In many people’s eyes, diabetes conjures up images of sugary food or finger-pricking. While it’s true that both those images can play a role in diabetes, that’s certainly not the whole picture. Diabetes is a complex condition that can include many different symptoms, causes and treatments, and can’t be boiled down to a single image or buzzword. The problem is that when people don’t understand how diabetes really works, they may end up making judgments and assumptions about people with diabetes, and miss out on opportunities to learn, and support their friend.
To correct the outdated beliefs people have about diabetes, we asked our Mighty diabetes community to share the myths they’re tired of hearing. We also shared the truth behind these common misconceptions. More than 100 million U.S. adults now have diabetes or pre-diabetes, so chances are that includes at least one person you know. Take the time to understand their condition — it’s a simple thing you can do that goes a long way.
Here’s what our Mighty community shared:
Myth 1. All it takes to manage type 1 diabetes is an insulin shot.
Reality: Yes, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin to make up for what their bodies don’t produce. However, diabetes management doesn’t stop there. You also need to carefully monitor what you’re eating, your exercising habits, and even your anxiety levels to know how much insulin to take throughout the day. Sometimes you’ll need to eat a sugary snack to manage your blood glucose levels, rather than inject more insulin. Type 1 diabetes requires constant monitoring and adjusting, and is much more than a once-day-shot of insulin.
“As a type I diabetic, a lot of people think that all it takes is a shot of insulin and I’m good to go. Everything affects blood sugar levels and it’s just not as simple as others would like it to be,” Bethie G. said.
Myth 2. There are things you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Reality: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the pancreas destroys insulin-producing cells. There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening. Some evidence suggest genetics and environmental triggers like a virus can cause type 1 diabetes, but for many people the exact cause cannot be pinpointed. Diet, exercise habits and lifestyle do not affect a person’s likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes.
“Nothing you do can prevent type 1 diabetes. People in the United States at least… don’t seem to know that,” Liz W. said.
Myth 3. If you have diabetes, that means you must have been eating sugar all day long.
Reality: As previously discussed, eating habits do not affect whether or not you’ll develop type 1 diabetes. For type 2 diabetes, a high-fat, high-sugar diet can make you more likely to develop insulin resistance, which means your body doesn’t use insulin properly. This can lead to type 2 diabetes. However, genetics also make you more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, and if you have other chronic illnesses, that can affect your likelihood as well. Diet is just one side of the story.
“[A myth is] that you sit around eating sugar all day which is why you have diabetes and therefore should be ashamed of yourself,” Susan L. said.
Myth 4. Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (aka late-onset type 1 diabetes or type 1.5 diabetes) is really just type 2 diabetes.
The reality: Late-onset type 1 diabetes features a few distinct characteristics that make it different from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. First, as its name suggests, it typically develops after age 30, whereas type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed at around 14 years old. Second, people usually don’t require insulin injections at first, since they are still making their own insulin and can manage with diet and oral medications. However, as the autoimmune disease progresses, insulin injections become necessary as the pancreas slowly stops making insulin. By contrast, type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease and your pancreas still makes insulin, but your body doesn’t use it properly or make enough.
“[People think] my late onset type 1 is really me in denial about having type 2. Nope, the flu killed my pancreas, nothing I did could stop that!” Laura H. said.
Myth 5. Young people don’t get type 2 diabetes.
The reality: Your likelihood of being diagnosed increases drastically after 45 years of age. However, it is still possible to be diagnosed at a younger age. In fact, 12 out of every 100,000 people under 20 years old have type 2 diabetes.
Phyllisa Deroze explained in her essay on The Mighty:
Nobody told me that as a young person with type 2 diabetes, I’d run into people who couldn’t accept that I had diabetes and encouraged me to seek a second and third opinion because for them, type 2 diabetes didn’t happen to young people. For them, my accepting the diagnosis was like taking away their utopian idea that young people are always healthy and don’t develop chronic illnesses.
Myth 6. You can always cure type 2 diabetes by changing your diet.
The reality: Changing eating habits is a standard strategy for managing type 2 diabetes, along with exercise, medication and weight loss, and some people can go into “remission.” This isn’t the same as being “cured” (type 2 diabetes cannot be cured), but rather your blood glucose now stays in a healthy range without medication. However, not everyone with type 2 diabetes can achieve this, even with a diet and exercise plan. Everyone’s body is different and it’s unfair to assume the same treatment will work for everyone.
“I would run into people (friends, family, and strangers) who held strong beliefs that type 2 diabetes was ‘curable’ with diet and that my accepting the diagnosis and taking medication for it was a sign of giving up on finding the cure that they knew was out there and available,” DeRoze wrote.
Myth 7: If you manage your diabetes perfectly, you won’t ever have any setbacks.
The reality: It’s so easy to put pressure on yourself to stick to the perfect diet, keep your blood glucose numbers in perfect range and do the perfect amount of exercise to stay at the perfect weight. But diabetes isn’t so cut-and-dry. Every body is unique, and sometimes, you can feel like you’re doing everything “right” and still struggle with your numbers. It’s OK to let go of those expectations and just focus on doing your best.
“No matter how ‘right’ you do all of your medical care, diabetes works the way it wants,” Caitlin S. said.
Living with diabetes can be overwhelming and scary, no matter which type of diabetes you have or what methods you’re using to treat it. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any challenges you’re having. It can also be really helpful to hear what other people with diabetes do to take care of their physical and mental health. Check out these stories written by members of The Mighty’s diabetes community:
- Yes, I Can Eat That: How to Deal With the Diabetes ‘Food Police’
- 10 ‘Surprising’ Symptoms of Diabetes No One Talks About
- Mental Illness: The Diabetes Complication We Don’t Talk About