December 11, 2016

No blame, no shame …

I just re-read the ‘Why Bother?’ post below and, although it was intended to be provocative, there’s a possible interpretation that needs clearing up.

‘Why Bother?’ was written with someone specific in mind, someone I know well, someone I’ve known for over 30 years, who has Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and who can’t accept the idea that their ‘treats’ might be worth trading in for extra healthy years of life. While I respect their decision, it seems a shame, as aside from their own life expectancy, this person has fantastic kids and grandkids, who’d certainly cherish those extra years.

‘Shame’ is interesting. It’s the emotion we feel when we fail to honour our conscience and in some respects, if it causes us to change our behaviour for the better, it has a positive function.

When I received my own T2D diagnosis, I felt angry and ashamed with myself for allowing my health to get into such a bad state, for possibly shortening my life.

Other than my wife Claire, I didn’t tell anyone about my T2D for months afterwards. I read up on the condition, set about reversing it and I changed my diet and lifestyle. Fortunately, it worked. Nearly two years down the line, after an up-and-down process which has been and continues to be educational, I’m 57lbs lighter and much happier and healthier.

In my case, what are often viewed as negative emotions turned out to have positive benefits. The anger and shame I felt, plus a smaller but useful addition of fear, turned out to be three of the engines that drove to make the necessary changes to my life. On the positive side, love for my wife and son provided crucial fuel too.

However, shame imposed on us from outside is far less useful and can be damaging.

T2D is often wrongly associated exclusively with obesity. While the build up of fat around the liver and pancreas seem to be a major causal factor of T2D, many people who don’t look at all overweight also have T2D, and equally many people who are overweight or obese don’t have the condition at all.

The ‘normal’-looking T2D people are sometimes called TOFIs – Thin Outside, Fat Inside. The journalist, broadcaster and T2D reversee Michael Mosley, who wrote the very useful ‘The Blood Sugar Diet’ is one such.

Despite this misunderstanding about T2D, there’s a common perception that it’s a self-inflicted illness caused by poor lifestyle choices, by greed and sloth.

Even within the community of diabetics, I’ve picked up a slight note of distain from Type 1s, who are keen to differentiate themselves from the Type 2s, possibly because they want to avoid this stigma.

The shaming of people with Type 2 diabetes is wrong and counter-productive.

We live in a world in which it’s all too easy to become ill and overweight. One word for it is obesogenic, a food environment overstuffed with cheap, sugary and carbohydrate-rich products, which make weight gain almost inevitable.

The result of this is everywhere to be seen – skyrocketing rates of overweight and obesity and rising figures for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease.

So, did any of the people attached to the headless bellies we see shuffling about on TV every time the media decide to run a story on obesity ever set out to become ill? It’s unlikely. No one decides to become overweight, nor would anyone ever choose to develop T2D, along with all its horrible secondary complications.

All the overweight and obese people, who are now comprise the majority in the UK, are the result of nothing more or less than the modern carb-rich diet of freely available fast calories, a diet that pretty much guarantees imbalance, overweight and illness.

Bearing this firmly in mind, where’s the point, use or kindness in shaming people?

For years, the NHS and various governments have been repeating a mantra of ‘eat less and exercise more.’ This is naïve, uninformed and it clearly doesn’t work, as the expanding national waistline proves. Diet and lifestyle is a little more complex than that and people need better information and support than they have so far been given.

We aim to start moving that mountain of misunderstanding back a little, starting in January.

I’d like people to coming to ‘Dia-Beat This!’ to know that they will be treated with kindness and respect and will not be judged, whatever their size or state of health.

The ‘Why Bother?’ post was personally important for me to write, as I know there are fatalistic people with T2D, who can’t or won’t face the seriousness of the illness and where it leads – something I obviously find problematic! T2D is truly worth fighting and worth reversing.

I also want to point up the fact that Claire and I, through ‘Dia-Beat This!’, won’t be the ones giving T2D people better health. The people who decide to take charge of their diabetes and reverse it will be the ones doing that, we’ll just be giving them some tools to help the process along and cheering from the sidelines.

Of course, this all starts with with the decision to do something different, to start a new day afresh and that decision is for each person to make.

If you can use whatever feelings you have about your diabetes to good effect, even feelings of shame and anger, great – do it. If it moves you towards better health, that’s all good.

However, shame and blame from the outside world, based on ignorance and prejudice, have no use and are not welcome.

No blame and no shame.

E.M 11.12.16

By the way, in writing the above I haven’t forgotten all the thousands of TOFIs with T2D, any of whom will be welcomed at ‘Dia-Beat This!’. I’m just down on fat-shaming, body-shaming, indeed shaming of any sort. I can’t see how kicking people when they’re down has any value. It’s not going to help them up, is it?

He’s a link here to a TED talk by US surgeon and T2D diet researcher Peter Attia, who reflects on the points I’ve raised very poignantly. It’s worth a look:

Leave a Reply