How I Learned the Importance of Carb Counting

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on April 6, 2018. I’m reposting it today because most people know that carb counting is important to a person with diabetes, but they might not understand exactly why. This post features an example that demonstrates all too well the negative implications associated with neglecting to carb count. Read on to learn how I figured out the importance of carb counting…the hard way…

One recent evening, I was rummaging through the kitchen pantry and noticed a bag of “veggie stix” stashed away, waiting to get opened. The sight of the bag instantly brought back memories of a time I was blatantly irresponsible with my carb counting and insulin dosing…

I learned the hard way that neglecting to count carbs can lead to scary high blood sugars…

…It was my junior year of college. I had plans to meet with a friend for dinner at seven o’clock. While that’s a standard suppertime for many people, it was kind of late for me. So that explains why I decided to treat myself to a snack a couple hours before it was time to go, just to hold me until I had my meal. My snack of choice? A bag of veggie stix just like these were sitting in the kitchen of my on-campus apartment. I thought I’d help myself to a few, believing (naively) that I had enough self control to know when to stop shoveling them down my gullet. That’s right, instead of doing the right thing and counting out a bunch before stowing the bag away, I was blindly consuming handful after handful without dosing for a single stick.

I can’t even use the defense that these veggie stix are strangely addicting – they really are, they taste a little like those potato sticks that used to come in cans – because I knew what I was doing wasn’t good for me. I just didn’t care. I had munched my way through half of the bag when it dawned on me that it would probably be smart to stop myself from eating more. I rolled up the bag, returned to my room, and did some homework until it was time to meet with my gal pal.

Little did I know that my blood sugar was rising to potentially dangerous levels.

I didn’t find out how high I was – over 400 mg/dL – until I reached the sandwich shop and had a plate full of chicken pesto carb-y goodness waiting to be consumed. My face must’ve shown my shock, because my friend asked me if I was alright. I quickly explained to her my mistake, and took an extra large bolus to cover my food and correct my blood sugar. Once that was done, I somehow managed to stop panicking long enough to enjoy the dinner with my friend, even though I couldn’t eat a bite of mine until an hour or so after injecting my insulin.

Although it sucked to go through this, I’m kind of glad that it happened because I learned a major lesson from it: ALWAYS count my carbs. It doesn’t matter if I WANT to be lazy or pretend that my diabetes doesn’t exist, I HAVE to hold myself accountable. It may be mentally draining and a bit of a nuisance, but it’s my own health here. It’s up to me, and me alone, to manage it.

And by the way, I did just help myself to the above bag of veggie stix. I had exactly 24 pieces, which equals exactly 5.4 grams of carbohydrates – a much smaller amount than what I ate that one night five years ago.

Favorite Things Friday: My Fave Carb Counting App

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

I’ve written about my favorite diabetes-specific apps in the past, but I’ve also got a couple others that aren’t directly related to T1D that are mainstays on my iPhone. But there’s one in particular that 1) on the surface, has nothing to do with diabetes and 2) has been exceedingly helpful at giving me guidance when it comes to carb counting in certain situations. So without further ado, let me share the name and what I like so much about the app itself.

MyFitnessPal is my carb-counting app of choice. As the name implies, it’s an app that revolves around, well, fitness. It’s designed to provide users with a comprehensive log that tracks activity levels, food/water intake, nutrition information, and so much more. Initially, I downloaded it to keep a record of my daily calorie consumption and quickly discovered that it wouldn’t only help me figure out what dietary changes I needed to make, but it would also improve my carb counting.

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An example of MyFitnessPal in action – if I wanted to know the carb count in a cup of veggie soup from Panera, I can find it by simply searching for it within the app. 

How? The app contains a comprehensive food library – sort of like the one that’s built into the OmniPod PDM, except this one is much, MUCH more substantial. It includes foods from fast food restaurants, regular dining establishments, grocery stores, and just about any other place you could order food from. It’s been an absolute godsend in situations in which I’m really struggling to figure out how many carbs are in a dish that I’d like to order/buy. It’s not an end-all, be-all source of information – just like anything else in life, the food library isn’t flawless – but it’s a solid starting point when it comes to foods I’m less familiar with.

In addition to showing me how many carbs I consume in a day, the app has also taught me how logging simple information related to diabetes can go a long way in establishing trends, such as how different foods affect my blood sugar. The act of logging or writing something down can sound like a pain, but really, the few minutes it takes each day is worth the knowledge it ultimately imparts.

Readers, what about you? Do you use carb-counting apps? If so, which ones and why? I’m especially curious in hearing feedback from anyone who uses Figwee – I’ve heard nothing but praise for that one. Drop a comment here, tweet at me, or leave a note on my Instagram page about your favorite carb-counting app!