Guilt and Diabetes: Why One Might Make the Other Worse

“Guilt” is the diabetes complication that no one talks about.

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It’s not uncommon for people with type 2 diabetes to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding type 2 diabetes, and the general public is quick to blame people for their lifestyle choices. Not only is this unfair, but guilt and shame can actually make it harder for people to manage their diabetes. It creates a cycle that’s hard to break.

It’s true that lifestyle plays a big role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Your activity level, weight, and diet can affect your risk. However, that does not mean getting diabetes is a personal failing.

Should you feel guilty for having type 2 diabetes?

There are a lot of societal factors that make healthy living challenging. Unhealthy, heavily processed foods are often cheaper and easier to find than fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods are also heavily advertised on TV — and often with enticing images and beloved celebrities. It’s not always easy to crave broccoli when you see sizzling cheeseburgers on television 10 times a day.

Plus, many packaged foods at the grocery store have deceiving messages on them, such as “natural” and “made from whole grains.” These claims make certain foods like lemon-lime soda and sugary breakfast cereal sound more nutritious than they actually are. (Learn more here about front-of-package health claims.)

To make it worse, nutrition information isn’t always clear. Fad diets can create confusion by telling people not to eat bananas or to shun all carbs. Food brands, wellness groups, and “influencers” all push different agendas (often to sell products) that may contradict actual recommendations from experts.

The point is, society does not set up people to have healthy habits. Living healthfully often requires having access to the right information. It also requires having time and money to buy and cook healthy food and exercise. Most importantly, you need to live in an area where healthy foods are readily available.

How can guilt worsen type 2 diabetes?

Guilt can spiral out of control. Unaddressed guilt may increase the risk of depression. It may also decrease their motivation to stick to treatment. This is sometimes known as diabetes burnout.

Diabetes guilt is normal and common, but it’s not necessarily healthy to hold on to. Letting go of the past and focusing on what you can do now to improve your health may be more productive. Your doctor can help you tweak your habits to be more diabetes-friendly. When you have good diabetes control, the disease will have a much smaller effect on your day-to-day life. It can also help prevent diabetes complications in the future.

Talk to your doctor if you’re struggling with diabetes guilt. They have likely helped other people who have had similar feelings and experiences, so don’t be embarrassed to bring it up.