diabetes Police

Good advice from “Bright Spots & Landmines,” a new diabetes guide from diaTribe’s Adam Brown



Longtime diaTribe columnist Adam Brown has written Bright Spots & Landmines: The Diabetes Guide I Wish Someone Had Handed Me, a diabetes guide based on his experience with the condition and as a diabetes columnist. He shares what has worked for him (Bright Spots) and what has caused him to stumble (Landmines) in his glucose control. He also invites readers to consider their own strengths and weaknesses in diabetes management.

In this excerpt, Brown describes how to best utilize the support of those around you as you practice diabetes self-care:

One of my major Mindset Bright Spots comes from loved ones, family, and friends: they lift my motivation when I feel deflated, help me make better food choices and avoid unhelpful options, provide a sounding board to vent frustrations, exercise with me, and even gently nudge me to relax (“Adam, it’s just a number; don’t be frustrated. I still love you”).

Unfortunately, these same individuals can also turn into “Diabetes Police” quite easily: “What’s your number? Did you go for a walk? How could you mess up again?”

I’ve found diabetes co-exists with relationships when at least four things are in place:

1. A strong understanding of how hard it is to live with diabetes

When loved ones are surprised by an out-of-range blood glucose (BG) value, I often talk about all the factors (22+!) that affect each blood sugar. Sharing just how much complexity goes into every number brings an appreciation of how much work diabetes requires and how frustrating it can be.

2. Do not use BG numbers to finger-point

The value on the meter is for learning and action, not a performance evaluation.

3. Open communication

Nothing is worse than when one person is angry or frustrated and doesn’t let the other person know.

4. The person with diabetes should set clear boundaries and acceptable ways of interacting.

For example, “I don’t appreciate when you comment on my food choices; please leave those to me” versus “Yes, please help me with my food choices and please stop me from eating junk food.” It also helps to clarify when someone has crossed the line: “I know you mean well, but when you comment or judge my numbers, it makes me feel like a failure. Instead, what about helping me with the action step? ‘Let’s take a walk’ or ‘Here are some glucose tablets.’”

Those around me cannot read my mind – I must give clear and honest feedback. Where do I need the most help? What is unhelpful?

In practice:

I find support is most helpful around eating and hypoglycemia. Food is such a social activity that the people around me can make a truly meaningful difference. For example, I give my girlfriend full permission to prevent me from eating junk food. It also helps that we don’t buy Landmine foods when going to the store, and we cook low-carb dinners together at home. These are meaningful sacrifices she makes to keep me healthy. But support matters in small ways too: whether it’s asking if I have glucose tabs before we leave the house, or waking me up to a CGM alarm at night, I know she has my back.

Even still, I constantly have to remind myself that there is no badge of honor for doing diabetes alone. As Dr. Brenè Brown says beautifully in The Gifts of Imperfection:

“Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.”

This excerpt from Bright Spots & Landmines is reprinted with permission from Adam Brown and diaTribe. You can download Bright Spots & Landmines for free/name-your-own-price by clicking here: BrightSpotsAndLandmines.org. It is also available on Amazon in paperback ($6.29) and Kindle ($1.99) editions.

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Adam Brown is a Senior Editor at diaTribe and leads Diabetes Technology & Digital Health at Close Concerns. Adam writes and speaks extensively about diabetes and chronic disease. In his free time, he enjoys drinking tea, hiking with his girlfriend Priscilla, and teaching his old dog new tricks.