Body Image Issues: Diabetes or Society?

I was looking down at my feet this morning as I took my shower. Wiggling my toes, I started to wonder as the soap faded away. I asked myself are my feet healthy? I thought about how important it was that they were the right color, tone and should I count all the hairs to make sure they are all there. The hairs, not the toes!

As my mind wandered as it usually does, I started to think about a client who came in for one of his session, who was angry and worried about his body. I thought about how this is a common issue for many of my clients, including myself at one point in my life. Diabetes does this to many people living with it.

I started to think how difficult it can be, especially when you are first diagnosed. If we don’t process the many feelings we have including how we feel about our body, that just let us down, we can end up with unneeded anger and other negative emotions, it can be just as tricky decades later. It took me trying out several therapists before I found one I could talk about my issues with diabetes. I was lucky as some people never see the right therapist who can help them process these complicated issues that come with diabetes.

puzzlebear450While typically body image issues come from various stressors growing up: a mother or father with body image issues, emotional abuse, societal pressures and peer pressure. It is not uncommon for someone living with diabetes to develop body image issues even if the other stressors aren’t present in that person’s life.

When I received my diagnoses 40 years ago, I was told by the doctor that I would be lucky if I lived to 30 years of age. I guess I showed him, still here at age 46 years old, writing this blog, living an active full life, helping others do the same.

After a comment like that, how could I not worry about my body? Dealing with death is scary at any age, but as a preteen it was terrifying and with no one to talk to about it, only caused me to act out in ways that just hurt me and my body.

Now 40 years later I have accepted that death as inevitable and knowing helps me appreciate every moment I have while accepting and forgiving my body. Death isn’t around the corner as long as I take care of myself, by managing my diabetes, physical wellness, and emotional health. It wasn’t easy and took a long time, but with the right help, I came to accept death which taught me how to live life to my fullest.

How can you live life to its fullest when you need to pay attention to how you physically feel, looking out for symptoms that remind us that our body is different, all day every day?  We’re taught to look for the symptoms that can make a person feel week and fragile.

Instead of looking at all the positive things we have to be grateful for. It can be hard to see past diabetes and recognize the positive aspects of our lives, but it is essential that we do.

We are reminded continuously if not consciously, unconsciously of our mortality through both high and low blood sugar episodes that temporally take us out of the game of life for a little while, several times a week or more. How one handles these moments internally can make the difference between a low just being part of having diabetes, and that’s okay or a micro-trauma that builds up over time and turns into Diabetes Distress or Burnout.

What’s wrong with my body, Now?

What we say to ourselves, what questions we ask ourselves, our inner monolog, play a significant role in seeing ourselves as healthy or broken. “What’s wrong with my body, now?!”

This question is answerable but negative. Using data from a CGM and manual Glucose Meter one can rule out blood sugar related symptoms. The reason change is needed is that this question brings unneeded negativity during a time you already feel vulnerable and sick. Maybe the better question needs to be something like this, “What’s happening with my body and blood sugar? or “Is my blood sugar high and I feel depressed or are my blood sugars normal, and I feel sad about something?”

Bodyfallingapart30Diabetes can be a rollercoaster of feeling healthy one moment and sick the next and back to healthy a few hours later which changes from day to day. We pay attention to how we feel so much that it is almost impossible to avoid some body image issues because of the negative impact emotionally and physically.

One of my clients asked this question the other day “What’s next? Am I going to get retinopathy, gastroparesis or some unknown ailment that diabetes played a role in causing?” My client’s question is about the future, and the answer is unknown. What I can tell you is that the more we take care of ourselves the better our chances at a long life with less possible complications.

Another thing of importance is that how we feel about having this illness, and the physical implication it brings can cause a lot of fear, anger, sadness, and loneliness. How we overcome or reduce these feelings is unique to the individual but requires the type of self-exploration that psychotherapy helps provide. If you are having a hard time accepting the sometimes-harsh realities of living with diabetes, please see a mental health provider.

If you don’t have a mental health provider with an understanding of diabetes in your area, I have spent years helping people living with diabetes resolve issues like this in my New York Office and Online. You can call me at (917) 272-4829, and we can set up a consult session.

If you want more information on Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapy; check out my website:

Medical Disclaimer:
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.

Published by Eliot LeBow LCSW, CDE

Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist, diabetes-coach, presenter, and writer. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapy takes a holistic approach combining traditional talk therapy with diabetes education and management help. It addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of living life with diabetes while still addressing other non-diabetes related life problems to create a unique holistic approach to helping people with diabetes thrive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *