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The Biggest Cultural Barrier to Diabetes Management – a Familiar Answer

I spend most days doing my “real job” coaching people with diabetes remotely (on the phone mostly, or by email and text), and it gives me the unique opportunity to interact with the incredibly diverse population of people challenged by diabetes around the U.S. I hear their individual ideas and experiences, and I’m amazed by the variety of attitudes and strategies. Virtually everything about each individual is different in some way – except one thing.

Are there any cultural issues that affect your ability to manage your diabetes?

Our staff conducts a brief standardized survey with each new patient to create a profile – a baseline of their knowledge level, their support system, complicating medical issues, and a variety of other issues our coaches can consider as we work with each individual. One interesting question is, “Are there any cultural issues that affect your ability to manage your diabetes?” It seems like a question that would result in an amazing assortment of culturally unique challenges.

Here’s a sample of some answers:

“I’m from an Italian family, and we really like our food.”

“My family is African American, and we love our food.”

“I’m Irish — we really like eating.”

“I’m from the south, and we eat a lot.”

“Polish families love food.”

The culture of food

Everybody is challenged by food, and that may not be a huge surprise to you or me. But, the context of the question – culture – points out that we are challenged in part because food ties us so closely to not only our own cultural group, but to all manner of social interactions. The cultural and social aspects of eating are part of our emotional attachment to food, where food becomes associated with the pleasure of having a social connection with others. And, our personal history with these connections almost certainly reaches back to when we were very young.

So, the challenge food presents to effective diabetes management includes this intense emotion of the strong cultural and social connections we have with food. And, as you can see by the practically identical answers I get to my patient profile question, we recognize this challenge. So, how do we overcome it?

Planning ahead

My answer to overcoming emotional decisions about food (which actually tend to not really be decisions, but rather impulses) is planning ahead. You can read my older post “One Powerful Word – Planning” to learn how this strategy can help you gain better control of your eating patterns. And don’t worry – you can include your favorite foods. In the meantime, with all that seems to divide us highlighted in the news every day, I may have stumbled on to something we have in common – we like our food.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.