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Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE

Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator

            With the approach of Thanksgiving (and the holidays), the “diabetes food police” will be out in full food-police-shield-480x400force watching every bite we eat.  The diabetes police is a term coined by Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator Dr. William Polonsky. The idea illustrates how well-meaning friends, colleagues and family treat a Person with Diabetes (PWD) like a diabetes criminal. It is the diabetes police’s self-appointed job to supervise the PWD. The diabetes police make certain you are taking care of your diabetes management giving their opinions about what you should or should not be doing.  Most PWDs don’t appreciate receiving the unsolicited advice. Within the category of diabetes police is the specialized branch of diabetes “food police.” You can recognize them by their criticism of what the PWD eats believing they know better what are  the “right” and “wrong” food choices.

            I am a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator in private practice specializing in treating the emotional issues of PWDs.  I also have had  type 1 diabetes for 38 years and am proud to say I am free of complications. Despite my well-managed diabetes, I am not immune to the invasive diabetes food police.  Several years ago when I attended a group meeting of clinicians, the diabetes food police singled me out. A plate of cookies was making the rounds for the attendees at the meeting. The person on my right directly passed the plate past me to the person on my left, as if I were invisible. I was surprised and asked why I was excluded.  Obviously, I was told, because I have diabetes, that meant that I couldn’t/shouldn’t eat the cookies! Quietly, but assertively, I told the food police that the decision was mine to make – not theirs. I explained how they had no idea what my blood sugar was at that moment. It was my choice to eat or not to eat. I received an immediate apology from the food police for their misguided exclusion and was then offered the plate.  I thanked them and passed it along to the person on my left without taking a cookie.  But, it was MY DECISION not to eat – not theirs to decide for me. 

            So, what’s a PWD to do when the diabetes food police starts minding your business? There are several choices how to react. You can confront the person – in a nice way! Start by being a “diabetes educator” and explain the basics of sugars and carbohydrates and how they are not off-limits in our diet. It may help to reduce the tension in your situation by acknowledging the food police’s concern for your welfare. It might help the person, who is telling you how to manage your diabetes, if you thank them for their concern but reassure them that you are able to take care of yourself. Hopefully, the food police will back off. However, some people just never learn, no matter how many times you try to teach them.  In that case, you have the choice to ignore the advice and the person dispensing the advice.

            The best way to prove to the food police that you know what you’re doing is to live well with your diabetes. Be appropriately assertive and feel empowered when you make smart food decisions. It’s not only important to make your food choices wisely, it’s also important to make your portion sizes equally wisely. That way you can – literally –  have your cake and eat it too, without the food police making any comments.

Brought to You By:
Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE
Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes EducatorDDP Staff Writer.

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