Saying no to food? Saying yes to food? Does it affect mental health? Yes.
As we know, there are many intricacies to managing and successfully living with type 1 diabetes, one of which is the ever-evolving relationship with food. It is tumultuous and extremely personal. After being diagnosed, I hated food—absolutely hated it—because of what it did to my body, therefore my mind. I had a seriously twisted love-hate relationship with food to the point of eating just to spite the fact that I had been diagnosed with diabetes. It was my way to get back at the disease. Then I realized I might actually have some control (using that word lightly when related to T1D) and my passion for food ignited. I started spending tons of time in the kitchen, and now, I’d live there if I could. I’ve found my path as a result of a late in life diabetes diagnosis.
Confession for those that don’t know me: I’ve chosen a Paleo lifestyle for about two and a half years and it has drastically changed my life with diabetes, more than I ever thought possible. (Side note: When I decided to try Paleo it was not for the sake of diabetes; in fact, it had nothing to do with it!). Now, it’s a huge part of my life, who I am, and what I believe in. It isn’t just a “diet” or a “fad,” it’s a commitment. A commitment I become more devoted to as time passes, because of how amazing I feel. I used to take about 25–30 units per day of insulin (pumping), and now I take between 15–20. The less I take the better I feel (I mean really, who wants to supplement a growth hormone to live?). Knowing what I put in my body, and how it affects and makes me feel, is empowering. Feeling empowered = happiness. Disclaimer: I did not choose nor do I stay Paleo to try to “go off insulin,” or cure my type 1 (which have been questions/judgments I’ve received). It ain’t happening, I know that, and I would never try or expect that. It’s simply eating real food we were meant to eat; nourishing and fueling our bodies and minds.
Having made this commitment to this journey, I often find myself in peculiar situations, mostly surrounding food. I have zero problems saying “no thank you” anymore, without feeling like I’m missing out, or when I’m offered food I wish not to consume, I politely decline and move on without a thought. After solidifying my routine, sticking with it has been extremely beneficial and honestly—really easy to do. It affords consistency and stability in blood sugars, and therefore is less of a mental burden.
However, because I have diabetes, most times when I say “no thank you,” I’m questioned about my choice to not eat certain foods, and the question or statement is always along these lines: “That’s right; you can’t eat that,” or “Sugar isn’t good for you, is it?” In fact, I’ve actually had someone offer food and retract it, to my face. So this adds one more pressure and mental aspect to living with diabetes. It really is a catch 22. I’m going to be questioned about my choice to say no, and I’d also be questioned by my choice to say yes. Yay for more mental burdens. This is another mental aspect wrapped up with a big bow on it—living with type 1 diabetes that isn’t always visible with constant questions and pressure. At the end of the day, sugar really isn’t good for anyone, diabetes or not, but I can certainly eat it if I want, I just choose not to. Diabetes or not.
I also wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help manage life. Being able to visibly see the effects that certain foods have on my body is enlightening, but also very thought-provoking. Seeing the slow and steady (much less pronounced) spike of eating an apple, versus the instant crazy high spike from eating a piece of cake, invokes more mental stressors. In addition, the longer I went without eating cookies, cake, etc., the clearer my thinking became to the point I am able to make a conscious decision, which mentally encouraged continuing to say, “no thank you,” when offered.