How you can help a family member or friend live a healthier life—and avoid doing things that might get in their way.
You want to be supportive, but how? First: “Don’t be the diabetes police,” says Karen Kemmis, D.P.T., M.S., G.C.S., C.D.E., F.A.A.D.E., a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators and a diabetes educator at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. You don’t know what’s right for that person, and it’s not up to you to manage their health anyway.
Second: Don’t expect them to be perfect. “There have been very large research studies that show that if we have blood glucoses (sugars) that are within the goal ranges—not normal, but goal—it will greatly decrease the risk of complications and slow the progress of diabetes.” In fact, small changes all add up, so celebrate them. Dropping just a few pounds or going for a short walk are both steps in the right direction, and they do make a difference.
Take a few minutes to read Kemmis’s other tips on being a positive and supportive force.
Do ask questions. One of the best ways to figure out how to help is to ask. What can I do for you? Would you like to exercise together? What should I know about your diabetes or meal plan or medicines? Would you like to talk about it … or not?
Don’t sabotage. “Realize that it is really, really, really hard to do everything that we’re told to do,” she says. So don’t make it more challenging by bringing home foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. “It is really hard to not eat food that’s not healthy if it’s in the house,” says Kemmis. Stock up on healthy ingredients and work together to create delicious new dishes using them.
Do watch what you say. Don’t call them a diabetic. “They are a person first,” says Kemmis. “A mother or daughter or father or athlete or engineer. Diabetes is a piece of the individual, but it shouldn’t be all we see.” You can say that they have diabetes or are diagnosed with it. But honestly, you probably don’t even need to go there. It’s your relationship that matters most to you, so focus on that.
Don’t play the blame game. “It’s not productive to blame people for their diabetes,” says Kemmis. “There are people who are overweight who don’t have it and people who do have it who are not overweight.” Remember that many factors come into play when a person develops a health condition. What’s important now is working to manage that condition.
Do join in. “A lot of what a person with diabetes should do to be healthy is what everybody should do to be healthy,” says Kemmis. Exercise has positive effects on blood sugar—do it with them, and you can lower your risk of serious health problems. You may also offer to be their notetaker at doctor’s appointments or to learn more about diabetes at a local workshop or class. “Make a healthy food choice with the person. Go for a walk with the person,” says Kemmis. You’ll be doing both of you a favor and strengthening the bond you share.