Q: Help! My family acts like the food police at mealtimes. How can I get them to stop?
A: A common thread between people with diabetes is that they have almost all, at one time or another, had to deal with the well-meaning, but misinformed, ‘food police.’
Whenever you find yourself in a situation where your family decides to ‘tell’ you what to eat or to criticize your food choices, first ask yourself why they feel the need to comment. Many times, a misconception, bias, or lack of education is to blame for the inappropriate remark or question. A spouse may think she is being helpful by remarking on the portion size of your food choice. A child may fear that your health is being harmed from your dessert, so he speaks up to try to protect you.
When these situations happen, although it is common to feel annoyed, it is also a perfect opportunity for a teachable moment. A diabetes-friendly diet is no different than a healthy, well-balanced diet that we all should be following, regardless of whether we have the disease or not. Although you need to be mindful of your total carbohydrate intake, you do not have to give up carbohydrates in their entirety. A family member with a misconception about carbohydrates may be under the impression that eating carbs are ‘bad’ for you, leading them to comment when they see you consuming them. Opening up the lines of communications and asking your family members why they are making the comments they are making can be the first step in educating them about diabetes and what you can and cannot eat.
Acknowledge your family members questions and comments by asking why they are saying what they are saying. Once you understand where they are coming from, you can work together to address their concerns while helping them to be supportive versus authoritative in their efforts to help you better control diabetes. Scheduling a meeting with a dietitian or certified diabetes educator that your whole family can attend is one way to increase their knowledge about living with diabetes. This also allows them to ask questions to a third party that they trust.
A health professional with experience in diabetes can serve as a moderator for an open discussion among you and your family members to help get everyone on the same page. Managing diabetes is a lifelong effort. Just like anything in life, you won’t be perfect, and you don't need to be. There will be times you get a bit off track or splurge from time to time. Although you need adhere to your diabetes plan as closely as possible, it’s natural to stray a bit at times. A diabetes educator can help explain this to your family. They can help them to understand how you can be a bit flexible at times with your meal plan goals to allow for real life situations that may present without the need for guilt. Working together, you and your family members along with your healthcare team, can develop a plan to help you best manage your condition. This team effort not only helps to quiet the ‘food police,’ but it can also help to enhance your support network at home, ultimately making you even more successful in managing diabetes for life.