Obesity Stigmas and Diabetes: How You Can Overcome Them
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes.[i] Most people today know someone with diabetes. But people who have diabetes are often viewed as lazy, overweight and guilty of causing their disease.
Diabetes is very complex. While carrying extra pounds is a risk factor of the disease, slim people end up with the disease, too. Family history and other risk factors cannot be changed — yet people with diabetes continue to face obesity- and diabetes-related stigmas.
Stereotyping anyone based on their weight is wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen in society; it also occurs in the medical field. If you’re frustrated with the obesity stigmas that surround diabetes, here’s a closer look at where they come from, as well as tips for overcoming them.
Understanding Obesity- and Diabetes-Related Stigmas
Studies show that some of the negative stereotypes associated with people with type 2 diabetes include: fat, slothful, over-eaters, overweight, lazy, glutton, slothful, big fat pig, and obese.[ii] All these stereotypes reinforce the idea that people bring diabetes on themselves.
Other conditions don’t carry the stigmas that diabetes does. People who develop breast cancer aren’t blamed for their disease. But the public can be very unaccepting of individuals who have diabetes.
Diabetes and obesity stigmas refer to when people with diabetes experience negative feelings like blame, rejection, or exclusion — based on the idea that you brought this on yourself or you should have done better. Sadly, more than half of people with type 2 diabetes report that they have felt stigma.[iii]
Common Sources of Stigmas
Multiple sources of diabetes stigmas exist, and these messages negatively affect the general public and persons with diabetes. Stigmas may begin with:
People with diabetes are often portrayed as couch potatoes who overindulge in sugar and never exercise. Type 2 diabetes is characterized as a lifestyle disease, with an emphasis on people being physically inactive and overweight.
Some Healthcare Providers
Unfortunately, some healthcare providers continue to drive stigmas and shame among persons with diabetes. They may focus on what people are doing wrong instead of encouraging them and arming them with ways to improve.
Family and Friends
Although loved ones may have good intentions, they may be judgmental and hurtful to people who have diabetes. No one enjoys being told what they should eat or when they should go exercise, as if it’s their own fault for having diabetes.
Overcoming Obesity Stigmas
When you have diabetes, you know that obesity and other stigmas exist. But what can you do about them? Here are some ways you can overcome stigmas in your own diabetes management — while also changing the way people around you view diabetes.
Focus on Self-Care
Try to focus more on self-care and diabetes management than your appearance. Ask your medical team to help you come up with a plan based on self-care behaviors instead of just the number on the scale. If your team won’t support you, it’s time to look for a new healthcare professional who will work with you without obesity stigmas.
Focus on Actions
It’s true that in many cases, losing even a small amount of weight can improve type 2 diabetes. However, instead of focusing on a number, think about actions you can take to manage your diabetes. This includes making healthy food choices, finding ways to be more active, checking blood sugars regularly and following your diabetes care plan. Remember, many actions work together to improve blood sugar levels, no matter your body size.
Beware of Social Media
Social media and news posts often fixate on special diets and specific exercise programs designed to help people achieve what is considered the ‘ideal’ body size and shape. Unfollow sources of these types of posts that make you feel shame.
Help Educate Others
Many people believe in the obesity-related stigmas surrounding type 2 diabetes because they’re uninformed. Help educate your friends and family members. Teach them about the causes of diabetes. Let them know people of all shapes and sizes can develop diabetes. Even if you do everything right, if diabetes runs in your family, you still may develop it.
You can also educate loved ones about what it takes to manage diabetes and how stigmas negatively impact you physically and emotionally. Arming people around you with facts and eliminating common diabetes myths can help them develop empathy and compassion —breaking the stigma cycle.
The guilt and stigmas linked to diabetes can be difficult to live with. If you feel you’re having a hard time coping with stigmas, consider joining a support group of like-minded people or seeking help from a mental health professional that can help you start viewing type 2 diabetes in a more positive way.