Sunday, 8 July 2012

Food for thought

It has taken me a long time to write this blog. In fact it has taken the last 10 years, and if I'm honest I  think that my views and attitude towards food will change every day. I do want to say that what I have written here are my views and my experiences, and they may be a little confusing to read because they are still a little confusing to me.

See food to me is something which my life revolves around, and I know that a lot of people will say that it shouldn't, but I can't help it. It's everywhere I look, it's in everything I do and it's consciously or subconsciously on my mind all of the time. Food plays a central role in our lives - from birth we develop a deep association with food and emotions. We celebrate with it at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays, promotions etc.. and we also drown our sorrows with.

We all know how food will physically affect people with diabetes, but how will an individual use food according to their specific emotional state? Do we feed our diabetes and our emotions in a healthy way?

Before I was diagnosed with diabetes I was known in my family for being the dustbin. I would eat huge portions and never put on any weight. I've always been told that I was a fussy eater, but when I found something which I liked I could put Adam Richman (man vs food) to shame! Not anymore.... Now I have very mixed feelings towards food.

When a person with diabetes wants to eat they need to consider:
How big the portion is, how many carbs are in that portion, the fat content, the calories, which food group it belongs to, which foods we are eating it with (eg fruit as part of a meal or as a snack), if we need to split a dose of fast acting insulin and many more aspects.

For a lot of people this takes time and planning, but that's not the end of it.. We then:
  • Prick our fingers to test our blood sugars
  • Calculate an insulin dose based on how many carbs we are eating and what our blood sugar result was
  • Check our blood sugars again 2-4 hours later
  • Eat again/treat a hypo if we took too much insulin
  • Take more insulin if we didn't have enough to cover the food
  • Record information
  • Adjust our insulin doses according to illness and physical activity

It's a massive amount of information to think about for something which should be so simple, and something that a lot of people take for granted. It's not just a quick injection or pushing a button on an insulin pump.. it's so much more than that. Now I find that I over think food, and how can I not? The way that I look at food is completely different to before I was diagnosed. There is so much detail that I didn't consider before, and looking at this detail every time I eat has affected the way that I feel towards food.

Does this have a positive or negative effect on relationships and emotions regarding food?

It's a mixture of the both for me and as I said earlier ths changes on a daily basis. If I have a healthy day with great blood sugars then that's something to celebrate (usually with more food)! If I have an unhealthy day but still have great blood sugars, then even better! This means that I'm getting calculations correct, that I'm understanding what my body needs and how it reacts. It makes me feel confident and motivated to carry on, pushing that little bit harder to explore my diabetes, to play with it and to understand what it needs!

However there is the flip side....

Has anybody ever felt guilty for eating.. whether you have diabetes or not? It seems silly doesn't it? We eat to survive, we eat when socialising, we eat for energy when exercising.... it's something which we need to do. So why is there a feeling of guilt?

"Are you allowed to eat that?"

I've lost count of the amount of times I've been asked this, and along with "are you the type who needs sugar or has too much?" I can't help but put my head in my hands at this question. I don't blame people for asking this because as we all know people aren't being educated about type 1 diabetes as much as they could be. I'm pleased that people are taking an interest and I know deep down that they're only asking because they worry about me.

However I also can't help the nagging feeling of guilt when I do "eat that". The majority of the time I will carry on, eat the big yummy treat and say; "Yep, I can eat what I want as long as I take my insulin to cover it." Though there are times when inside I'm saying to myself; "Should I be eating this? What will people think if I do?" and I already know the answer. I can eat anything in moderation using the skills that my HCPs have taught me.

Another factor which has greatly influenced the choices I make when eating is how type 1 diabetes is portrayed in the media. I don't need to tell anyone that dramatic and shocking news sells, and it sells well. The media wants to spark a reaction out of people, to gather interest and to keep their audience coming back for more. That stigma which is placed on people with type 1 diabetes as being overweight, unhealthy and making the wrong lifestyle choices has only fueled the guilt that I feel, and my feelings of
frustration towards food. On top that, advertising will barrage us with images and messages about how we can achieve beauty, a desirable physique and the perfect lifestyle.

I admit that I have turned food down before because I've worried about what people would think, and because I didn't want to be judged as a stereotype which is wrongly shown time and time again.
It was a horrible feeling to battle with myself over something which I do every day, which I need to do every day. I suppose at the time I felt that I was letting myself down by saying no to something that I wanted. It was also my chance to educate the people around me as to why I can eat the same food that they can, but I just gave up through that frustration and guilt. On one hand there's the food intake and on the other there's the emotional consequence. Luckily now the food intake is starting to out-weigh the emotional side for me, thanks to the help of my dietitian.

I had never seen a dietitian until this time last year and I know that those appointments have made a huge impact towards me turning my life with diabetes around. My dietitian, Sue, is one of the biggest influences in my treatment because she makes going to my clinic enjoyable as well as educational! She's taught me everything I know about carb counting, corrective insulin doses, why my blood sugars do what they do, how food affects my blood sugars etc, and on top of that she always takes the time to talk about me. She remembers what I tell her about my personal life, my work and even laughs at my terrible jokes! Sue doesn't judge me for my eating habits and the choices I make, she doesn't even mention them, but she guides me in a way which allows me to help myself.

So that's what I've been doing for the past few months. Looking at different situations, taking a step back and thinking for myself about how I can make them work for me. Take eating out for example (and I mean anywhere apart from home).. I used to dread this but at the same time get excited about getting away from the mundane diet which I've created for myself. I'm such a pain when I eat out because although I'm not a vegetarian anymore, I rarely eat meat and if I do I only eat chicken. I don't try anything new (I shocked someone at work last week by announcing that I've never had steak or mushrooms before) but it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy food!

I do enjoy food, I just don't enjoy the worry I sometimes placed in front of it. It's like I have a side dish of worry, that's the best way to explain it. I'm not only worrying about what people think if they see me munching on chips cheese and mayonnaise (my favourite!), but also about what it will do to my blood sugars. It's very difficult to correctly carb count when eating out as very few places show carb amounts on their menu. Luckily there are hundreds of people on social networking sites who will be abe to tell me within minutes the correct carb amount. But what if they weren't there? What if I didn't have my carb counting app? It would be a guessing game, which I don't want to do. What do other people do when they are in the same situation? Do they have a side plate of worry too?

Sadly I don't think that I'm the only one who has been through this. I can see it in the way that other people blog, their tweets, their facebook status' and comments, and I can see myself in those words. I can see it in the messages that people send me and I just wish there was more that could be done to help them.

I've coped on my own for 10 years for many different reasons, but during that time I didn't recognise that my behaviours were changing. It really did sneak up on me and it wasn't until complications had set in that I actually did something about it. I think that the best way to overcome this is to consider how food will support my diabetes and rethink any poor philosophies, as well as reconstructing my attitude e.g - I used to have a theory a long time ago that no carbs = no diabetes. I know that having a positive attitude will play a big part in correctly treating a problem, and once there is a self-belief then tackling the difficulties with food will become easier to manage.

I intend to get that positive attitude and belief by sharing my worries and fears, and I hope that I can help people along the
way.. and maybe a few others will join me as well.

© Ninjabetic

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