The true danger of Type 1 Diabetes in my life so far has not been to my eyes, feet, or kidneys.
The true danger of Type 1 Diabetes in my life so far has been to my relationship with food.
I’ve wanted to write on this topic for the past year or so but the platform didn’t really exist. You see, every year on World Diabetes Day (Nov. 14th for the newbs) I write an update for the people of Facebook on my relationship with T1D. I hope that like this blog it will help other people living with T1D not feel so alone, as well as spread awareness about some of the unique challenges that come along with T1D.
The effect of T1D on one’s relationship with food starts with judgement based on eating habits. This can inevitably lead to altered eating habits.
An eating disorder is defined as, any of a range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. This definition has come to encompass more than disordered eating but also other methods of modulating one’s metabolism such as Anorexia Athletica. The relationships between abnormal and disturbed eating habits in individuals living with T1D is an established field of research, as persons living with T1D are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder. So let’s talk about how this can manifest and what can make food a particularly sticky situation for persons living with T1D.
From this point forward I’ll mostly be speaking from personal experience, so if you have any contributions, please! Comment away!
It is my understanding that 5.5ers (people who are not living with diabetes) get hungry, eat food, and feel pretty satisfied afterwards unless they ate something that is digestively challenging. No matter how early I bolus, unless I am eating something with no carbohydrates, I have never experienced this. My experience is: get hungry, test my blood, analyse the food I’m about to eat and bolus for it, eat food, bolus (if I forgot to earlier), and proceed to feel pretty gross for the next 30-60 minutes. This is not a plea for a pity party, rather I am simply trying to shed light on the awareness that may people living with T1D face when it comes to food, and the potential number of deterring factors that go into the process of eating. In my experience, however, the daily grind is nothing in comparison to the overwhelming weight of medical information and stereotypes that people living with T1D are bombarded with every day. Like everything in life, this bombardment affects everyone differently and in no way necessitates an altered relationship to food for people living with T1D.
The juicy stuff.
To state it simply, insulin prevents fat cells from breaking down and stimulates the creation of fat stores. Imagine seeing that headline as a young person. Not only does this make you want to stop injecting insulin, but by extension of not wanting to feel gross, it also makes you want to stop eating foods that require insulin. To compound this, when a person living with T1D does not take insulin, they end up in diabetic ketoacidosis, which results in elevated levels of ketones in the blood and weight loss. Yeah, that’s right. Not taking insulin not only avoids the secretion of fat stores, but it also encourages weight loss.
Stereotypes. I almost don’t want to write about this because I’ve made it my personal mission to avoid it at all costs. The line that to be living with diabetes you must be fat is hugely problematic. For starters, it is based on an overwhelming generalisation about Type 2 Diabetes. It is common place to see warnings for the effects of weight gain and sedentary lifestyle to being x, y, and diabetes. While shedding light on the importance of maintaining one’s insulin sensitivity is very important, it is problematic for those of us who do not have a control over it.
Finally, a very effective way to increase one’s control over their T1D is to modulate eating habits, for example, to have a low carb breakfast avoid compounding dawn phenomenon. This is where it all gets a little sketchy. Being made aware at potentially a young age (don’t forget that T1D used to be called Juvenile Diabetes and still is in many instances) of the impacts of food to your health can be hugely beneficial. The abilities of people living with T1D to listen to their bodies is almost a super power. But like most superheroes, powers can be weaknesses. The compounding focus on diabetes, weight loss, and ‘being healthy’ by the media, medical community, and our society adds to the adversity that strong people living with T1D have to face.