The Etiquette of Diabetes

Do you do blood tests in public?
Do you do blood tests in public?

Do you inject in public? What happens if you are in a meeting and you suddenly experience a hypo (low blood sugar) and what do you say to people when you are invited to their homes for a meal?

These are the questions I have been asking of late, as I have been thinking of diabetic etiquette. My modus operandi for life is “do not make a fuss”. It’s the Brit in me. I shy away from behaviours that draw too much attention and I am not keen on putting people to trouble.

But health is important and being too polite to refuse a piece of cake that a friend has made means you run the risk of high blood sugars and feeling ill, politeness starts to look silly doesn’t it?

Let’s take a look at the different issues that come up when you are living with diabetes and how you can handle them.

So – injections in public.

I do inject in public. Because I spend a lot of time on public transport, I sometimes have to take injections whilst on the train. Because I use a pen, it is discreet and I think it’s rather like breast-feeding – you can’t see anything unless you’re up close and really staring, which most people won’t do.

If I’m with people, I rarely tell them I am about to do an injection – I just do it, rather than drawing attention to it, but this is up to you. You might prefer that people don’t get a shock when you do it in front of them.

Blood tests in public.

Again, I do this in public because it isn’t practical for me not to do so. Blood tests seem rather more obvious than injections, perhaps because of the appearance of blood. You can do it discreetly by keeping your hands below eye-level.

Handling hypos in public.

Outside of the home, it is good practice to tell your friends and colleagues that you are diabetic and that from time to time*, you do experience low blood sugar levels that will need to be treated. Explain your symptoms so that people know what to look out for and explain how a hypo should be treated, and what needs to be done if it a serious hypo (i.e. one that you can’t treat by yourself).

Unfortunately, one of your symptoms might be a refusal to believe you that you are currently experiencing a low blood sugar level, so ask that friends and colleagues insist you do a blood test if they suspect you are having a hypo.

I still recognise my own hypo symptoms (fingers crossed) but having hypos in a meeting, say, can be difficult. If you don’t know everyone at the meeting, suddenly eating sweets can seem a little strange, or you might be in the middle of a presentation or an explanation and you start to stumble over words. A quick – “I’m a diabetic and I’m experiencing a low blood sugar. I’ll need to sit down/leave/eat sweets etc until I recover”, should suffice.

If you are in the middle of a presentation or explaining something important, it is probably worth asking for the meeting to be postponed.

Explaining your food choices.

This is a tricky one… as on a regular basis most of us will eat out or be invited to other people’s houses to dine, or go to events where there is food.

For close friends and family, hopefully your food choices will not be an issue as you can explain in detail why you have chosen to follow a low-carb diet and how it will benefit your health. It might be worth pointing out that a low-carb diet is likely to make you happier and calmer of mood. When you aren’t fighting high or rising blood sugars, you have much more energy. Tiredness related to high blood sugars tends to make people tired and very grumpy, as any partner of a diabetic can tell you.

When you go out to restaurants, you can look at menus beforehand to work out what you can eat, or phone the restaurant beforehand to explain that you follow a low-carb diet.

If you are going to someone’s house, offer to bring your own dish if you do not want to put a person to trouble. A good host, however, may relish the challenge of preparing new or different from usual dishes so if you explain detail what a low-carb diet looks like and perhaps make suggestions for where they can find recipes.

If you work in an office, cakes and sweets are often passed around on a regular basis – especially at this time of year. If you feel that you will offend someone by saying no, you can explain that you have diabetes and eating anything with so much sugar in it will make you feel ill (and unproductive). To help with willpower, ask for the sweets and cakes to be placed out of your sight if at all possible.

Do you have diabetes and what “diabetes etiquette” issues do you struggle with? Do you have any advice and tips you can add to this piece? We’d love to hear your opinions so feel free to comment.


*If you have diabetes and you want to experience fewer hypos, then check out The Diabetes Diet for detailed advice on a low-carb diet and managing your medications to suit. Pic thanks to Wikipedia.






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