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Cultural Challenges of Managing Diabetes By Aditi Mudaliar

Have you found it challenging to handle living with diabetes when the information surrounding you caters towards an entirely different population? It’s not just you! 

The Importance of Food in South Asian Culture

Historically, diabetes management was typically Eurocentric and didn’t highlight the importance of cultural inclusion. Traditional foods are integral to South Asian diets, particularly for the older population. Its preparation and consumption are entwined in South Asia’s rich culture, customs and identity, so it can come as a shock when we suddenly have to change our habits.

Our environment plays a huge role in how we view, choose and acknowledge food. Lifestyle factors are the primary contributor to the progression of Type 2 diabetes, and our diet is a component of this. Our cultural foods are laden with sugars, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats that don’t reflect well in relation to health. Think buttered rotis, sweet chai and spicy rice flour snacks! We could not imagine our love language of feeding and gifting without these, and rightly so, you shouldn’t! 

However, the flip side is that because food is central to our culture, it can be difficult to make healthful choices surrounding it. Family or friends may not understand the importance of managing your diabetes and take your health choices as rejection, which can ultimately hinder your progress. We may then notice a gap between pursuing health and honouring our culture, family and tastes. 

Stuck in the Middle

The dietary advice surrounding Type 2 diabetes can devalue traditional diets and demonise food that once brought you comfort. This understandably can result in people not adopting any changes and dismissing the fundamentals of diabetes management. Bhajis are replaced with wholewheat bread, ghee with expensive oils and ladoos with low-sugar yoghurts. It is no wonder many of us feel confused about what is good for you in a South Asian household.

Overcoming the Barriers

These feelings are common among those with cultural ties trying to manage to live with Diabetes. There are many ways to overcome these obstacles while still celebrating your identity. 

  1. Know what makes up a balanced diet – try incorporating the fundamentals of the advice you have been given. It can be challenging to navigate through culturally appropriate food for Diabetics. However, there are great resources from South Asian-led health professionals who are here to guide you. 
  2. What foods make you happy? – there are many ways to fuse what you have learnt with what you have been brought up with. Figure out what dieting is to you! Don’t fall trap to toxic diet culture. There is plenty of space for health and individualism to coexist. 
  3. Don’t conform to expectations – it can be easy to want to please others to quell expectations. Be it around food or social interactions. Find ways to establish boundaries and stay grounded in what your body needs. We have addressed the social pressures of eating in this article! 
  4. Connect differently – find other ways to connect with your culture and re-write the focal point. This could be through music, religion, volunteering, movement or spending quality time with people. Teaching others why Type 2 diabetes management is important will allow for even more support. 

Supporting Others

Going against the status quo is hard work! However, it doesn’t mean you have to be an outsider. Feeling supported by professionals, family and friends are integral to finding the motivation within you.

If you have a loved one who is living with Type 2 diabetes, the best thing you can offer is your acceptance of their desire to change for the better. Showing your support will encourage a nourishing environment for their health. Support can extend from their diet, physical activity or words of affirmation! They are not going against their values but rather looking after their health. 

At Planet Nourish, we understand the cultural challenges that come with living with Type 2 diabetes. But it doesn’t have to be a battle between culture and choosing health! We have all the resources, information and support to guide your management and strengthen your connection with yourself. By adapting well-loved foods and discussing culture-specific taboos, we aim to equip you with all you and your support system need to nourish your health.

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