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- With the arrival of summer comes sweltering heat, long days at the pool, and, for some, a sense of insecurity about body image.
- Especially for people living with diabetes, it’s easy for supposedly “healthy” habits to become obsessive and, at times, unhealthy.
- Instead of focusing on getting your body “summer-ready,” think about how strategies like body neutrality and journaling can help you maintain a healthy relationship with your body.
Summertime means bathing suits, backyard barbecues, and beach days galore. As fun as it is to spend the summer basking in the sun, the season can also come with a sense of expectations or insecurities about your health and your body—especially if you live with diabetes, a condition that already requires you to manage your health in more meticulous ways than those who don’t live with the condition. So, as you prepare for the summer, it might be a good time to check in with your relationship with your body.
Recognizing When Healthy Habits Become Unhealthy
Again, managing diabetes already entails an awareness of your health and your body that those without the condition don’t necessarily need to have. From your target blood sugar range to your weight and A1C value, “all of these quantifiable ways of engaging with diabetes management, while helpful, can often present as moments to engage in self-judgment and self-criticism,” explains Dr. Harpreet Nagra, PhD, VP of behavior science and advanced technologies at One Drop.
Add to that the social pressures that can come with the summer season—from fitting into shorts or bathing suits, to staving off feelings of guilt for getting that extra scoop of ice cream on the boardwalk—and it’s easy to see how your mindset may influence your habits (and vice versa).
“With so many social pressures about how we ‘should look’ and what being healthy looks like, sometimes we progress too far into becoming unhealthy and obsessive” with certain habits, says One Drop health coach, Amy Crees, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
In fact, living with diabetes is considered a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Diabulimia, for example, is an eating disorder in a person with diabetes (typically type 1) that’s characterized by intentional restriction of insulin in order to lose weight. It’s most common in adolescents and young adults (particularly women) and is usually precipitated by diabetes burnout, body image issues, a desire for a sense of control, and other aspects of a person’s emotional health and their relationship with their diabetes.
So, how do you know when you’re taking it too far with your own health habits? According to Crees, if you find yourself drastically rearranging your life around seemingly “healthy” behaviors—such as never going out to eat with your friends to avoid so-called “unhealthy” foods, or counting every single calorie and beating yourself up when you exceed a certain number—that could be a sign that things may be getting out of hand.
Certain changes in your blood sugar could also indicate that supposedly “healthy” habits aren’t actually working for you. “Diets that overly restrict calories may cause low blood sugar for someone who lives with diabetes,” notes One Drop coach, Lindsay Vettleson, RDN, CDCES, and certified personal trainer (CPT). Plus, over-restriction of food usually leads to overeating at one point or another, “causing higher blood sugar levels,” explains Vettleson. That rollercoaster of high and low blood sugar levels can not only disrupt your diabetes management and raise your risk of diabetes complications, but it can also affect everything from your mindset and mood to your sleep schedule. Moreover, “frequent crash dieting is linked to insulin resistance and loss of muscle mass, along with disordered eating habits,” adds Vettleson.
What You Can Do for Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being
Instead of worrying about getting your body “summer-ready,” focus on what you can do for your mental and emotional well-being to feel prepared for the season.
“It’s important to remember that being healthy isn’t just about what we are or aren’t putting into our bodies; it’s about what’s going on in our minds, too,” says Crees. “There is a balance to health—whether it’s nutrition, exercise, or any other healthy habits you have. If you start to notice you’re constantly thinking about food and completely avoiding foods you enjoy, take a step back and reassess. Where can you create more balance between nutritious and less nutritious foods?” For example, Crees continues, going out for ice cream with your friends benefits you on two levels: the social aspect of seeing people you love, and the enjoyment you get from the food. (That said, don’t sleep on the delicious and nutritious summer produce that will be in season soon.)
Still, even if you can find that sense of balance for yourself, you still might hear people in your life use potentially harmful phrases like “beach body” that can make you question your relationship with your own body.
“Our bodies don’t need to change in order for us to enjoy ourselves and have fun, yet these phrases can make us believe we do need to change,” says Crees. So, when you hear a phrase like “summer body” or “cheat meal,” remember that everyone is on a different journey with their life, their health, and their body. (And, as an additional reminder: You also can’t assume someone’s health status purely based on what they say—or, for that matter, the appearance of their body.) While you might hear that phrase and consider it unhealthy for your way of thinking, it may not resonate the same way with someone else.
As Crees says: “Your body is your body, just as your health journey is your health journey.” That means your goal is to be secure with your own body and how you take care of it, regardless of what other people say or think.
That doesn’t necessarily mean loving your body, though—at least, not all of the time. Instead, “it may be more helpful to find body neutrality” while managing your diabetes, says One Drop coach, Rukiyyah, CPT, a diabetes prevention specialist who’s certified in plant-based nutrition and lives with type 1 diabetes. “Body neutrality means accepting where your body is and honoring the fact that it keeps you alive each and every day.”
In practice, this might mean focusing on function rather than appearances and looks. Case in point: In a 2018 study, researchers randomly assigned about 200 college-aged women to a workout class that featured an instructor who either used appearance-focused motivational comments (“blast that cellulite”) or function-focused comments (“think about how strong you’re getting”). Their results showed that self-reported body satisfaction increased for both groups, though there was a “significantly greater increase” in the function-focused group. The researchers also found that people in the function-focused group generally described the workout class in more positive terms compared to the people in the appearance-focused group.
Granted, we need to learn more about how body neutrality impacts different groups of people besides young women, not to mention the benefits of different forms of body neutrality. Still, it’s certainly one of many stepping stones toward self-love.
Self-love, of course, may take more time to develop, and it may not always be consistent—and that’s OK, says Rukiyyah. “It starts by first changing your self-talk about your body, then moving to a place where you can simply observe yourself without using words with a negative connotation.”
When thinking about your self-talk, Dr. Nagra recommends paying attention to repetitive negative thoughts that seem to play on a loop in your head. “It’s very common to develop automatic thoughts around day-to-day diabetes habits especially,” she explains, whether they’re guilty thoughts about calorie counting or self-flagellation over a high blood sugar reading. “Try journaling through some of those thoughts,” suggests Dr. Nagra. “Write them down and see if you can notice a common theme or narrative you’ve developed about yourself.”
Once you find that common thread, try to reframe it—not necessarily in a positive way if that feels insincere for you, but, at the very least, in a neutral way. For example, instead of calling yourself a “bad diabetic” for an unsatisfactory blood sugar reading, consider writing (or thinking) something like: “This is one moment in time that does not define me or my health. I can learn from this experience.” As Sherry Roberts, RDN, CDCES, who lives with type 1 diabetes, says, “give yourself the grace to change your habits and learn from setbacks.” (Here are more ways to rewrite negative self-talk and improve your relationship with diabetes.)
From there, says Rukiyyah, you may be able to move from a place of self-acceptance to one of self-love.
If you need help on that journey, consider adding a therapist to your diabetes care team. Resources like MentalHealth.Gov, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help you find a mental health professional in your area. For someone who specializes in treating the mental health needs of people living with diabetes, use the American Diabetes Association (ADA)’s mental health provider directory. NEDA also offers information on treatment providers near you if you’re seeking help for disordered eating habits.
While One Drop coaches can support changes in eating habits, they cannot diagnose and/or treat eating disorders or other disordered eating behaviors. If you or someone you know is experiencing disordered eating, professional resources are available online from NEDA or through the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
This article has been clinically reviewed by One Drop director of clinical operations, Lisa Graham, RN, CDCES, and One Drop health coach, Alexa Stelzer, RDN, CDCES.