The 100% Truth About 5 Big Diabetes Myths

Diabetes is often referred to as a “silent” epidemic, yet a steady drumbeat of misguided advice about the condition continues to make noise. Consider this debunking article your pair of sanity-saving, noise-cancelling headphones.
Published November 11, 2021

A diabetes diagnosis opens the door to a number of questions, from “What the heck is an A1c?” to “What can I even eat now?” And despite higher than ever rates of diabetes, misinformation abounds. Today, about 34 million U.S. adults—that’s more than one in 10—are living with diabetes and another 7 million may be undiagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet myths like the ones below continue to trip people up.

Not only can these misunderstandings be potentially harmful, but they can also create stigma around the condition—and no one living with diabetes should have to deal with that. That’s why we tapped WeightWatchers®' experts to get to the bottom of some of the most common diabetes misconceptions. It’s important information that everyone should be aware of—even if you’re not living with diabetes.

Meet the Experts

  • Angela Goscilo, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Manager at WW

  • Hope Paul, MS, RD, LDN, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at WW

The myth: Diabetes affects only those with obesity.

Real talk: It’s true that being overweight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes—but it’s not the only one. Family history, a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being physically inactive can all raise the chances of developing diabetes. Moreover, social factors, such as poor access to health care or nutritious food, can play a role, which is why Indigenous people and other people of color, as well as those with a low income, are at a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

That said, a weight loss of just 5% to 10% of body weight may make it easier to manage blood sugar levels, according to the CDC. If you’re living with diabetes and looking to lose weight, WW’s new diabetes-tailored Points Program can help. Created by WW’s nutrition and behavior change scientists alongside diabetes experts, the program provides members living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes with fully individualized food plans based on their bodies, goals, and the foods they love—all while taking their health conditions into account.

The myth: You have to give up carbs when you have diabetes.

Real talk: This carb confusion may stem from the fact that foods that are higher in carbohydrates can raise blood sugar more than those that are lower in carbs. But that doesn’t mean you have to kiss bread or other carbs, like fruit and dairy, good-bye. Instead, the goal is to lean toward carbs that are higher in fiber and lower in added sugars and saturated fats, like non-starchy vegetables, whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread and pasta), and beans.

Happily, WW makes that easier. Instead of having to analyze a nutrition label, all you need to do is look to the Points value of a food. Our Points® algorithm crunches all the data, factoring in fiber and differentiating between unsaturated vs. saturated fats and natural vs. added sugars to guide you toward better-for-you choices.

Even still, everyone reacts differently to carbs and it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure that these foods don’t cause you to go out of the recommended range. “Some people living with diabetes may be able to eat certain types of foods and it won’t impact their blood sugar, but for someone else it will,” says Hope Paul, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes care and education specialist at WW. “There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation.” Talk with your health care provider about when and how to check your blood sugar levels.

The myth: People with diabetes can’t eat sugary foods.

Real talk: Go on—order the dessert. While sweets can raise blood sugar more than some other foods, a moderate amount of dessert from time to time may actually help you stick to a healthy eating plan. Research shows that people who swear off certain foods are more likely to experience and follow through on cravings compared to those who don’t deprive themselves.

The key to lasting change is livability, and eliminating entire food groups or forgoing your favorite sweets isn’t sustainable, explains Angela Goscilo, a registered dietitian and a nutrition expert on WW’s Science team. Instead of getting thrown off course by that freshly baked apple pie or box of Oreos, plan to include a slice or a couple of cookies in your Points Budget, enjoy them, and—as with carbs—monitor how the food impacts your blood sugar levels.

And while we’re on the subject, if you’re wondering whether those living with diabetes need to opt for sugar-free candies (or creamers, jam, and other zero-sugar foods), the answer is nope, says Paul: “Sometimes sugar-free options are actually less healthful choices. They might be higher in fat or sodium and have more Points.”

The myth: Prediabetes always turns into diabetes.

Real talk: People with type 2 diabetes almost always initially have prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are more elevated than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. But while prediabetes is serious, it certainly doesn’t have to lead to diabetes. Think of it as a wake-up call to make some lifestyle changes.

“Taking action to move more and lose weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes,” says Paul. Indeed, the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program found that those who lost 5% to 7% of their body weight and clocked 150 minutes of physical activity each week slashed their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.

Did you know? WW is a CDC-recognized diabetes prevention program, meaning that it provides an evidence-based curriculum and support to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The myth: You can’t reverse diabetes.

Real talk: There is no cure for diabetes, but with proper management, you can go into remission of the disease. Per a recent expert panel, remission is defined as having an average blood glucose level of less than 6.5% for at least three months after stopping diabetes medication. Sounds simple, right? And, yet, it’s not. You could be doing everything right and not see those numbers. Also, having a goal post of remission further stirs up the notion that you’d need to go off medication completely. Being on meds is not a punishment or sign of failure, says Paul: “Not only are the meds a powerful tool to help control your blood sugar, but they can help you live a high-quality life, be more active, and stay healthy for as long as possible.” And that right there? That’s the real goal.