Empower People With Diabetes

My client’s posture dropped as if she had shrunk 2 inches. Her eyes fell away from my desk, and her voice softened when she said, “I failed.”

I’ve seen this scenario play out many times in my office while reviewing lab results with my patients who have diabetes. Too often, they relate their lab results, weight, and diagnoses as a measure of their character.

What Blood Glucose Results Mean
We call them blood sugar or blood glucose tests, but what if we change our terminology to “blood sugar checks”? A check is more neutral than a test. A test implies something we pass or fail, causing many people with diabetes to label their blood glucose numbers as good or bad or pass or fail. The results of blood glucose checks aren’t good or bad grades. They’re feedback, so let’s help our clients view their blood draws or finger sticks as nothing more than information.

The results of blood glucose checks tell our clients whether they need a course correction, much the same as a meat thermometer guides us to put the roast back in the oven because the temperature is too low to meet safety requirements—information, not judgment.

Words to Empower
The study of behavior change tells us that people are more likely to make lasting positive changes when they feel good about themselves, not when they feel shame, guilt, or poor self-esteem. We can empower our clients to change by the language we use. Consider the following:

  • Avoid calling clients diabetics. Instead, use person-first language to acknowledge that they are people with diabetes.
  • Refrain from referring to blood glucose checks or lab results as good or bad.
  • Talk about laboratory or blood sugar checks instead of tests.
  • Help clients reframe victimizing language such as, “I can’t eat that because I have diabetes,” to something more empowering, such as, “I choose not to eat that because it doesn’t help me reach my goals.”
  • Work with clients to embrace a more positive identity. For example, help them change, “I’ll never be able to get my A1c to 7%,” to “I’m still figuring out this blood sugar balancing act.”

People with diabetes juggle medications, activity, meals, and more with their already-busy lives to manage their blood glucose levels. We can help them be successful by carefully choosing our words and gently guiding them in choosing theirs.

— Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDCES, FAND, CHWC, is a freelance writer and nutrition and diabetes consultant to the food industry, including the Norwegian Seafood Council and The Dairy Alliance. She lives in southeastern Virginia and is the author of four books, including Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.

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