Skip to content

Let’s talk about diabetes guilt

Do you ever feel guilty about your diabetes? About the choices you make and the food you eat, for example? Bridget McNulty shares some thoughts about diabetes guilt.

let's talk about diabetes guilt

Diabetes is such a strange condition, isn’t it? On the surface, it looks like it’s all about food and medication and exercise: a purely physical condition. But just below that surface there are all kinds of emotions rolling around… Today, I want to talk about diabetes guilt.

What is diabetes guilt?

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not professionally able to define diabetes guilt. But for the last 16 years, I have spent every day with diabetes and I think that makes me an expert of sorts. I define diabetes guilt as the feeling that we ‘should’ be able to make the right decisions every day. And by right decisions, I mean the healthy, balanced, textbook decisions. Choose the salad over the chips. Don’t eat dessert. Manage your portion control.

Of course, any human will know that it’s impossible to make the sensible decision every single day – especially when we’re not talking about a short period of time but the rest of our lives. Why, then, do we hold ourselves to these impossible standards? That’s the interesting part, I think. That’s diabetes guilt.

The other side of diabetes guilt

On the other side, there’s the very strong argument that quality of life trumps perfect blood glucose. I am all for this argument! If it makes me miserable to follow all the rules, but I have amazing blood glucose, is that worth it? I don’t think so.

I want to be able to eat a slice of birthday cake at my child’s birthday party. I want to be able to go out for dinner and order what I feel like, not what the invisible rule book dictates. And I want to live a full, rich, happy (healthy!) life. It’s the healthy side that keeps me in check, right? I know that if I consistently make the delicious but unhealthy choice, my blood sugar is going to become unmananageable. It’s going to take so much of my time to get off the diabetes rollercoaster that it won’t be worth it.

So there’s a balancing game here: enough attention so it doesn’t make me feel unwell, not so much attention that it sucks all the joy out of life.

balancing diabetes guilt

Passing and failing at diabetes

I think this is made much more difficult by the fact that we are constantly being presented with numbers that show whether we’re ‘passing or failing’ at diabetes. Every blood glucose test (test!) is a number. Our HbA1c is a percentage. We look at time in target, and how ‘well’ we’re doing.

Some of this is language related, and I do think that makes a difference. (Remember Language Matters?) Saying you’re checking your blood glucose instead of testing helps. Referring to blood glucose numbers rather than results helps. This article on how to reframe high and low blood glucose for better mental health has really helped me.

A lot of it, though, is about acceptance of yourself, as you are. Recognising that you are doing your best, right here, right now. You are trying, every day, to manage this shapeshifter of a condition, and that in itself is something to be proud of.

I’m saying this for myself as well as anyone else, of course. Along with the rest of South Africa, I ate a lot of delicious food over the festive season. I did my best but it was wonderful not to be as disciplined as usual. And now I’m trying to wrestle myself back into doing what I know is best for me, and my diabetes, without feeling guilty about it.

None of us expect people without diabetes to be disciplined and careful about what they eat 100% of the time, so why should we be able to do it?

What do you think about diabetes guilt?

Diabetes guilt is a reality for many of us. But that doesn’t mean it’s helpful. We are all humans, first and foremost, and people with diabetes second. We can do our best – whatever that looks like today – and that’s really all we can do.

What about you? Is diabetes guilt a big thing for you, or are you able to recognise how hard you’re trying? Comment below or let us know on Facebook. Let’s talk about it!

What to read next?

SMART goals- what they are and why you need them: By defining your goals using SMART, you can break down exactly what you’d like to accomplish, when you’d like to accomplish it and how you plan on doing it. 

What is diabetes burnout?: The feeling that it’s too exhausting / frustrating / unpredictable / impossible to manage your diabetes. Diabetes burnout is common in people with diabetes both Type 1 and Type 2.

How to help during diabetes burnout:  Diabetes burnout is unavoidable, when you’re living with diabetes. But how can you help during diabetes burnout? What can you offer someone you love who is struggling?

What to read next
Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

Join our diabetes community


  1. Roelandi Landsberg Roelandi Landsberg

    I can relate so much to this Bridget, thank you for bringing up this topic. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a few months back and initially took it on 150% (all mothers know that the health of an unborn baby has that motivational impact on a person) until I was told my baby is not growing optimally (i.e. I was not eating enough) and I entered December holiday with the same longing to good food and no routine or schedule. I have exited December holiday not having tested my BG in a week and a half and definitely pushing the boundaries in terms of food selections. I have been able to completely justify my actions with pregnancy fatigue, pregnancy hormones (continue the long list of “feel sorry for me, last trimester is not for the faint hearted” excuses) etc, but yet the diabetes guilt stands like a mountain in front of me especially knowing that I am not just impacting myself but my little baba too and I should know better. I also feel guilty for even commenting on your post knowing that I have only just had a taste of this and you have 16 years of experience behind you but your article has made me feel a little lighter in that this load is not just mine and it has given me the courage to check my BG again for the first time in a while. I tell myself that it has not been a ‘failure’ but a brief time of ‘situational reprioritization’ to achieve overall balance and happiness :-).

    • Pregnant women are humans too! Thanks so much for sharing, Roelandi, I remember the guilt of pregnancy and diabetes and it is 100% the same no matter the flavour of diabetes, I’m sure. I was also super strict early in my pregnancy and then told I wasn’t eating enough, and I remember diving straight into a giant bowl of mac and cheese that night! Pregnancy cravings and hormones are so real, and it’s so much to juggle – looking after yourself and your child, and trying to prepare for the future. One day at a time, you are doing so well! We all need a holiday x

What do you think?

Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.