Type 1 Diabetes and Our Relationship With Food

Our relationship with food is intricate and complicated at the best of times. But then throw in the added complication of a diabetes diagnosis and the perplexity can increase even further.

hand holding a cookie with a smiling face highlighting  how diabetes and our relationship with food can change

I love all things food and cooking, so subsequently both have always played a big part in our family life. We all enjoy planning, making and especially eating great food. Food has always been a significant focus of our celebrations. There is nothing better than being able to share food with our family and friends. But a diabetes diagnosis in the family really changed this connection I felt with food.

This post explores our journey as a family and how diabetes and our relationship with food can evolve.

How a diabetes diagnosis affected our relationship with food

My daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the summer of 2020. This significant family event had a profound impact on my relationship with food. It was a very confusing time and at points pretty overwhelming.

Like a bolt out of the blue, this thing came into our lives, we didn’t ask for it and no one can explain why it happened. You can’t get rid of it; you just have to learn to live with it. It takes up a huge amount of your mental capacity and the worry can be overwhelming.

Part of this worry for me manifested in food choices. As the primary cook and carer for the family, I felt a huge responsibility around food choices. It was this realisation that my decisions could have such an impact on my daughter’s overall health and blood glucose management. I just didn’t know how I could continue the positive relationship we had with food for the whole family whilst still protecting and managing my daughters’ diabetes. I felt very confused and if I’m honest a little fearful of food, particularly of that dreaded group…..Carbohydrates!

The path of restriction

So, as with most hurdles I face, I decided to hit the books to learn as much as I could. My investigations certainly led me down a few alternative paths trying to figure out for myself the foods I believed we should or shouldn’t be eating. As I said carbohydrates became scary and yes my investigations did take me down the low carb, keto, no sugar route for a time. We avoided eating out for a while, but covid may have influenced this one. We wouldn’t have takeaways, everything was homecooked. Restriction seemed to be the main focus.

Consequently, that positive outlook and associations I had with food seemed to unravel and I think I panicked. There was an overwhelming feeling that I needed to change everything, which included limiting or taking away certain foods we enjoyed as a family. But ultimately more than anything, I think that what I was searching for was control. I needed something which would make me feel like I could make a difference in this bizarre situation we found ourselves in. And for me food became the culprit

I struggled to believe the information we were given by our amazing paediatric diabetes team. I genuinely thought I could gain back control of our family life through restriction and avoidance of certain foods.

Now I am not inferring that for anyone that has chosen the path of restriction to help with their overall diabetes management is wrong. In fact, I have learnt a lot of positives from these specific diets which I continue to include today. The world of alternatives can be a great option. For example, the majority of our baking is now refined sugar-free and gluten-free.

What I am highlighting, however, is that my restrictive choices for my family were coming from a place of fear and need for control, which are not the right reasons for making these changes.

How to move past the fear of food

Living with or being a career for someone with type 1 diabetes, requires a lot of dedication, patience and daily decision making. So along with all the other adjustments that need to be made in family life, I recognised that my choices weren’t making us happy. Mealtimes became stressful and full of worry. We seemed to be losing the joy and connectivity we have always enjoyed through food. Something had to change.

Thankfully I came to the realisation that it was important to lean into that fear I had created around food. Even though I wasn’t the one who had the diabetes diagnosis, it had really affected me. I recognised that it was important to give myself enough time to process the enormity of this condition and change in our family life. I also came to the conclusion that whilst my daughter has already adapted and compromised on so much in her life from her diagnosis, food should not be one of them.

However, learning and trying to understand the impact of food on blood glucose levels alongside how to manage this against your insulin delivery method is a really big challenge. And I don’t know about you but it can be really overwhelming. This process again requires time and patience as well as an understanding that everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for others. Unfortunately, it also seems to be a method of trial and error, which can be really frustrating at times. Even when you think you’ve nailed it one of the other forty plus reasons that impact your blood sugars steps in, creating dramatic shifts. This in turn can mean you find yourself back to the crazy highs you just can’t bring down for hours or feeding jelly beans 30 minutes after you’ve finished a meal!

Therefore I decided that alongside continuing to explore different alternatives, I needed to let go! I needed to reconnect with food and adjust. To gain back that positive relationship with food I needed to be confident in all that I had learned. Therefore I:

  • Began reintroducing the food we enjoy and trying out some smaller changes to those meals.
  • Continued to explore new and different ingredients and cooking methods.
  • Made modifications that in quantitites so that foods would have a less dramatic impact on blood glucose levels.
  • But most importantly my changes didn’t involve restriction.

I took comfort in creating new recipes, trying different foods and flavours. This in fact then led me to want to share this and was how Whole Hearty Kitchen was born.

Our Relationship with Food Today

I wish that over a year on I could say that I have it all figured out, but I don’t. I think my relationship with diabetes and food will naturally continue to evolve but in a more positive way. Despite not being able to give you the answers, this is what I have learned along the way.

Balance is key; Enjoy a varied diet that incorporates all of the food groups. This also includes having the not so healthy stuff sometimes.

Compromise; Accepting that sometimes by making swaps or concessions in our food choices is OK. These choices may mean less dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Realise that this in itself may make you feel more content.

Be flexible; Sometimes you just have to roll with it and it’s not going to work every time. Don’t beat yourself up. Learn from it and move on.

Be aware; Take the time to understand and measure how particular foods may impact your levels. This way you can start working out a bolusing strategies.

Whilst I advocate for balance and variety, I do also fully appreciate this option isn’t for everyone. I respect that for some, exclusion of foods or adopting a specific diet can have great health benefits, impact how it makes a person feel and can manage on a day-to-day basis. It really comes down to personal choice.

Diabetes and our relationship with food

This last year has really changed how I think about food, but thankfully it hasn’t taken away the many positive associations I feel towards it. I still love food. I now enjoy experimenting with new or alternative ingredients and creating new recipes. But most of all it has taken me down an amazing path in my professional life, being able to share this with you.

I now firmly believe in balance, variety and that no food is off-limits, well only if you don’t like it of course. But more importantly, diabetes and our relationship with food need time to evolve.

By making some tweaks to our family’s diet has helped not only educate both my daughters about the food we eat but has given us back our food freedom. It has taken away restriction and the need to say no. We have learnt the art of compromise and returned us to have a happy and positive relationship with the foods we choose.

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