By: Laurie Block, MS, RDN, CDE
It’s the beginning of a new year, typically, a serene time to reflect about the past year, think about all your accomplishments, and set new goals.
If you have diabetes and hope to set goals involving diabetes management, one of the single most important things you can do for yourself, if you haven’t already done so, is to not label yourself a “diabetic.”
It may seem like semantics, but labeling yourself in a category may actually prevent you from making change.
As a young intern, I learned early on not use the word diabetic in practice, when I had the opportunity to work with a respected psychologist who shared with me her thoughts on why it is important not to label people.
She believed in the labeling theory: A theory that describes how individuals interpret how the outside world perceives them and how people subsequently begin to behave in the way they are perceived.
The labeling theory is not frequently used in the diabetes world however, I have found it to have significance for people living with diabetes.
From my experience, being labeled as a diabetic is definitive, filled with stereotypes, unintended meanings, and self-fulfilling prophecies.
The word “diabetic” often conjures up many inaccurate assumptions, and thoughts about how diabetes is managed.
Instead of saying “I am a diabetic,” consider saying: “I have diabetes,” “I am a person with diabetes,” or “I have diabetes.” These phrases provide a different undertone, an undertone that denotes that diabetes is only part of the whole self.
Many in the diabetes community are already aware of the importance of this terminology, but those who are outside the community, including close friends and family, may not realize the importance. Take time to educate them.
Although it may be just a matter of semantics, I have discovered in practice that I am ahead of the game when trying to help individuals make a change and keep resolutions if they describe themselves as a person that has diabetes.
“Having diabetes” is more fluid, open-minded, less definitive. It allows for ever-changing ideas about how to manage blood sugars and a different sense of self.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy, and successful 2020!
Laurie Block, MS, RDN, CDE is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist who practices in New York City and La Jolla, Calif. She specializes in medical nutrition therapy with a special interest in diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular risk factors. She is the author of the Type 1 Diabetes Cookbook published by Rockbridge Press and enjoys writing about nutrition-related topics. Block is passionate about helping kids, teens and adults reach their health care goals. She is involved in Marjorie’s Fund, a global initiative to empower adults living with Type 1 diabetes. She is also the co-founder of the Kids and Healthy Weight Program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine.