How to Explain Diabetes to Someone New
More than 30 million Americans have diabetes.1 While most people have heard of diabetes, they may not understand how it affects your daily life.
You control when it’s time to talk to others about diabetes. Explaining it can help them better support you. Here are some of the everyday questions people have about diabetes — and how you can answer them.
What Type of Diabetes You Have?
Many people don’t know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both types of diabetes mean that you have too much sugar in your blood. When explaining the two types of diabetes, it’s helpful to look at the differences.2
|Type 1||Type 2|
|What Happens||Your body attacks cells that make insulin, a protein that helps control levels of blood sugar in the body||Your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t respond the way it should to control blood sugar levels|
|Cause||An autoimmune response against insulin-producing beta cells||Unknown, but related to weight, age, inactivity and genetics|
|Diagnosis||Often diagnosed in children and young adults||Usually diagnosed in adults|
|Management||You take insulin to manage your blood sugar||You may manage blood sugar with a combination of diet, exercise and medication|
How Do You Manage Diabetes?
Loved ones may be curious about how you manage diabetes. Tell them that you get by with a little help. You may use a blood sugar meter, medicine and lifestyle changes to manage blood sugar levels.
A blood sugar meter helps you keep track of blood sugar levels. To use a blood sugar meter, you prick your finger, put a blood sample on a test strip and the meter gives you a blood sugar number. If you manage blood sugar with diet and exercise or take medicine by mouth, you may only check your blood sugar once daily.
If you take insulin for diabetes, you may have to check your blood sugar many times a day. And if you take insulin, you must use a needle or insulin pen to get that insulin into your body. Fast-acting insulin may be used many times each day when you eat. Long-acting insulin is usually given once daily.
What Foods Can You Eat?
When you have diabetes, the key to eating is moderation. This means making sure each meal includes a balance of proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits and starches.3 Many people think you can’t have any carbs or sugar. That’s not true.
Some types of carbohydrates (like whole grains, vegetables and fruits) are better for you than others. Yes, you probably need to count carbs. And portion sizes are important.
Eating when you have diabetes always requires balance. Too much food, or too much of certain foods, can make your blood sugar go too high. Not eating enough, on the other hand, can make blood sugar get too low.
It’s good to let others know that diabetes doesn’t mean you can never enjoy the foods you love. It simply means you need to follow a healthy diet — something everyone should do.
How Does Diabetes Affect Dating and Sex?
If you’re dating someone new, it can help if they’re aware you have diabetes. It’s possible for your blood sugar to go too low while you’re on a date. If they don’t know you have diabetes, they might not know what to do to help.
Dating often includes going to places that serve alcohol. But the signs of low blood sugar can be similar to those of being drunk. Alcohol can affect blood sugar, too. Telling your date about diabetes and the signs of low blood sugar can prepare them to take action if needed.
If you plan to be intimate with someone, you may want to be even more open about diabetes. Intercourse is a type of exercise and can make your blood sugar levels drop. If you have type 1 diabetes and wear an insulin pump, you might want to prepare a new partner for that.
Diabetes may also cause nerve problems that result in vaginal dryness or a loss of sensation in women, or erectile dysfunction in men.4 Many treatments are available, but you may still want to be open with your partner.
Common Questions to Avoid
Sometimes people ask questions or make comments you find frustrating. When you tell someone new that you have diabetes, explain that you’d prefer they avoid these questions or comments:
- “Should you eat that?” They need to understand you can still enjoy your favorite foods and that you have a plan to control your blood sugar.
- “This is sugar-free so you can eat this.” That’s not always true. Sometimes those sugar- free or low-carb labels cover up triggers that affect blood sugar.
- “It’s low sugar, so it’s okay for you.” Actually, even if a food is low in sugar, it still may have carbs that affect blood sugar levels.
- “But you’re so active and healthy.” It’s possible to have diabetes and still be very active and healthy. Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you made bad health choices.