That said, if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes and want to lower your type 2 diabetes risk (or feel more in control of your type 2 diabetes if you have the condition), then you may want to talk to your doctor about what realistic and sustainable lifestyle changes might make a difference for you.
2. Myth: You can only develop diabetes if you’re overweight.
The vast majority of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.5 And while weight is one factor in developing type 2 diabetes, people can have type 2 diabetes at any weight. (There are plenty of people in bigger bodies who don’t have diabetes too.)
Being overweight is associated with insulin resistance, which can cause type 2 diabetes if your blood sugar remains excessively high. Although body mass index (BMI) is not a good measure of individual health, research shows there’s a correlation between having a higher BMI and developing type 2 diabetes. The reason for this isn’t fully understood, but one reason could be that some people with a higher BMI have more visceral fat (or the fat stored in our stomach surrounding our organs). Visceral fat affects hormone regulation and having more visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance.6 But having a higher BMI doesn’t guarantee you’ll get diabetes, and there are people with lower BMIs who do have diabetes.
Past research shows that some people who were at risk of developing diabetes lowered their chances of getting the condition after losing weight through diet and exercise. That’s why you’ll often hear that losing weight is recommended to help you lower your chances of getting diabetes if you’re at risk. For some people, weight loss also makes blood sugar easier to manage. But know that there is no specific amount of weight loss guaranteed to lower the odds of developing diabetes if you’re at risk or improve your diabetes if you have the condition. Talking to your physician can help you decide whether you might benefit from losing weight and, if so, how to realistically do that.
3. Myth: You can never eat sugar or carbs if you have diabetes.
If you have diabetes and have received a disapproving stare from someone when you order dessert, then you may have experienced the blowback from this myth. “There is no reason that you have to cut everything out,” Bithika M. Thompson, M.D.,7 an endocrinologist with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, tells SELF. “It all comes down to balance.”
In order to avoid diabetes-related complications, you will need to keep your blood sugar levels within a target range8 that’s specific to you. (Your doctor will help you set this target.) For example, if you have type 2 diabetes and sugar builds up in your blood, then you may develop hyperglycemia, or dangerously high blood sugar. Over time high blood sugar levels can raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other complications.9
Although you don’t need to completely avoid eating carbohydrates or sugar if you have diabetes, you may need to make some dietary changes to keep your blood sugar levels in your recommended range. For example, your doctor or dietitian may recommend that you choose complex carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates when possible, like opting for whole wheat bread instead of white bread. Your body breaks all carbohydrates down into glucose (sugar) and uses it for energy. But complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, meaning your blood sugars rise more slowly.
You can use the glycemic index as a guide for choosing foods, says Dr. Moreno. The index assigns a number to certain foods based on how likely they are to make your blood sugars rise.9 (The lower the GI number, the less likely your blood sugar will rise.) But keep in mind that the GI is not an exhaustive list and doesn’t account for the nutritional content of foods, like whether something has vitamins or fats (which our bodies need). However, it is one tool that might help you make choices about what you want to eat.
4. Myth: Insulin is actually harmful.
Insulin helps keep your blood sugar low by moving sugar from your bloodstream into your cells. And maintaining a healthy blood sugar is one aspect of decreasing your chances of developing other health conditions such as heart disease. However, some people mistakenly believe that insulin can make your diabetes worse.
Insulin is the recommended treatment for most people with type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.10 People with type 2 diabetes generally take other medications rather than insulin at first but may need to eventually take insulin in the long term.