I was looking in the mirror this morning after my shower, at my battered stomach, crisscrossed with the years of my life, full of lines and bumps, pump site scars, bruises and looking like a robot with my insulin pump site and Dexcom G5 transmitter. Underneath this, are the 3 scars from my 3 c-sections, bringing my beautiful boys into the world. There are over 38 years worth of injections and insulin pump sites, fat, rolls, lumps and bumps. I looked further to my 50 year old legs, cellulite and varicose veins, wonky knees and toes that seem to keep blistering at the moment. I saw the lines on my face around my eyes from laughing so hard much of the time, and the dark circles that reflect the exhaustion that can hit me from life, life with diabetes, life as a mum, just life. As someone who has battled weight all of my life, it is easy to see the couple of extra kilos I always seem to want to be getting off my body, and focus on that. Seeing all of the battle scars from life with type 1 diabetes, it is easy to see the broken parts of my body, and focus on that. But when you live with something as hard as diabetes and you LIVE, I think you need to celebrate that.
There are lots of people now pushing the idea of embracing and loving your body at any size. There are causes and champions of those causes for not worrying about what other people think about your body, about not trying to be thin, about living life full and healthy no matter what your weight is. These are all wonderful things. But what about when you live with diabetes and you put on weight due to insulin? Or what about when you are struggling to lose weight because of your diabetes? Or what about if your body weight contributed to you developing type 2 diabetes? Or what about when you put on weight after diagnosis of type 1 diabetes because you lost so much weight and then you get screwed up about that? What about every time you go to the doctor for anything related to your diabetes, they put you on the scales and you feel eyes of judgement on your back as you step on those scales?
There’s no getting away from the fact that weight is closely tied up with all types of diabetes. There’s no getting away from the fact that this puts enormous pressure and focus on your body. And there’s no getting away from the fact that part of your body does not work properly. So, it is easy to feel broken. Around 28% of all young people with type 1 diabetes meet the criteria for an eating disorder and I am sure many adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes feel shame or hatred for their bodies. I have certainly spoken to many people over the years about their struggles with weight and body image, and it can be so very hard to manage these problems.
Here’s the thing though – you are alive and you can thrive.
Why hate yourself because of how your body looks? You are not your body. You are the person who is reading this post, who gets up each day and takes diabetes in your stride, who lives life and who does your absolute best at any given time. It is high time people with diabetes were supported to embrace our bodies, to love them warts and all, rather than being told all the time we have to meet all these targets and that we are not close enough to them right now…. If you can love your body for the fact that you are here and living, despite that broken pancreas, if you can love the fact that your body can do all of the things it does, despite the other things that can happen, the complications that can arise, despite the fact you are constantly thinking like a damn pancreas all the time and some days you have to drag yourself through – you can celebrate your body! How remarkable that your body is still able to do everything it does when it is under such pressure! Whether you are big or small, have scars and lumps and bumps, walk around with pumps and CGM’s stuck to you or use injections at the dinner table, whether you are overweight or obese, or a fitness lover who climbs mountains with diabetes – YOU ARE AMAZING.
Here’s a tip from me, someone who has been overweight, obese and a healthy weight – round and round – loving your body is not about losing weight. So many people think that losing weight is the secret to happiness, but it is not…..and here is another tip – the latest diabetes machines and management tools won’t take away diabetes or the fact it is hard work, in fact when I first went on a pump many years ago I had a huge emotional crash as I realised I had the idea it would somehow make me feel like I didn’t have diabetes anymore, when in fact it was still hard work, if not harder…..
Embracing your diabetes body does not mean you stop aiming for a healthy body. If you are overweight and particularly if you are obese, it is important to seek help to lose some weight, so that your overall health is better. If your diabetes is way out of range and it is making you sick or putting you at risk of complications, you need to seek help to get on track. However you should not wait until you lose weight or reach diabetes targets to embrace and love your body. Hating your body is damaging for so many reasons and can sabotage your efforts to be healthier because when you hate your body it is easier to slide into comfort eating and sit on the couch, rather than get outside and walk. It is easier to slide into diabetes burnout and stop caring about things.
Trying to love your body where you are now and nurturing your health to where you want to be, is the way to be happier and healthier, and embrace your diabetes body. I would love to see models of all shapes and sizes with diabetes, insulin pumps and blood glucose meters and CGM’s out loud and proud, celebrating how beautiful we are and how incredible it is that we are here.
Some of the things that can help you embrace your diabetes body
Daily exercise of any kind, it does not have to be the gym or extreme sports (I take a walk of 40 – 60 minutes each day in nature), raises feel good endorphins and reminds you that your body works. It helps your diabetes management and can help in weight management and mental health too.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Regular meditation and mindfulness practices remind you to stop thinking, stop worrying and focus on the here and now and the fact that you are alive, and life can be good. It is the small moments that matter.
Eating healthy food
Did you notice no mention of the word “diet” or “diabetes friendly” eating? Eating healthy food that works for your particular body and gives you all the nutrition you need, balanced with some treats and indulgences – helps keep your body healthy and your mind happy. A visit to a dietitian or nutritionist can help you work out the best eating plan for you if you are struggling with this.
Talking with friends
Talking to your friends about how you are thinking and feeling about your diabetes and your body can help to nut things out. If you feel stress or start to dislike or even hate your body – be sure to talk to someone close to you about this and get support to turn this around.
Using your body in ways that you don’t usually, such as dancing, or riding a bike, or skipping rope, or playing hopscotch, or going on a hike – gives you another perspective about your body. Anybody can dance and it is free! You can do it in private or out loud and proud!
Change your style and give yourself some TLC
Pampering yourself with a massage, a new haircut or outfit, really can raise your self-esteem. This is not vanity and is not about trying to look a certain way. It is about celebrating your body. I am a huge op shop girl and there are so many wonderful outfits to be found in an op shop without breaking the bank, and most of them will have a range of sizes. Or try a new hair style or go with friends for a pampering day. If you find trying on clothes depressing (I have felt like that), take someone with you who appreciates and loves you for who you are and try to see yourself through their eyes – use it as an opportunity to start seeing your body differently. Buy clothes that fit you well and celebrate your particular body, rather than trying to fit into something “on trend”. Trends are bad for all of us and the environment.
If you find that you are struggling to embrace your body and your diabetes it may be helpful to seek support from a counsellor. I can help you with some online support, and you can visit your GP for a referral to a counsellor.
Loving who you are and the body you are in starts with looking at yourself in the mirror like I did today and remembering something you have done that you are proud of – for me, it is often my 3 sons that gives me this special reminder of how remarkable my body is no matter what size I am, or how many scars I have, or how hard my diabetes might be at the moment. Remind yourself of who is in your life, who you love and who loves you – whether that is a person or a fur baby! Loving your body starts with looking differently at the fat and wobbly bits and scars – embrace those just as you would embrace someone you love dearly. Love it for the fact you are able to get up every day, even if you struggle. Love it for the fact it is your vehicle, the place you live each day in this crazy world, and embrace and love your diabetes body.