How to Help a Loved One Who is Type 2 Diabetic
Many Type 2 diabetics are resistant to modifying their lifestyle when they know their habits will lead to complications. They will not read books on diabetes, change their eating habits, or exercise more. Nor do they listen to well-meaning family members and friends who love them and try to encourage them to eat better and lose weight. Instead, these Type 2 diabetics continue to overeat, choose the wrong foods, eat when they are not hungry, and refuse to listen to suggestions to change their habits. Why is this?
This question has perplexed me for a long time. I have asked many Type 2 diabetes patients to find the answers and, my conclusion is that there is no single answer that applies to all situations, except this one: they are ignoring their inner voice. Even if the advice is coming from outside —a family member or friend—the person is still essentially ignoring their own inner voice telling them to listen.
We all have this inner voice. If you ever watch an infant or toddler at rest, you can see them babbling to themselves. Children at play often talk to themselves. As we get older, these expressions continue but silently, inside our brains. This is our inner voice. It is contemporaneous to what is happening in the conscious part of our brain. It usually seems to guide us in the right direction, towards our intuitive sense of what is life-preserving, healthy, and good. When your inner voice talks to you, it is asking you to pay attention. However, you may have stopped listening, let alone acting based on the voice, a long time ago. How did this happen?
When it comes to food, the resistance to the inner voice may have started in your childhood when your parents asked you to finish eating what is on your plate, although you really wanted to stop eating. This is common in many families, where well-meaning parents believe their child is not eating enough and “push” them to finish their food, or reward them for finishing it.
It may have started when you found out that you could manufacture fake excuses, disregarding your inner voice, to avoid taking responsibility for your actions, such as overeating and you tell yourself that you can control it next time. Or it may have started when you experienced a thrill doing something new and forbidden on a dare or challenge, and the thrill overrides your voice telling you it is dangerous.
Regardless of how it started, the repetition of similar actions time after time makes the inner voice weaker and weaker, unable to influence you. When it comes to being overweight, prediabetic, or diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, chances are that you not only disregard your inner voice but you also rationalize your actions as being of no consequence. You believe that if you enjoy an extra cookie, a piece of pie, or a bag of corn chips, it’s ok to do this because you are simply enjoying what life has to offer you.
Meanwhile, you look to medications or insulin injections as the solution because your doctor said that they would “control” your blood sugar. The ease with which you keep your blood sugar under control makes you confident that you can take care of your diabetic condition well into the future, without ever modifying your lifestyle.
Eventually, when you are told that you have to start taking insulin injections, to control your blood sugar levels, you are fine with it because you discover that they are not terrifying at all. It’s just a little pin prick—and you can even shoot the teeny needle through your clothing. In fact, you may even feel empowered now because you can adjust the dosage of insulin by yourself based on your blood sugar reading. You can even shoot a dose of insulin before eating a meal based on what you plan to eat, so if you think you might be tempted to overeat just a tad at a restaurant or a party, well, you just shoot a little extra dosage.
When people, your family and loved ones, try to give you advice, you react and feel they should not be so concerned about your weight or your diabetes. It’s your life after all—and well, you have it under control. You don’t need to listen to their voice, nor to your childhood internal voice. Your adult inner voice has taken control—and it knows what is right for you.
What I have seen in my years of studying Type 2 diabetes and talking to patients is that this type of self-talk and rationalization are more evident in men than in women. In the meantime, the emotional burden of the potential consequences for the diabetic person is far more on the family members than on the patient. I have talked with spouses whose husbands won’t share information on the type and dosages of their diabetic medications with them even when she works in a health care field. I have talked with women who are kept ignorant of the body weight of their diabetic husbands. I have talked with siblings whose brothers won’t discuss the status of their diabetes with them. I have talked with mothers who, after buying my book, Eat Chew Live, found out that their sons or son-in-laws have refused to read it when given to them.
So What Can Be Done to Help?
A pattern of behavior leading to overeating, weight gain and the development of Type 2 diabetes, once established, is very difficult to change unless the affected individual is motivated, self-reflective, and willing to commit to the change. It is also imperative that he or she finds a method that will not only achieve the objective of losing weight but also motivates the person to continue to maintain the reduced weight and lower their blood sugar.
Since pointing out the negative consequences of Type 2 diabetes is not a motivating factor in a person who continues rationalizing self-destructive behavior, I believe that the only way to help such a person change is to focus on how enjoyable eating can be. In part four of my book, Eat Chew Live, I suggest that diabetic adults think of themselves as returning to the toddler way of eating instead of diet programs, portion control containers or food weight measures, prepackaged foods, or any of the 3rd party weight loss programs.
All one needs to do is to enjoy food just as a toddler does, eating what your hunger tells you to eat, and only enough of that to satisfy that hunger. Do not worry about leaving food on the plate or eating 3 meals a day, or paying attention to all the marketing hype that goes on when it comes to food.
This new way of eating can be explained to your loved one by stressing the potential of eating what he or she enjoys rather than what is prescribed by anyone else. If you approach it this way, you will find that the person will likely feel a sense of freedom and liberation from being told what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Since starting a meal in response to hunger, selecting what to eat based on intuition, and stopping the meal based on satisfaction felt during a meal are all activities that strengthen the inner voice, the person should feel in charge of his or her wellbeing for the rest of his or her life. This is how, little by little, your loved one can begin to lose weight, lower blood sugar, and return to a healthy lifestyle.