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.
I love all things food and cooking and both have always played a big part in our family life. We all enjoy planning, making and especially eating great food. Celebrations always lead to me think about food as there is nothing better than sharing your table with family and friends. But a diabetes diagnosis in the family really changed this connection I felt with food.
Managing type 1 diabetes can be challenging, especially when it comes to food choices. Food can bring pleasure, comfort, and social connection, but it can also be a source of anxiety, guilt, and frustration for those living with diabetes. Our relationship with food plays a critical role in our management, as what we eat can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels and overall health.
In this article, I will explore the complex relationship between type 1 diabetes and our diet, delving into some of the challenges faced and how 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 for our 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!
Type 1 Diabetes and the Impact on Food Choices
Carbohydrates are one of the main nutrients that affect blood sugar levels, as they are broken down into glucose during digestion. A key aspect of your diabetes management is having to carefully monitor and count carbohydrate intake. Counting carbohydrates then allows the insulin dosing to be adjusted according to your unique ratios.
Protein and fat also play a role in blood sugar regulation but have less of an immediate effect compared to carbohydrates. However, they will impact how the body absorbs the glucose from the carbohydrate, so still need to be considered when working out how to bolus for a meal.
In addition to monitoring macronutrient (Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats) intake, another consideration is portion sizes and timing of meals. Eating too much at once or missing meals can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate dramatically.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to help people with type 1 diabetes make informed food choices. Registered dietitians who specialize in diabetes management can provide personalized guidance on meal planning and carbohydrate counting. Diabetes-friendly cookbooks and websites offer recipe ideas that are low in carbs but still delicious.
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 home cooked. 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 anyone that has chosen the path of restriction to help with their overall diabetes management is wrong. What I am highlighting, is that my restrictive choices for my family were coming from a place of fear and need for control, which is not the right reason for making these changes.
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. You can read more about this in these 2 articles:
The world of sugar substitutes and type 1 diabetes can be confusing. This guide explores substitutes in the UK and how they can support your diabetes management
Almond flour is a great alternative to help with diabetes management which is explained along with the many other benefits of using almond flour in baking.
Exploring the Emotional Connection Between Type 1 Diabetes and Food
Living with or being a career for someone with type 1 diabetes, food becomes more than just nourishment – it becomes a constant reminder of the condition. Every meal or snack requires strategic planning. Part of that is considering how it will affect blood sugar levels, how to dose for it and if any exercise or activity will happen after the food is consumed. This can lead to a whole host of feelings of frustration, restriction, annoyance, anger, and even shame if you get it all wrong.
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 any of 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 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.
Managing Type 1 Diabetes Through Balanced Eating Habits
It’s important for anyone living with type 1 diabetes (and their families) to find balance in their relationship with food. It’s about developing healthy eating habits, particularly as they influence our children so much too. While still enjoying the pleasures that come from eating delicious food.
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 in quantities and portion size 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 my experiences and recipes. And so Whole Hearty Kitchen was born.
Our Relationship with Food Today
I would love to say that I have it all figured out, but I don’t. This really is something that evolves with time and is helped by having a robust diabetes management toolkit in place. I think my relationship with diabetes and food will naturally continue to evolve but definitely in a more positive way.
A few key points 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 making swaps or concessions in our food choices is OK. These choices may mean less dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Realise that compromise 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 bolusing strategies that work for you.
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
Managing type 1 diabetes involves much more than monitoring glucose levels; understanding how our emotions impact our relationship with food plays an essential role in how we manage our daily lives with type 1 diabetes. By finding balance with food, you can not only improve your physical well-being but also your mental and emotional health.
This journey 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 firmly believe in balance and variety. 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.
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 restrictions and the need to say no. We have learnt the art of compromise and returned to having a happy and positive relationship with the foods we choose.