A diabetes diagnosis and your connection 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 biscuit with a smiley face in icing
Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

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. It’s always been a significant focus of our celebrations and for us, 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.

How a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis affected me

My daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year and for me, this 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 day as you can’t stop thinking about it and you seem to worry all the time.

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

As with most hurdles I face I decided to hit the books and the internet 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 to help with her overall management. 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 (covid may have influenced this one!), we wouldn’t have takeaways, I tended to avoid giving fruit as a snack or for dessert and the list goes on.

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 of my own which I could have in order to feel like I could make a difference to this bizarre situation we found ourselves in. Naturally as the cook of the house, I turned to food.

I struggled to believe the information we were given by our amazing paediatric diabetes team and 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.

The Road Past Diabetes Diagnosis

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 soon 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 gain back that positive relationship with food. In order to start down our road past diagnosis, I began reintroducing the food we love and trying out some smaller changes to those meals. I continued to explore new and different ways of making modifications that might have a less dramatic impact on blood glucose levels. But most importantly it didn’t involve restriction. I took comfort in creating new recipes, trying different foods and flavours, which in fact then led me to want to share this with you. This was how Whole Hearty Kitchen was born.

My 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 I now know that it will be in a positive way. Despite not being able to give you the answers I thought I would share with you some of the things I have learnt along the way which has bought us back to a more peaceful place with the food choices we make:

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

Compromise; Accepting that sometimes by making swaps or concessions in our food choices is OK. This may mean less dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose levels and actually, that in itself will make you feel more content.

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

Be aware; Take the time to understand how particular large food groups may impact your levels so that you can start working out 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.

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; enjoy experimenting with new or alternative ingredients and 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, if you are a person living with diabetes, I believe that these principles absolutely apply to you too.  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 the need to say no and returned us to have a happy and positive relationship with the foods we choose.

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