Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
Fact-checked by Aditya Nar, B.Pharm, MSc. Public Health and Health Economics

My colleague Smita looked very low and hardly smiled during the office party. When I probed further, she told me how her husband has been behaving as if his life is coming to an end soon, ever since he’s been diagnosed with diabetes. The family weekend dinners, fun parties at home with old friends, 90s Bollywood marathons with her vanilla chocolate fudge had all just stopped the day the doctor talked to him about it. Ever since that day, he had nothing nice to say to her. The kids missed their ‘fun dad’. As she tried controlling her tears, she confessed that she often wondered if life would ever be the same again.

Unfortunately, stories like this are growing increasingly common, with India ranking second only to China on the world diabetes stage. (1) 

So, if you find yourself in Smita’s position, the first thing to do is stop worrying. If you aren’t positive about it, there’s not much you can do to help your loved one. Make a decision to support him/her and follow some of these tips which have helped others:

Talk less and listen:

If a newly diagnosed diabetic is talking to you, listen carefully and make sure you understand what he/she wants. Is someone asking for your advice or just venting to feel better? Do they want your low-calorie diet recipe or are they just cribbing about not being able to eat those crunchy pakoras anymore?

Give them a patient hearing and, if necessary, a shoulder to cry on. Don’t rush in with your advice unless they specifically ask you for it.

Encourage, but don’t bulldoze:

Dr. Vatsala Kashi, M.D., says, “Nowadays, diabetes is so common that one gets loads of well-meaning advice from friends and relatives. This can take a toll on the newly diagnosed diabetic, especially if a spouse is bent on trying each of those suggested remedies. It’s best to let the diabetic decide what he or she wants to do and then encourage the person to stick to those decisions.”

In practical terms, this could mean coming up with workable menus and shopping together for healthy foods. Smita, for example, found that joining her husband for his daily walk made him comply better with the doctor’s advice of a regular exercise routine.

If the loved one doesn’t take too well to such intervention, step back and offer only as much support as the person seeks.

Be sensitive:

Just because people with diabetes need to follow healthy eating, it does not mean they will like doing it. And you need to be sensitive to this so that you don’t end up making it even more difficult for them. You feel like eating an ice-cream or indulging in that paneer butter masala? Go ahead, but you don’t really need to do it in front of your loved one, do you?

If you’re at a social event involving food, there’s no need to broadcast your loved one’s new diabetic status to everyone. Even if it means he or she sometimes ends up consuming a little unhealthy food. If you’re worried about a total lack of control exhibited by the person, maybe you should plan to avoid such social situations at least until he or she better adjust to diabetes.

Make lifestyle changes:

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be the gateway to healthier cooking. For instance, Smita discovered she could still cook her husband’s favourite foods by baking instead of frying. Use your creative instincts to come up with recipes that substitute high-calorie ingredients for low-calorie ones, so your loved one can eat tasty, yet, healthy.

Perhaps you loved exploring every new eatery that opened in town. Being diagnosed with diabetes need not take away the joy of exploring – maybe all you need to change is the direction of that exploration. Why not search for stores selling healthy food or salad bars or restaurants specialising in low-calorie cooking? (2)

Encourage regular exercise:

Besides helping control body weight and blood glucose levels, regular exercise has also been reported to control anxiety in diabetics. Support your loved one to find an enjoyable exercise routine and stick to it. Smita’s husband initially took up badminton and cycling to stay active, but it left him too tired, and he started skipping sessions. Later, he switched over to yoga and found it much easier to stick with the exercise. If your company helps your loved one comply better with the exercise regimen, then join in. (3)

Set up practical measures to deal with emergencies:

Dr. Kashi says that a lot of anxiety of being diagnosed with diabetes may centre around hypoglycemic emergencies. “Simple measures can be put in place to deal with such scenarios – carry a chocolate bar in your bag, keep a box of biscuits next to your bed, set your doctor’s, caregiver’s and maybe even a close neighbour’s numbers on speed dial – do what it takes to ease your loved one’s mind about help being available in an emergency.”

As Smita now tells us, the toughest thing about her husband being diagnosed with diabetes was accepting that life would never be the same again. And yet, they support each other, because they got around to understanding that “different life” need not mean “unhappy life.” Probably, this realisation is indeed the secret to dealing with diabetes.

Footnote:

Dr. Vatsala Kashi is consultant physician at Ramakrishna Nursing Home, Bengaluru.

Photo Courtesy: Shutterstock

References:

[1] D.C. Protasiewicz, M-M. Sandu, A.G. Firanescu, E.C. Lacatusu, M.L. Bicu, M. Mota. Data regarding the prevalence and incidence of diabetes mellitus and prediabetes. Rom J Diabetes Nutr Metab Dis.; 2016; 23(1); 095-103; DOI: 10.1515/rjdnmd-2016-0012

[2] A. Abbott. Understanding Diabetes. Diabetic Connect. http://www.diabeticconnect.com/diabetes-information-articles/general/487-5-ways-to-help-your-newly-diagnosed-diabetic-partner

[3] Y. P. S. Balhara and R. Sagar. Correlates of anxiety and depression among patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Indian J Endocrinol Metab; 2011; 15 (Suppl 1); S50-S54; DOI: 10.4103/2230-8210.83057

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Anusuya Suresh is an Assistant Professor at Vivekananda College of Pharmacy, Bengaluru. She has co-authored a textbook on plant-based medicines and Indian systems of medicine. A youth counsellor and a freelance writer on health, parenting, psychology, self-development and spirituality, Anusuya blogs at http://akwrite.blogspot.in/ and tweets from @Ranga_anu