Is a Diabetes Support Group for Me? My Personal Experience...

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I went at it alone for some time. I tried to rely on some of the old, outdated knowledge, from my father’s days of living with diabetes and I quickly discovered that that was only a small fraction of our current diabetes knowledge. So I immersed myself as much as I could in diabetes information, from various sources: forums, diabetes guideline agencies, clinicians groups, etc.

Patient support was always deemed as a big part of the equation of living with diabetes, and I agree – support must come from a variety of sources, including family, as well as other persons living with diabetes who may more closely empathize with the patient. For this purpose, there are diabetes patient support groups out there, some put on by private citizens, and some by the local medical community.

I went to one of these support groups when I was diagnosed, and I knew right away that this one group would not be for me – and here’s why. On the day I attended, educational focus was on learning meals to prepare with diabetes  and the local hospital’s chef put on a cooking demonstration of how to make simple, healthy meals, an everyday reality. The problem?

  • The group met only once a month – and took a long summer break. Patients had little time to learn new things, and much less, apply them to their everyday lives. At this session, few people – if any – knew anything about counting carbohydrates, total carbohydrates in their meals, etc. The chef did not speak about carbs – and handed out a recipe with no nutritional information, particularly as relevant to carbohydrates and serving size.
  • An opportunity to serve food to a group of people is also an opportunity to teach people how food affects blood glucose levels and encourage people to test their blood glucose BEFORE eating, and after eating, but there was never any mention of that. There was no mention even of how walking to or from the meeting could affect their levels;
  • Patients were harped on eating everything low fat – while the nutritional science on this has changed quite a bit. It depends on the types of fat, and healthy fats eaten in moderation are key;
  • No one was spoken to about the role of fiber in our meals, or how to make balanced meals be balanced… They were merely tips on "this is how I make cooking easy."

In effect, the meeting missed an entire opportunity to hit diabetes where diabetes is misunderstood the most! In how food affects us – in the roles of fiber, and carbohydrates, and even fats… In teaching people the things they never learn anywhere about HOW to take control of their diabetes.

So, as you pick out a support group – consider what you may want to get out of it:

  • Do you want to learn from your group, or do you only want emotional support from others? Do they actually teach diabetes basics, if you need to learn those? Do they have knowledgeable leaders who may be able to answer questions about diabetes with appropriate information, as well as provide emotional support for you?
  • Is the group composed of people who are willing to learn about diabetes, and open to making changes… or is it full of misinformation and people who just want to do their own thing without any constructive guidance?
  • Can you relate to the group? Is there a mix of ages, and experiences, or is it all people of one age or other demographic, or only one method of managing their diabetes? Perhaps the group centers around a particular activity, like exercising together… Or making a monthly diabetic meal.
  • And finally, is the group easy to access? Sometimes, particularly in smaller towns, it’s hard to find a diabetes support group close to us – so we may want to consider exploring nearby towns, or even starting one. Agencies like the American Diabetes Association may provide support for doing just that.

A support group can be a powerful place to go relate to others about our frustrations of living with diabetes -- but it should also help guide people in making those necessary steps to a healthier life.

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