Think about it. Have you considered if your body image impacts your diabetes? Have you thought about your body image? Every person has a vision regarding what they believe their body looks like, their attitude about it and views on what they like and do not like about their own body. People are have what we call “emotional attitudes” about themselves. (1)

For people with diabetes, these attitudes may be very healthy which actually helps them control their diabetes or they may be unhealthy which may lead to blood glucose values that are damaging. Healthy body images are critical to a person’s happiness and their health status. (2) People with a healthy body image see themselves as they really are and are happy with the way they feel and look. (1) For people that do not have a healthy body image, the term body dysmorphic disorder is sometimes used. This is when a person has thoughts that they possess an unusually strong issue with their appearance that makes them ugly and that others will perceive this in a very negative way. Body image problems can lead to eating disorders, and other problems with their health. (1)

Body image and type 2 diabetes

For people with type 2 diabetes, 85.2% are overweight or obese. (3)
How can body image affect people with type 2 diabetes? It is important to note that people behave based on their own perceptions of reality. Interestingly, it seems behavior tends to be based on perception and NOT on reality itself. (4)
In a study that was done in Nigeria in 2008 people with type 2 diabetes rated their preferred body size for themselves and those of the opposite gender. They also estimated their own body mass. Almost 70 percent of the women selected body figures that were heavier with visible fat when they rated their current figure. It was also noted that approximately 68 percent of the males and 62 percent of the females had a preference for the opposite sex to have visible fat on their body. The research team conducting the study concluded that the many subjects in the research who were overweight had a preference to remain that way, or slightly less overweight. (5)

A different study of over 13,000 individuals released in 2009 evaluated self- perception of body image to different body mass index (BMI) **** levels among study participants with and without type 2 diabetes. The researchers used BMI as an objective estimate of body fat. Subjects picked from among figures depicting different BMIs, and the one they considered being closest to their own. Men in the study, with and without type 2 diabetes, tended to choose very accurately the figure closest their own BMI. An exception to this was at the extremely heavy body end of the spectrum where Type 2 men underestimated their obesity. Interestingly, women were different. Women with type 2 diabetes tended to choose a body figure with a lower BMI than their own actual BMI, compared to the women without diabetes, who chose more accurately. The study could not answer the question if perceived differences in body image increased the risk of developing diabetes or if people’s body image perceptions are altered once they have type 2 diabetes. Regardless, the significance of these is that if a person with type 2 diabetes could be made to perceive their own image closer to their actual BMI, it may help to encourage the need for weight loss in most women and in men at the extreme levels of obesity. (6) If the self- perception of an overweight subject was thinner compared to their actual BMI, then that person may not really understand the need to lose weight.

What perceptions do you have about your own body and what is your BMI?

Ask your medical team for assistance in determining your correct BMI, and recognize it may be higher than you think.   Ask for help to improve it as necessary. If you have type 2 diabetes and are overweight, the following links may be of help to you. The Stunkard Figure Rating Scale (also called the FRS).

To calculate your own BMI, use our BMI Calculator.

Changing one’s self image is not easy. Sometimes the first step might be realizing you need to lose weight.   Identifying the need (if present) and wanting change is imperative to successful weight loss. Get help from your medical team. Having a plan of action and participating in is crucial. If your loved ones need to learn that you would be healthier if you were lighter, ask your team to involve the necessary people. Let your team provide all the help they can. Expect a little resistance from others and actually from yourself. Do you hear your mother telling you to finish everything on your plate or you can’t go out and play? How can you change your own self talk? Your self-image took a lifetime to form. See the positive in each little step you make! For further reading on changing behavior with diabetes, read my blog on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

We at want to encourage you along the path to control your diabetes please use all of our resources on diabetes to help you with your journey. Further your education on type 2 diabetes.

**** (note….BMI is a fairly accurate predictor of body fat for most people.  It is a calculation based on weight and height. A link to calculate your BMI is located in the last section of this article. In some people like athletes their BMI may be high and they are overweight but not over-fat. They are very lean. Consult your medical professional to verify your own personal needs.)