Watch Your Language: Words to Avoid When Speaking to Diabetics

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • [Humor]

    I think most of us have had experience with the Diabetes Police. You know what I mean. You’re at your daughter’s wedding, and just to be part of things, you reach for a piece of wedding cake about a half inch in diameter. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Chief of the Diabetes Police appears, grabs the cake out of your hand and says, “You can’t eat that. You’re a diabetic.”


    Well, I’d like to suggest a similar citizen posse: the Language Police. The Language Police would listen to conversations and peek through keyholes and arrest medical professionals (I’d hate to be arrested myself, so I’m limiting the target population) who uttered certain hackneyed phrases, especially those listed below. Punishment would be severe, as outlined later. Following are the phrases to avoid:

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    Brisk walking.  Everyone tells you that you should do X minutes a day of “brisk walking,” but almost no one tells you exactly what brisk walking is. For some people, brisk walking probably means anything faster than a waddle. For others, it means walking up steep hills carrying 50-pound barbells in each hand and pretending to enjoy it.


    Someone told me her doctor defined “brisk walking” as pretending you were late to an appointment. Sorry. That wouldn’t work for me. If I were late for an appointment I’d hail a cab. If I couldn’t get a cab I’d just give up and go home, walking very slowly and dejectedly. I mean, why knock yourself out walking very fast just to listen to a lecture by the receptionist about the importance of arriving on time and when do you want to reschedule the appointment?


    Artery clogging. Fat used to be artery clogging. Then only saturated fat was artery clogging. Then trans fats were artery clogging. By next year, bottled water will probably be artery clogging.


    What does artery clogging mean, anyway? It makes you think the fats or whatever is artery clogging this month are turning into sludge and all you need is a shot of Draino and your arteries will be clear. But in fact, that’s not the way it works. Some fats do contribute to the formation of plaque in your arteries, and the plaque does narrow your arteries.


    But they’ve discovered that the narrowing of the arteries is not as dangerous as what is called unstable plaque or plaque that is likely to rupture and release truly artery-clogging clots that can close off important small vessels in the brain or heart. Referring to things as artery clogging just impedes our understanding of the true state of things, and this term is not in my vocabulary (I hope).


    Eat more fruits and vegetables. “Eat more fruits and vegetables” has become the mantra of the Aughties, the solution to all problems medical and probably social and political as well. Like most clichés, it contains a grain of truth. Most Americans do eat too many starches, sugars, and highly processed foods, and they would be better off eating more zucchini and broccoli instead.


    But remember, potatoes are vegetables. Should we all eat more french fries? Tell people that the best way to lose weight or prevent diabetes or cure this or that condition is simply to eat more fruits and vegetables and they’re likely to drink more “healthy fruit juice” and eat more potatoes. Or they’ll eat their usual meal and then add a carrot and a few supersweet grapes and think all their problems are solved. Let’s ban this exhortation.


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    Obesity epidemic. Yup. There are fat people in the world. Yup.The more affluent a country becomes, the more fat people and the fewer starving people you’ll see. But the term “epidemic” suggests that this is somehow contagious, and we’d better get a vaccine or something or else this epidemic might affect (gasp) us! Perhaps the creative types at ad agencies could come up with a new cliché to describe this phenomenon. The Skinny Person Deficit? The Avoirdupois National Product? Standard & Poor’s 300-pound Index? Until we come up with a perfect term, let’s just avoid this one.


    Eat healthy. I’d be rich if I had a share of Microsoft stock for every time I heard someone say with a self-satisfied look, “I eat healthy,” implying that because of this they’d never get a disease like diabetes. But what does “eating healthy” mean? Ask Dr.Atkins (although this might be a tad difficult now that he’s died) and you’d get one answer, and ask that PETA guy advocating vegetarian diets for everyone and you’d get another.


    So basically, “eating healthy” means eating the diet you happen to prefer. Hence, it means nothing and should be avoided.


    Watch your portion sizes. Along with eating more fruits and vegetables, watching your portion sizes is another phrase beloved by people who like to tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat. I don’t understand why. I’ve been watching my portion sizes for decades. For years I watched them get bigger and bigger. Then, after my diabetes diagnosis, I watched them get smaller and smaller. In neither case did I find that viewing the portion sizes had much effect on my weight. So why bother to utter this tired old dictum?


    And now for the part that is fun to imagine: the  punishments. They would be imposed by the Language Police according to how many violations a person was found guilty of.


    Light sentence. Follow a 1000-calorie diet for two months. Get weighed every week while being yelled at to watch your portion sizes.


    Medium sentence.  Do 45 minutes a day of “brisk walking” with 250-pound weights strapped to your body. The weights would be water-filled balloons that jiggled as you walked.


    Severe sentence. Measure your blood sugar 12 times a day with a meter that alternates between numbers that are plus or minus 20% of the true value and random numbers generated by the meter. When you can’t figure out why you got one of the numbers, do some brisk walking while listening to a 30-minute lecture on the importance of watching your portion sizes and eating more fruits and vegetables.

Published On: June 06, 2007