diabetes Health Healthy Eating Professional strategy Uncategorized

“Diabetic” is an Adjective, not a Noun

Words matter. They impact feelings, shape how we hear things, and can change a conversation in an instant.

My paternal grandfather had type 2 diabetes, which is related to why I first became a certified diabetes educator. Growing up, I watched him manage his food portions, monitor his blood glucose, and do other things a person managing diabetes might do in day to day life.  When I was studying to become a dietitian, he would share his lab work with me and we would talk about it. I wasn’t his personal dietitian, but he knew I understood better than most people what he was talking about because of my professional training.

medical image of heart and hands
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is related to why I cringe when someone calls a person with diabetes “diabetic”.  The professors I had, the classes I was in – we talked about people. People who had different conditions that would benefit from nutrition intervention and what that intervention would be. This is who we were going to be helping with our knowledge. And he was my grandpa. He just happened to have diabetes.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I am hearing more and more fellow health professionals refer to their patients as “diabetics”.  Surprising to me too, is when I hear health practitioners call people “consumers” when they are talking about their health and wellbeing care (using “consumers” when it’s the right time to use it is another matter – like, say, when we are actually talking about them consuming something 😉 ).

What is the goal? If someone actually pays attention to what you are saying or writing, what will happen? Will it actually help them? Could it potentially cause harm? This isn’t just random conversation about a non-important topic. It has the (very cool) potential to make a difference. I believe if we all think about the end result, the actual people whose lives we will be touching, it will make it easier to implement programs that matter. It’s also helpful to remember not to design something that you would never do yourself. Asking others to do something you don’t or wouldn’t? That’s not very authentic, is it?

Here’s the thing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. The population is aging. Chronic diseases that are impacted, both positively and negatively, through our lifestyle choices, are being managed by millions of people around the world. What we are doing and how we are going about addressing these things needs to work as best as it can for both the individuals who are navigating these conditions and for our future.

retrain your mind
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

One of the biggest challenges we face is thinking differently about something we know. If you have always done something a certain way and it’s not producing the desired results, it needs to change.  The same is true when it comes to health and wellbeing. The difference is, it’s personal.

Perhaps one way we can begin to make the switch to better well-being is through how we talk. Words matter. They impact feelings, shape how we hear messages, and can change a conversation in an instant.

Let’s start with this small, seemingly insignificant yet incredibly impactful action step. We can all do it. Use different words. Have a conversation instead of spewing facts. It might just help make the difference you are hoping for.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.

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