Language and Diabetes (November 2018)
As a certified eating disorder registered dietitian, and a clinician who embraces Intuitive Eating with all of my clients, you have heard me discuss how the language we use about food and our bodies can be judgmental and stigmatizing. The impact of this language isn’t limited to body image issues and eating disorders. It can also affect people with various medical conditions.
Several months ago, a client shared with me that he changed health care providers. This client felt his physician seemed critical about the positive efforts he had made with working on how to improve his glucose control (blood sugar). I began thinking about the fact that how we speak to everyone is important, not just those with eating disorders.
How often do you hear, when a client speaks about using the glucometer (meter that checks the blood sugar), that they are either being “good” or “bad” instead of taking the information as knowledge to understand how their body breaks down the food into glucose. I do not know any clients, or anyone in general, that would like to be labeled as “non-compliant” “brittle” or “uncontrolled”. Yet, these terms are tossed around in the diabetes world and used to refer to people.
When people come to see me, they are motivated to improve any situation that has been thrown into their lap. Learning to be compassionate, supportive, and positive is what our clients are looking for.
Ironically, when considering this, I stumbled across a “language statement” that was released in Diabetes Care and The Diabetes Educator in December 2017.
Here are words that were recommended to change:
– Instead of calling a person “diabetic,” it is preferable to call them a “person with diabetes.” Them having diabetes does not define who they are.
– Suggesting to a client to “test” their blood sugar may make them feel as if they are succeeding or failing. How about calling it “checking” your blood sugar instead?
– Instead of saying “control,” it would demonstrate more compassion to speak about “managing” blood sugar.
I have also made some personal adjustments in the language I use when speaking to a client with diabetes.
For example, I like to suggest to clients “target levels” for their blood sugar readings instead of referring to their levels as good, bad, or poor.
Also, “living with diabetes” is a statement a fact with more kindness to it than saying “suffering from diabetes.”
Additionally, avoid coming across as harsh about “compliance or adherence.” What about saying that the patient is striving to focus on the “engagement” of their blood sugar instead?
Lastly, creating “high expectations for self-management” represents that the client is setting a goal for themselves instead of using the term “unrealistic goals.”
The language we use is incredibly important because it frames how we view ourselves and our situation. I hope this overview can open the conversation in communication styles to our loved ones and clients.