3 diabetes fitness myths you shouldn’t believe

Today, I want to talk to you about some of the biggest myths and misconceptions about diabetes. I am not talking about the misconceptions that non-diabetics often have about diabetes (even though those can be serious as well), but about the diabetes myths about food and fitness that newly diagnosed or even experienced diabetics that I meet believe.

I want to talk about diabetes myths because I hate seeing some of these myths discourage people living with diabetes from exercising, eating well and living full and healthy lives.

Obviously, there are way more than three fitness and diabetes myths, but let’s keep it short and sweet.

Myth #1 – People living with diabetes need to eat “special” diabetes food.

This myth is, in my opinion, both the most serious and the most annoying one since, for some reason, it makes random people think they need to police what I eat (I wrote a fun little post about why you should never comment on what other people eat after another evening being lectured about my food choices at a social event).

The truth is that there is no real difference between what is a healthy diet for a person with diabetes and a healthy diet for a non-diabetic. As long as you adjust your insulin accordingly, you can eat the same food as everyone else.

It’s true that eating a somewhat restrictive diet can sometimes make your diabetes management easier , but it isn’t necessarily healthier !

I choose to eat a balanced diet of carbs, fats and protein, which is actually inline with the general health recommendations for non-diabetics. I also choose to eat primarily low glycemic carbs in order to keep my blood sugars from spiking, and because it fits with my fitness goals. I do sometimes go out for a burger, cake or other treat, and I bolus for that. The key, in my opinion, is eating according to your lifestyle and goals and learning how to count carbs.

I have posted an example of my Fit Diabetic Meal Plan where you can see what I typically eat in a day and learn how to calculate your daily calorie need.

Myth #2 – Exercising makes it harder to manage your diabetes

I have actually heard this from a lot of people with diabetes, and have even read it on prominent diabetes blogs! It always makes me sad to see people believing this myth, because the truth is exactly the opposite. Exercise makes it easier to manage your diabetes in the long term!

It’s true that when you start working out, it can be hard to find the right balance between food, insulin and exercise, and you may have more blood sugar lows than normal in the beginning, but you can learn to reduce or even eliminate those. When you do, the increased insulin sensitivity from working out will allow you to take less insulin, making your diabetes management a lot easier (my A1C is 6.1 now, something that was unthinkable before I started getting serious about fitness. I also have fewer lows).

While people do react differently to working out, there are some common physiological reactions that apply to most, if not all, people living with diabetes. Most people will see their blood sugar decline during steady state cardio, while it may increase during more intense workouts (like resistance training or CrossFit). So the trick is to determine how, and how much, different types of exercise impact your insulin sensitivity during and after a workout, and then adjust your food and insulin accordingly to avoid low or high blood sugars.

I always keep a journal whenever I start a new meal plan or exercise regime simply to help me figure out my patterns. It can be annoying and take quite a bit of time, but I’d rather invest the time up front than let my diabetes interfere with my life.

You can learn more about how different types of exercise affects the blood sugar (and what to do about it) in my post How to Manage Your blood Sugar When Exercising with Diabetes.

Diabetes Myth #3 – If you take insulin you can’t lose weight

So let’s just put an end to this myth one once and for all. Weight management has way more to do with what and how much you eat than how much insulin you take.

If you are in a calorie deficit and bolus correctly for your meals, you will lose weight, assuming you have no other health issues. If you eat more than you need to sustain your weight and bolus for that, then you will gain weight.

What can make it a little more challenging for people with diabetes is that we need to work out the right amount of insulin to take. If you’re constantly chasing your blood sugars, over-bolusing, and then eating to correct (a.k.a. feeding the insulin), you will most likely have a harder time losing weight.

So having diabetes can make it harder to lose weight, because we don’t always get our calculations right and have to eat more to compensate, but it definitely doesn’t make it impossible!

Written by: Christel Oerum

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There may be some nuance here, but I think calling these myths is too strong a statement, particularly myth #3.

First, balancing food and carbs in particular with insulin is far from an exact science. Even if your body processed insulin in the same way every day (which it doesn’t, ) Dr Richard Bernstein says that food labels are only accurate to +/- 20%. So if you eat a meal that is high in carbs, your chances of getting a good balance are greatly diminished.

The terms “healthy” or “healthier” need to be defined. If we include a low HbA1c and a high percentage of time in range as desirable health goals, I believe diabetics need to alter their diets beyond that of non-diabetics to be healthy. Certainly there is much discussion about how many carbs should be included and that answer will be different for each individual. But it’s my belief that most healthy diabetics are limiting their carbs to some extent.

“A calorie is NOT a calorie!” So says Dr Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and Professor Emeritus at UCSF. He goes on to explain that the model that says calories in minus calories out equals calories stored is untrue. The body metabolizes food in different ways. A low carb, high fat diet or a keto diet do not restrict calories and fat has more calories than carbs. But many people are able to lose weight on such diets without starving themselves.

Dr Lustig also notes that insulin is the fat storage hormone. That doesn’t mean you can’t both take insulin AND lose weight, but you can’t take much excess insulin and lose weight.

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Myth #1 even if true would only apply to T1 who can adjust with insulin At least in my opinion as a T2 I don’t eat a diabetic diet. I eat what works with my meter and supports my A1 c goals.
MYTH # 2 all diabetics do not need to use insulin.
Myth #3 I cant comment because I dont use insulin.

I guess the Term diabetic in this discussion means T1 or insulting dependant diabetic
Could your change the title to myths associated with T1 or at least something that is a bit more T2 friendly.
thank you

I was diagnosed in 1988. Honestly I have to disagree with the whole you can eat what you want. In the beginning no doctor ever said that. They say it more and more these days. I also used to wrestle in high school, 4 hour practices 20 minutes at the end running up 12 flights of stairs, my doctor was very concerned about me doing that. He didn’t think it was a good idea. The goal should be to get off insulin, not take more.

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Myth 1 definitely true if you are extremely insulin resistant.

Myth 2: On the short term exercise raises my BG quite a bit but the long term benefits are there.

Myth 3 Depends on your TDD if about 30 units per day maybe false but at 130 units /day definitely true.

I grind my teeth a little when I hear that exercise makes it easier to manage diabetes. It has taken me too long to realize however that it is beneficial to my happiness and health (outside of diabetes).

I’m slowly bending in that direction :thinking:

The biggest myth.

All diabetics need insulin for control.

In my experience, there is an equal number of people who believe, “all diabetics have the capability to get off insulin if they fixed their diet and exercise”. I have been berated by multiple people for “choosing to inject myself with poison” rather than “just taking responsibility for my diet and exercise” and it’s been going on since I was 15. I see doctors on tv now talking about children developing diabetes because they drink soda! I think theres an equal or greater prevalence of people who believe diabetics who take insulin are just completely out of control.

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It was easier to gain weight and so hard to lose. But I did it!!! :slight_smile: minus 5 during 5 months.
I showed this to my endo, since he was the one who said - nooo, its almost imposible to lose

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Labelling all of these issues as myths is an extreme over-simplification and ignores the fact that diabetics are all different and choose different paths to managing their diabetes.
Many people have multiple health issues in addition to diabetes type 1 or 2 and have to balance what they do for one condition with how it might affect another condition. A regular exercise program will benefit most diabetics but what if you are an amputee tied to a wheelchair, or have heart disease and have been warned never to over-exert yourself?
Many diabetics have insurance plans that cover their health needs, or they might be independently wealthy. But many are not, and struggle to buy the most basic items like test strips and find that they need to pick and choose which prescriptions from their doctor to fill, or not, based on the cost.
Some have strong affiliation to a religion that sets rules for what to eat and what not. Some religions require periods of fasting that can wreck havoc with a diabetic’s blood sugars.
Most people developed their eating habits while growing up, influenced by their parents and the community around them. Some habits, as well as likes and dislikes, can be very hard to change or break.
Some diabetics have a strong and very real addiction to food that causes them to overeat and can be very hard to defeat, as the problem is one of underlying psychological issues, a well as the extreme feelings of pleasure they experience whenever they put food in their mouth… They may require professional intervention and are immune to anything they hear suggesting they need to restrict the nightly raids to the fridge.
Thinking you can give some kind of universal advice to all of these people or share particular experiences and think others will have the same experience as you did, is at best wishful thinking.
That said diabetics can gain a lot by sharing information and experiences with others provided they are prepared to take an approach that includes keeping an open mind but also maintain a “user beware” attitude.

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Article was Written by: Christel Oerum

I am highly hesitant of taking advice from an individual that has a vested interest in her advice. Christel may have the best of intentions on the one hand, however, she does have a related book to sell and a website that posting here will give her an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) boost and in a veiled way be an endorsement of her services and her book. I don’t like that without seeing it disclosed upfront.

Myth #1 – People living with diabetes need to eat “special” diabetes food

Her premise is correct however rather than talking about “special” diabetes food the issue is oftentimes not what to eat but what not to eat, or what can be eaten but in extreme moderation. People with diabetes can eat pretty much anything as long as they properly manage their diet and the medication they use to control their blood sugar. Her Myth number 1 points you to her “Fit Diabetic Meal Plan” which to me is an exercise to boost her SEO by getting you to her website and getting involved with her book and services.

Myth #2 – Exercising makes it harder to manage your diabetes

To a certain extent this supposed myth is correct. Exercise tends to make you hungry and that causes you to eat more that then causes you to take more insulin which can be a vicious circle. So exercise and controlling resulting blood glucose is just another one of those pesky routines that has to be properly managed by a diabetic and easier to lose control over for a diabetic due to the extra management aspect which by all means makes it harder to control your diabetes. Note that at the end of the myth number 2 article, she once again posts a link to her website.

Diabetes Myth #3 – If you take insulin you can’t lose weight

There is again some validity to this myth because once again a diabetic needs to manage their weight or it can quickly get out of control due to all the stress, medication(s) and other issues a diabetic has that a non diabetic person does not have to deal with.

In summary, all information we can get about our scourge, and how to handle it better is valid but I wish this forum posted a note on these articles, especially when posted by a staff member, like in a magazine there has to be a small disclaimer at the top of page that says “advertisement” so that some people don’t get duped into a marketing scheme.

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Exercise is harder for some than others, but I truly think everyone can benefit from exercise. There are lots of programs that exist to allow people with various types of disabilities to participate in exercise and sports. There are programs that allow people with cardiac issues to learn how to safely exercise (I am participating one now, not because I have heart disease but because I have an arrhythmia). If someone feels a physical or health issue prevents them from exercising, they should reach out to their healthcare team or community resources and see what might be available to assist them in making exercise accessible and safe.

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Disagree with this. I do need to eat a specilaized diet now, almost like starving for the first several years, and still pretty close to it.

exercise is very difficult to manage, to the point that I have given up anything like hikes etc. it is miserable having bg crashing and spiking etc. Even normal life does it to me as well, but during normal life I can stop and treat it. Last hike I was on I had low bg, and another woman had ankle pain and the group left us behind and did not give a #@@. I do not travel or even go to city anymore because bg goes crazy and it is miserable. There is a course I would like to take this summer in the city but I just don’t know if I can manage it.

I am gaining weight now prolly due to insulin and thyroid meds. I am not gonna try to lose due to all my digestive issues and being in hospital 3 years ago with 20 lb weight loss, close to dka etc.

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I totally agree with you that not only is exercise very difficult to manage but an additional variable in BG control and IMO way over rated for anyone using exercise as an important way to manage BG or weight control. Exercise, if properly managed can have great positive effect on the psyche, and positive effect on BG and Weight as well if properly managed but some people are much better than others at management and proper management is critical to obtaining expected results. You get what you inspect, not what you expect.

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I think also some people have much more stable bg etc too without digestive issues which make it easier.