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Type 1 in a Type 2 World

What not to say to someone with type 1 diabetes.

Misunderstandings continued...

The resulting debate included people with type 1 and type 2 declaring that they were tired of being misunderstood and having others assume that they got their disease by being lazy and eating badly.

Frustrated though she is by the assumptions that Abby has to deal with, Conway understands the anger people with type 2 feel as well. "It's a stigma for them too. People think that they're lazy or eat too much. While that can be true, in many cases, it's not, because there's a big genetic factor with type 2, more than with type 1," she says. "And some people work very hard to lower their weight and change their diet, and still can't reverse their disease."

Perhaps no one understands the push and pull between type 1 and type 2 better than Michelle Chase of Boston, who has type 2 diabetes and has a 24-year-old son with type 1 diabetes. In an email, Chase tells WebMD that people tend to assume that her son has type 2 diabetes and that a bad diet caused it.

What Not to Say

Whether a person has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, they all tend to agree on one point: there are a few things that you shouldn't say to them about their disease.

  1. "Should you be eating that?" "Being a diabetic means I have to pay more attention to what I eat, but that doesn't mean I can't ever have a donut," Kolligian says.
  2. But you don't look fat!" That may sound like a compliment, but it's not. If the person has type 1, being overweight isn't associated with the disease. And if they have type 2, they've certainly heard a lot about weight and diabetes already.
  3. "You should just exercise more and eat less." For someone with type 1 diabetes, that advice could be downright deadly. For someone with type 2, you can rest assured it's advice they've already been given.
  4. Did you eat too much sugar?" Eating sugar doesn't really contribute to developing either type of diabetes -- nor does having diabetes, of either kind, mean that you can never again eat sugar.
  5. "My grandma had that. She died. (Or she lost her leg, or she went blind..." Yes, diabetes of both types can cause severe complications, including limb damage, blindness, and even death. But diabetes care has improved greatly over the years. Annette Richardson-Bienkowski, a teenager when she was diagnosed in the 1950s, was told she might live until her 30s and that she should never, ever get pregnant because it could kill her. Today, she has three daughters and four grandchildren. "Diabetes is not the end of real life," says Richardson-Bienkowski, of New London, Conn.

Instead, says Markowitz, if you're curious, don't make assumptions. Ask genuine, polite questions. "Try to really understand what the person has to do, how they have to deal with their diabetes, and how you could potentially help," she says. "It's very frustrating when you are judged for having a disease that other people don't understand."

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Reviewed on September 27, 2011

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