For a disease that is as globally prevelant as diabetes, there sure is still a lot of misinformation out there about it. Some of this is just pure ignorance and doesn’t pose any real threat outside of people being made to look a bit silly.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, some of these diabetes myths can lead to serious issues for diabetics if they’re believed. This page is my attempt to disspel all of the myths I have encountered since my diagnosis. If I’m entirely honest, I even believed a few of these myself before I knew any better…
The Biggest Diabetes Myths
People With Diabetes Can’t Eat Sugar
There is a surprising amount of confusion around sugar and the role it plays in both the development of diabetes and the life of a diabetic post diagnosis. Although diabetics should understand how much sugar they’re eating, and make the relevant correction and allowances for it, they certainly can eat it.
In fact, it’s recommended that diabetics eat carbohydrates each day just like “normal people” because, guess what, diabetics are normal people too and also need energy to fuel their bodies and keep their motors ticking over. So yes, diabetics actually need to eat sugar and if they’re good diabetics they’ll be taking the exact steps they need to account for those sweet, sweet carbs.
There’s A Good And Bad Diabetes
There are different types of diabetes, sure. However, you’d be hard pressed to pick which one is good! As research has progressed we now know that there are type one and type two diabetes of course, but there’s also gestational diabetes, type 1.5, LADA and seemingly more still.
Quite often the delineation seems to be between type one and type two diabetes with people looking at type one as the bad type and type two as the less bad type. The simple fact of the matter is that both pose a substantial and worrying threat to an individual’s health.
I think a lot of this attitude towards one as bad and one as ‘good’ comes down to the fact type one isn’t reversible whereas type two often, but not always, is. This certainly oversimplifies the challenges posed by both types of the disease.
Diabetes Definitely Leads To Blindness, Amputation And Other Nasty Things
When I first got diagnosed the worse case scenario of the above things (plus death) were hammered home to me over and over again. I get it, hospitals, doctors, nurses etc have a duty of care to us and have to help us understand how bad things can potentially be. But I also think they could probably go a better way about it.
Some really bad things can happen to you because of diabetes, but only if you are poorly controlled. For me, that’s the biggest takeaway. Blindness, nerve damage, amputation are all caused by the damage high blood sugar does over the long term. Likewise, the potential threat posed by a dangerous low is only a threat when, you guessed it, you got low.
Now, every diabetic, no matter how brilliant their control is, will go high and low at points. That’s ok. However, being high for too long or going low too frequently are bad news and the things that could eventually lead to some of the nasty side effects you’re told about. The good news is that, diabetics with great control can live as long and full a life as their non-diabetic counterparts.
People With Diabetes Can’t Play Sport
I haven’t heard this one personally myself but I have seen it mentioned on forums, websites, groups etc This is absolutely, categorically, 100% untrue! Not only are there elite diabetic sportsmen in many global sports, in fact I did a post about it on my Instagram during the Euros:
But there must be tenfold more playing at a local, casual level that you have no idea about. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle is crucial to supporting effective blood sugar control and for many people one of the most enjoyable ways of doing this is playing sport.
You should never be pushed away from doing a sport just because you are diabetic. As long as you take all the necessary precautions you should be taking anyway as a concientious and sensible diabetic you should be able to enjoy everything that sports can bring!
As a rugby union fan this is a good excuse for me to include a little compilation of Henry Slade who plays at an international level for the England Rugby team. He’s been type 1 since he was a kid and always has some jelly babies in the changing room and often has to inject insulin at half time, doesn’t stop him bossing it on the pitch though!
Here’s an interview from him explaining what it’s like to play top flight rugby while managing diabetes.
Only Unfit/Unhealthy People Become Diabetic
I think this misconception comes from the association of type 2 diabetes with fat and unfit people. Of course, there is some truth in this when you think about type 2 diabetes only with some diagnoses being purely lifestyle related.
However, there are many type 2 diabetes diagnoses that occur for healthy people. When you look at type 1 in isolation this statement is simply false. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmue disease that results when you immune system attacks and kills insulin producing beta cells in your pancreas.
This doesn’t happen because you’re fat, or because you eat too many sweets, or because you drink and smoke. In fact, scientists still aren’t entirely sure why it happens at all. It’s like 1 day a switch flips in your body and it decides it doesn’t like your insulin producing cells anymore. Really weird.
Diabetes is one of many diseases like this, such as Rheumatiod Arthiritis, and more needs to be done to understand what triggers them and what can maybe then be done to prevent them from triggering. Or even better, reverse them as well.
People With Diabetes Are Ill More Often
I think that this one is very much down to how good or bad your control is. Before I was diagnosed, and therefore before I was controlling my diabetes, my health was all over the place. I was getting infections a lot and was really run down.
4 1/2 years down the line though and I can honestly say I have never been healthier. Having diabetes has taught me to be far more sensitive to my body, take better care of it and take preventative action to ensure I am better protected from illness (things like taking regular exercise, eating well, having an annual flu jab etc) All of these things combine to tell me, from my best estimations, that I am actually a pretty healthy guy and never being ill is a strong indicator of that.
If you’re a poorly managed diabetic/unhealthy person, I can imagine you will be struck down by illness quite often. However, if you own your diabetes and manage your health well you should be absolutely fine.
Sugar Free Foods Are Ok For Diabetics
This is one of my biggest pet hates or gripes with diabetes and diet. Sugar free does not mean carb free which in turn means that ‘sugar free’ foods are not ‘diabetic friendly’ as they are often marketed.
There are a few layers to this. The first one being that sugar is only one type of carbohydrate and all of them have an impact on blood sugar. You can sometimes put a normal chocolate bar and a sugar free chocolate bar next to each other and see that they both have the same amount of carbs. So, as an insuling dependant diabetic you should know that, whether you’re eating sugar or another form of carbohydrate you should have to dose for this? Not always, particularly if you’re basically told not to.
Products like this become really problematic when the context of the marketing and advertising around the products is taken into account. Marketing a carb heavy product as ‘diabetic friendly’ is inevitably going to lead to people eating it while thinking they don’t have to take a corrective insulin dose to deal with it.
This must mean that sugar free products that are marketed as diabetic friendly are actually doing more harm than sugar filled products that diabetics eat and correctly correct for. My advice would be to ignore branding, messaging and always, always, always take a look at the nutritional info before eating something.
You Can ‘Catch’ Diabetes
I mean, I can’t even with this one. Autoimmune problems are not contagious. You cannot catch diabetes from a diabetic person, it is not transmitted in any way. If as a diabetic you meet someone who believes this try your best to help them understand how this just isn’t the case. One of the best ways we can help people’s understanding of diabetes improve is by being prepared to educate them ourselves.
Thankfully I can say that I’ve never encountered this sort of miss-conception myself but I am sure it must be out there, particularly in communities where people are generally less educated about health and wellbeing.
Diabetes Is Caused By Eating Too Much Sugar
Much like it’s untrue that diabetics can’t eat sugar, it is also untrue that diabetes is caused by it. This overlaps with the point above about only unfit/unhealthy people being diabetic and is part of the misunderstanding around health and diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, and a big part of that can be linked to the overconsumption of sugar and sugary products, but that does not mean diabetes is caused by it.
Simply put, diabetes is caused by the pancreas’ inability to produce enough insulin to effectively deal with the bodies intake of carbohydrates. This is not dependant upon the presence of sugar specifically and is not caused by it either.
Type 1 Diabetes Can Be Reversed
Unfortunately, at this time, type 1 diabetes cannot be reversed. There is a lot of research going into this, gene therapy and stem cells being the main area of focus, but there haven’t been any breakthroughs as of yet.
Some of the negative health impacts of type one diabetes can of course can be reversed with proper care and treatment, such as weight regain and controlled blood sugar. However, the cause of type one diabetes cannot.
Type 2 diabetes, in many instances, can be reversed though. Or more appropriately, be put into remission. This is often through the application of a healthier diet and lifestyle. But, just to muddy the water further, not all type 2 diabetics are the same and, like type 1, some instances of type 2 can’t be reversed either. Phew!
Injecting Lots Of Insulin Is Bad For You
This is a diabetes myth that had a real hold on me for some time when I was first diagnosed. For some strange reason, requiring less insulin was almost a badge of honour for me, like I was bossing my diabetes.
However, the truth is that insulin is a chemical that is required for the succesful conversion of carbs into energy for all humans and many animals as well. If your body doesn’t create it you then need to get it another way. This is not a BAD thing and is not a reflection of you being a bad diabetic or person.
With regards to the amount of it that you need, this is dictated purely by your body and your diet. Where one person may have a low carb to insulin ratio someone else may have a high one. What’s critical is that you understand what yours is and use it to effectively manage your diabetes.
With all of that being said though, higher doses of insulin, if poorly calculated, do carry more inherent risks when it comes to hypoglaecemia, aka low blood sugar, as the more you’re injecting arguably the higher chance of over correcting. However, if you know your ratios and your body this doesn’t have to be the case.
High Or Low Blood Sugar Is Caused By Poor Self Care
Although constantly high or low blood sugar readings could be indicative of a lack of care or attention towards someone’s diabetes there are also many other reasons for this. These could include:
- Someone is a newly diagnosed diabetic (I will never forget how crazy the first few months were for me, I was bouncing around like a yoyo!)
- There diabetes is changing. Diabetes is not a straight line or road and over time people’s insulin sensitivity or requirements can change. This can lead to challenges when it comes to control.
- There has been a change in someone’s lifestyle. Increased or reduced exercise, stress or sleep can all impact your bodies insulin requirements and can lead to control issues
- Illness can impact control too. If you are rundown due to even a cold your immune system is forced into action to fight it and your blood sugar control can then suffer. I have lost count of the number of stubborn highs I have had while being ill!
Insulin Cures Diabetes
Boy do I wish this one were true but, unfortunately, it’s not. Insulin injections replace the insulin that your body would be producing on its own, were you not diabetic. It helps manage the symptoms but does not cure the disease 🙁
Diabetics Shouldn’t Eat Carbs
Diabetics need energy just like any one else. The way the human body generates energy is through the digestion and conversion of carbohydrates. So therefore, drum roll please, diabetics still need to eat carbs. Rather than starving themselves of energy, type one diabetics instead need to ensure they inject the correct amount of insulin to enable their bodies to convert the amount of carbs they eat into energy.
This can potentially be different for type 2 diabetics though. Many type 2’s will be put on carb controlled diets to allow their bodies to regenerate insulin sensitivity. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be eating any carbs at all but instead means that they may potentially have to limit their carb intake for some time. Either way though, diabetics need carbs, fact.
People With Diabetes Should Only Eat Diabetic Foods
I’ve got to be honest with you, in my experience, many diabetic foods are absolute dog shit. They’re gimicky at best and downright nasty in many instances. Low sugar/low carb alternatives of some foods can be ok, particularly if you are making them yourself and swapping sugar for a low/no gi sweetener alternative.
Honestly, more important than eating diabetic foods is eating goo, healthy, whole foods. There is nothing wrong with eating a salad bowl that is relatively ‘high carb’ as long as those carbs are low gi and slow release. So, yeah, worry less about diabetic foods and more about good foods.
So, there you have it, a list of some of the biggest and most ridiculous diabetic myths I have encountered over my years of being a T1D. If you guys have heard of any others, and they’re not on this list, let me know in the comments or in social media and I will get them added.