Why I Refuse to Quit Carbs

This is an original post I wrote that was published on Hugging the Cactus on January 26, 2018. I am republishing it now because there’s been some buzz on the Diabetes Online Community recently about different diets people with diabetes “should” and “shouldn’t” follow…and this sums up my feelings on being told what choices I should make when it comes to my own health!

Recently, a random person on the Internet criticized my choice to incorporate carbohydrates in my daily diet. Thanks for the unnecessary judgment, stranger!!!

I’m not really upset about the comment, though, because it prompted me to reflect on why I consume carbs.

Have a slice!
*Oprah Winfrey voice* I. Love. Bread.

For me, it’s about more than just enjoying (relishing, adoring) the taste of carb-heavy substances both starchy and sweet. Carbs also help me achieve balance in my blood sugars. For instance, I find that consuming a serving of carbohydrates at dinnertime keeps me steady as I move through the evening hours. Say that I’m eating grilled chicken with a side salad for dinner. That’s a good meal by itself, but I like to complement it with a carb like half a cup of mashed potatoes or brown rice. I’ve noticed that the carbs kick in more slowly when they’re consumed with minimal or zero-carb foods, thanks to the power of the glycemic index.

The glycemic index is, in short, a measure of how quickly the carbohydrate content of foods will affect blood sugar levels. Since learning about it in college and subsequently researching the glycemic indices of various foods I eat, it’s been an immensely useful tool in determining the makeup of my meals throughout the day. Knowing the glycemic index of a wide array of foods also helps me figure out the timing of my insulin doses; in turn, preventing crazy spikes or crashes after eating.

I can’t shortchange carbs for the fact that they literally save my butt sometimes, too. When I’m experiencing a low blood sugar, nothing BUT carbs will bring me back up to a normal level. Whether it’s carbohydrates from healthy fruits or straight-up candy, it’s giving my blood sugar the surge it needs to keep me going. Like many things in life, it’s a matter of moderation – making sure I don’t consume TOO many carbs when I’m experiencing a low.

If you’re someone who thrives on low carb, high fat diets, that’s great! I know that many people find this to be a successful method in achieving target blood sugars. But for me, my tried-and-true technique of balancing carbs, fats, and proteins is always going to be my ideal strategy. Just because that’s what works for me doesn’t give anyone a right to criticize me for it. I’m here to live my best life, as we all should try to do. Shouldn’t we encourage one another to thrive, instead of judging?

The answer, if you didn’t realize, is YES.

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Why Online Communities Aren’t Always the Best Source of T1D Support

Before I jump into this post, let me make this unequivocally clear: The DOC (Diabetes Online Community) has been an incredible source of support, advice, and education to me ever since I discovered it (roughly seven or eight years ago). This post isn’t necessarily about the DOC; rather, it was inspired by a recent experience I had with a totally different online community. But what I’m about to say here can be applied to just about any kind of virtual support group in existence…

In addition to the DOC, I consider myself a member of a few other online communities. One of them is focused on fitness. (I’m not going to specifically name the group here, mainly because I’d like to maintain its privacy as well as the privacy of its members.)

Anyways, said group was formed to provide members with a place to post about their respective fitness journeys. Members are encouraged to post daily about their workout routines, nutrition plans, and any emotions that might arise as they work toward building a healthy lifestyle. It’s common for members to interact with one another and show support when someone is struggling, as well as applaud victories big and small as they’re met. Unsurprisingly, negativity and criticism aren’t welcome in this group, as it can be detrimental to the goals that each member has for himself/herself.

Thanks for the love!

In keeping with the spirit of the group, I posted a photo a few weeks back of myself (making a grumpy face) after a particularly challenging cardio workout session. In the caption, I wrote: “Excuse my pissed off expression…I had to cut cardio fix short because my blood sugar was getting too low. Only worked out for about 20 minutes this morning. I really wanted the full one cuz I treated myself with food just a tad too much yesterday…but I don’t totally regret it because it reminded me that I just don’t feel good when I snack unnecessarily. I’m always struggling to remember to only eat when I’m hungry or if my blood sugar is low, not because I’m bored or emotional. I know one day I’ll fully accept this and practice it!”

I wasn’t seeking sympathy or anything, I was just being honest with the other members of the group and channeling a bit of my frustration. Regardless, a few people did comment on the post with some reassuring words, like “you’ve got this”, “thank you for sharing”, and “one day at a time”, which I appreciated.

But what I did not appreciate was the comment thread that followed and involved myself and two other group members (my thoughts as I initially responded to this chain are denoted by asterisks):

Group Member #1: Oh no, be careful! Do u usually run low?
Me *Not wanting to dive into a long explanation*: I’m pretty well controlled for the most part, but exercise can make me go low sometimes! 
Group Member #1: do u have diabetes?
Me: yes, type 1 diabetes for 21 years now
Group Member #1: oh wow! Be careful!! Do u carry glucose tabs with you?
Me *Rolling my eyes as I respond, and adding a “haha” to keep it light*: of course! Haha I’ve had T1D for a very long time so managing it is second nature.
Group Member #1: okay good! Just making sure. Sorry, this was the pharmacist in me asking (an annoyingly cute monkey-with-hands-over-eyes emojis PLUS smiley face emoji followed this comment)
Group Member #2: The nurse in me wondered the same. 🙂
Group Member #1, responding to Group Member #2: haha! (followed by a stupid heart emoji)

What exactly is my issue with this thread? It starts with the “be careful”. It was probably an innocuous comment on the poster’s end, but I thought that me telling her that I’ve had diabetes for 21 years might signal that I know a thing or two when it comes to managing it. It also mildly irked me that she was qualifying her comments to me by saying that she was a pharmacist. That’s great and all, but that doesn’t make her an expert by any stretch of the imagination on diabetes…same thing to the girl who also chimed in by saying she was a nurse.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m overreacting to this whole thing – and part of me agrees, I’m sure that both girls just had pure intentions and wanted to offer support in their own ways – but if that’s the case, then this is a perfect example of how things can get misconstrued in an online setting. My interpretation of this thread is that both girls were trying to tell me that their expertise in their respective fields meant that they knew a good bit about diabetes, and rather than come off as supportive, the comments felt like show-offish (like, oh, look at me and how much I know!) and as if they thought I couldn’t take proper care of myself. Again, my interpretation may or may not be true, but it’s fact that we all need to be careful when choosing our words in situations like this. Even better, when something isn’t totally clear, we can choose to say nothing rather than chime in with a comment that might come off wrong or sounds misguided.

With that in mind, I now get why some people say that online support just isn’t for them. Personally, though I appreciate and like being part of online communities, this experience did teach me a lesson about being careful with my interactions in these spaces, and that I should always try to remember…it’s impossible to gauge tone/emotion in the comments section, and coming across as a know-it-all isn’t a good look on anyone.

The DOC: The 24/7 Support System I Never Knew that I Needed

I’ve lauded the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) time and time again for connecting me with individuals globally who are also affected by type one diabetes. And I don’t foresee an end to my desire to express gratitude for this amazing community, because over and over, members of it continue to blow me away with their words of encouragement and gestures of friendship.

My latest wave of gratefulness was spurred when I arrived home from work on Monday to a cheerful, Tiffany-blue envelope waiting patiently for me to open it. It was a delightful little package from my friend Sarah, who I “met” via Instagram over the summer. Besides diabetes, we share common interests in fitness, wellness, our pet dogs, and bright colors, among other things.

Sarah went out of her way to mail me a few goodies (shown in the picture), including a cute T1D key chain and an adorable cactus card with a message of support written inside. I was incredibly, pleasantly surprised by all of it. It wasn’t about the material items for me (though they are totally my style, and I can’t wait to make use of them). It was more so how she took the time to put it all together for me, cleverly incorporating some of the things that introduced us to one another in the first place, that really blew me away.

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Sweet trinkets from a sweet friend!

It got me thinking about the larger diabetes community I’ve met and harvested friendships with in the last several years. And as hard as it is for me to properly describe the level of richness, knowledge, and support that those friendships have given to me, it’s beyond easy for me to say that I am infinitely thankful for all of them, and I hope that in return, I am able to offer at least a fraction of the same to others.

With all that said, it’s even more mind-blowing to me that I resisted this community for such a long time. For the first 14 years or so that I lived with diabetes, I rejected the notion that I needed peer support to help me manage the emotional and physical aspects of diabetes. I turned down offers to go to diabetes camp. I didn’t interact with the only two other diabetics in my school’s district because I feared social isolation. In some situations, I even pretended that I didn’t have diabetes, because my yearning to be normal like everyone else overpowered my need to make my health a priority.

That’s why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that things started to turn around when I met other T1Ds my age. That marked the point where I could have open, honest conversations with others who were going through similar life events at the same time as me, without the judgments or criticisms I may have had to endure if I had those same conversations with family or doctors. While I know that I need to give myself and my personal growth some credit for improving how I manage my diabetes, I would be remiss if I did not also attribute some of that credit to the members of the DOC who have made meaningful contributions to my life and my outlook on it.

It’s funny that something special in the mail made me contemplate all of this, but Sarah’s thoughtful package to me is a tangible representation of how connections within the DOC have changed me for the better.

Thank you, Sarah, and another big thank you to those of you in the DOC that I have met, as well as those I have yet to meet.

My New Low Blood Sugar Symptom

In the last 21 years of diabetes, my low symptoms have been pretty predictable and easily recognizable: shakiness, sweating, dizziness, and sluggishness are all signs that I need some sugar, stat.

But lately, I’ve started to experience one brand-new and totally weird low blood sugar symptom. I’ve decided to dub it “fuzzy tongue”.

Love always wins..png
“Fuzzy tongue” or “terrycloth towel tongue” is now one of my low blood sugar symptoms.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than that it feels like my tongue and lips are covered in a terrycloth towel as my blood sugar starts to fall to a certain level, usually 75 mg/dL or lower. Simultaneously, it’s a numb and tingly sensation that feels so disorienting and makes the process of chewing glucose tablets or drinking juice a little more difficult, because it feels weird to eat or drink when my entire mouth feels like it’s covered in cloth.

In fact, the first time it happened, I took to Twitter to ask the rest of the DOC if there was anyone else who had experienced something like that before. And I was comforted by the many responses I got back that assured me that I wasn’t alone in feeling this strange symptom:

“Yes, from certain lows. Sometimes I feel like my [whole] body is buzzing and fuzzy, if not fizzy. Other times, it’s like my body says, “BTDT! Got the glucose tabs! Move on!”

“YES! This is a new symptom for me too (after 17 years of treating lows)..Thought I was allergic to honey the first time.”

“This is a common one for me. Tongue and lips. I hate it”

“Sometimes I get tingly lips or tingly fingers!”

“That’s almost exclusively how I can tell that I’m low”

“YES! If it’s a prolonged low, I get tingly lips and tongue. It’s super weird and really uncomfortable.”

“I get more of the tingling/partial numbness in the lips (‘fuzziness,’ I suppose) that some have described. Usually this occurs with a bad low (under 50 mg/dL).”

Those are just a few of the replies that my initial tweet received. I found these particularly interesting, though, because one person identified it as a new symptom, too, and others implied that it’s always been an indicator of low blood sugar that’s more likely to occur with “bad” lows. In addition to helping me feel a bit more normal about the discovery of my new low symptom, I also found this to be an example of the ways in which the DOC is uniquely unified. To an outsider, this whole Twitter thread probably makes zero sense and comes across as bizarre. But to someone part of the DOC, it’s just another conversation that brings T1Ds trying to get to the bottom of a ‘betes mystery together.

So even though “fuzzy tongue” is uncomfortable, I’m glad to know I’m not the only T1D who’s felt it…and I’m very glad that my body has found another way to alert me to a low blood sugar, especially since it’s a way that makes me want to correct it more quickly than ever before.