A few weeks ago, I wrote this tweet:
I wrote that note to myself less than 50 pages into the book The Diabetic and The Dietitian by Dr. Ellen Albertson and Michael Albertson. And then I repeated the sentiment approximately every other page of the book I managed to read over the course of the last three weeks. The book actually isn’t very long, and would, in the normal course of things, take me less than a few hours to read. But that did not account for rage-induced reading breaks, so here we are nearly a month later.
On it’s face, The Diabetic and The Dietitian seems like it should be just my kind of book – I am a diabetic; books aimed at helping to improve – or, as the book claims “reverse” – diabetes through dietary changes are pretty much par for the course – I’ve read a ton of them, go into them hoping for some little nugget of advice I can use in my own situation, and wade through all the overly simplified discussions about “what are carbohydrates” and “how do you read nutrition labels” without prejudice (just because I’m not a beginner here doesn’t mean that there aren’t some out there, and I’m all for giving as much help as possible). But this book is structured a little bit differently, and it was not – in my opinion – a good change.
See, this isn’t a book aimed at helping a chronically ill person better manage their chronic illness: Nope, this book – written by a real life dietician wife and diabetic husband – is aimed at the spouse of a person with chronic illness – specifically, the wife – so that THEY can manage THEIR HUSBAND’S chronic illness better. I was willing to give the book the benefit of the doubt, going with the line of thinking that chronic illnesses do impact entire families, and if a spouse is effected, then they should be working on this together and coming up with a better care management plan that works for the whole family. That’s a book I don’t personally need, but I could see the need for. This? is not that book.
This is a book so filled with stereotypes and sexist propaganda that it could easily be made into a ridiculous sitcom starring some everyday, ‘regular joe’ looking comedian and his uber-hot wife. If every episode were to revolve around how to trick, manipulate, ‘psychologically condition’, or otherwise maneuver the husband into doing things that might improve his health – often without his knowledge or even against his will.
I have a real problem, at a base level with the idea that the wife is responsible for healing the husband. As a chronically ill person, I’ve read literally hundreds of health and wellness books and this is the first one where it wasn’t aimed at the chronically ill person (not that I don’t have issues with those too, but that’s a different rant). The fact that the wife should bare all/most of the responsibility for her husband’s health – not even them being partners in his care, which I also would’ve been 100% behind – is appalling? Mystifying? Weird, at the very least. Instead of talking about how diabetes impacts relationships and families, they talk about the “psychologically fragile state a diabetic diagnosis creates in most men,” and how it’s up to the wife to “take an active role in his medical care.” Why? He’s a grown ass adult: Why does she need to be active in his medical care, particularly when it seems like he is not required to be an active participant? Just one of many ‘nopes’.
As early on in the book as the introduction, I was thinking that terms like “even if he doesn’t want to” were out of place – This is not a book for partners who are worried about one of the couple’s health, working together to make that person healthier- it’s for HER to fix HIM: His participation (or consent) not necessarily required. Here are actually ‘strategies’ that the authors recommend: Bribery and allowing temper tantrums; in the face of his emotional constipation, allow him to use her as his sole means of emotional support;”weaning him off”; “Reward him consistently, every time he does a positive behavior. “Ellen, it sounds like you’re training a dog.” “If the collar fits, Fido . .”; “he will come to understand (or you might have to beat it into his head)”
Those are actual quotes from the actual book. I am not making them up. The tone is meant to be fun and flirty, I suppose, but: Yuck. To me, it was all sexist and minimizing and patronizing: “Remember, you are not trying to fix him here (we start fixing him in chapter 3)”; “Behavior modification is a series of psychological techniques you can use to get your husband to do what you want him to do. (Yes, you can modify some of these techniques to get him to leave the toilet seat down.) “; “Think of cognitive restructuring as a renovation project for the mind. You’re not getting a new one; you’re just fixing up the perfectly good one you already have so it works better.” – Ok but why am I the construction worker here- it’s his heavy lifting to do, and anything past supporting him as he does it feels completely unethical to me? Manipulative and wrong? Unworthy behavior of adults in reasonable, mature relationships?
The entire book was written in such an infantilising tone; dish out his portions, remind him to chew slowly, remember to not chastise, but remain encouraging. And my favorite: Hide tempting food from him. A CHILD forgets about food if you put it away (and only a very young child at that) – I would hope my spouse was past the object permanence stage of development. I tried really hard to see that this book came from a place of caring, because it obviously must, but I just could not get past the tone of it: They tried so hard to make this lighthearted and fun, I could tell, but it was so forced and felt so fake that even things that might be chuckle worthy elsewhere were cringeworthy here.
Am I (hypothetically) married to an adult or a child? I am not on-board with the notion of man children, and therefore this entire book was frustrating as hell. What happened to going at this as if you were partners? As if you were both capable adults set on changing something that was harmful to one of the people in the relationship’s health? If the book has been formatted like that, it could have been a winner. I have no doubt that there is invaluable advice in here, but it is presented in such a way as to be indigestible. Just the language is so offensive to me – I kept trying to picture this book written by a husband, about his wife’s journey with an illness, and it made me even more incensed. I kept thinking ‘do people really still believe this shit?’, and ‘has feminism just been a fever-dream of mine, and this is the real world?’ (Because feminism believes in MEN and WOMEN more than this, it just does. And so do I.)
Here is an example of what I mean about valid advice being overwhelmed by poor stylistic choices on the authors part. :
To help hubby understand the importance of goals, use a sports analogy: without goals, you spend your life running up and down the field and never score! Help him set both specific, short-term weekly goals and long-term (three month, six month, one year) goals.
Goal setting to overcome obstacles? Valid life advice. Having to cloak it in sports metaphors so “hubby” can understand it? Why? Has he never wanted to accomplish things before? It’s a wonder he knows enough to get out of bed in the morning, if nobody explained it to him in simple terms or “guided his behavior” while he wasn’t paying attention.
I’m just going to end this review with two final quotes from the book that I think sum the way the authors’ think vs. the way I think reasonable adults actually think:
“Yes, it is manipulative. Yes, it works.” and “Yes, it is a bit sexist, but if you want him to defeat diabetes and have a healthy, vibrant, long life together . . . I’m sorry, but you really don’t have a choice.” (But don’t tell him that. No reason to rile the beast.)”
I repeat: What the actual fuck?
— I got my copy through Netgalley (Never been more glad I didn’t pay for a book), and it’s apparently not available on Amazon? So enjoy these yummy looking diabetic recipes instead.—