5 Tips for T1Ds Dining Out

Nothing beats home-cooked meals. But it is nice to go out to eat after a long workweek or to celebrate a special occasion. It’s a good way to unwind and socialize.

And like many other things, it’s also a little bit more complicated when you have type 1 diabetes. Not every T1D might feel the same way as I do, but there are times when I feel worried about going out to eat. Specifically, I start asking myself questions like, “Will there be a decent variety of lower-carb choices on the menu? Have I had this kind of cuisine before, and can I accurately predict how it will impact my blood sugar? Can I order what I actually want to eat without worrying about the carb content? Will the portion sizes be too small or too big? How long will it take for my meal to arrive, and does this mean I can safely pre-bolus for it?” Sadly, those are just a few of the questions that come to mind before some restaurant excursions.

5 tips for t1ds dining out

That’s why I like to remind myself of the following five tips. They’re pretty common sense, but then again, they’re also key for me to enjoy a meal out guilt-free and in a way that works best for my diabetes.

  1. Cut down on carbs, as needed. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to make sure my blood sugars cooperate during a dinner out is to try to reduce my carb intake as much as possible. After all, most restaurants don’t have nutritional information readily available for diners to consult. As a result, it’s impossible to know every single ingredient that could be in a given dish, let alone their carbohydrate content. So that’s why I cut corners where I can. If I’m craving a burger, I order it and ask for it without a bun. I substitute fries or other starchy sides for a salad or seasonal vegetables. If I notice that a pizzeria can make a cauliflower crust instead of a normal one, then I ask for it. I find that using this strategy helps me in just about any kind of restaurant. And if I find myself wanting to order something really high carb (which is rare), then I rely on tip #2.
  2. Ask for a doggy bag. Say I ordered pasta at a restaurant. At most places, there could be upwards of 80 or 90 carbs in that one dish, which is just too much for me to consume in one meal. So I make a plan to eat half of it and bring home the rest. It’s a tried-and-true technique that works for anyone who’s trying to watch what they eat, not just people with diabetes. It’s a win-win because I can still order that carb-y dish, but I don’t have to worry about potentially taking too much or too little insulin to cover it. Fewer carbs in one sitting means less room for error.
  3. Load up on veggies. I incorporate as many vegetables as I can into my meals at restaurants. In addition to subbing sides, I also will focus on eating those if they come with an appetizer. For me, it’s all about filling up on the healthy stuff so I don’t leave the restaurant with too much food guilt.
  4. Share with your table mates. Whether I’m with a large group or just part of a pair, I almost always offer to share appetizers or desserts as a subtle form of portion control for myself. Who doesn’t love splitting an order of nachos or a slice of cheesecake? It’s a great way to start off or end a meal out that involves minimal guilt or blood sugar concerns.
  5. Order drinks with care. I’m very careful when it comes to choosing drinks that have zero carbs, or at least very few carbs. More often than not, I stick with water or unsweetened iced tea with lemon to accompany my meals. But when I choose to drink alcohol at a restaurant, I try to order a glass of wine or lower carb cocktails. I tend to have better luck with those, because I can more accurately predict how they’ll affect my blood sugar, if at all. I do like beer and order it from time to time, but I limit myself to no more than two – any more than that and I push my luck by running the risk of experiencing high blood sugars.

But arguably my most important, unofficial sixth rule is to remember to enjoy myself. There’s no sense in stressing too much about what my blood sugar might or might not do (unless there’s extenuating circumstances, then I totally pay it proper attention). I like to bear in mind that no matter how my blood sugars may react to certain foods, I still have to eat. Why not appreciate every aspect of the experience?

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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!

Diabetes, Diets, and Holidays are Naughty, Not Nice

Ahh, the holiday season…it’s been in full swing for just about a month now, and with that arrived a bevy of parties, potlucks, and poor dietary decisions. In a week, the new year will be here and it’ll bring a fresh start with it, but for now…I’m trying to find a way to make peace with all the indulgences I’ve enjoyed in the last several weeks.

Takeout Chinese food, pizza, homemade roasts, and baked goods galore are among the gamut of glutinous grub responsible for transforming me into a guilty gourmand over the course of the holidays. (Can I get a round of applause for that alliterative sentence?) I wish I could say that I had the willpower to resist the temptation of these foods that have been provided at the various holiday parties I’ve attended; alas, I couldn’t stop myself from noshing on them just as much as the other guests at these gatherings. A fair share of my fellow party attendees commiserated with me about diets flying out the window this time of year, but very few of them could understand that the fattening fare impacts more than just my waistline.

My blood sugars, of course, have been a victim of holiday feasting just as much as my size six jeans.

Feel the joy!
Instead of sugarplums, I’ve got visions of wacky blood sugars and too-tight pants dancing in my head. Fun!!!

Truthfully, they’re not as terrible as they’ve been during past holiday seasons. But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with them, or okay with the fact that they tend to rise and crash at equally rapid paces when I eat too much of the carb-y stuff and correct accordingly with insulin. The roller coaster ride combined with the feeling that I’m turning into the Pillsbury dough girl is what I’m fed up with, and I’m trying to figure out a way to stop punishing myself for it. After all, a new year IS right around the corner, and like many others in the world, I can and should use it as a reason to start eating more mindfully and healthfully, leaving the dietary mistakes of 2018 in the past.

It’s definitely cliche, but I’ve got to get back into the routine and replace all the cookies and fancy chocolates I’ve been consuming with leafy veggies and lean proteins. It won’t be easy, but I know that it’ll be worth the improved blood sugars and looser pants that are bound to follow.

 

Grazing: My Bad Habit

A handful of peanuts here, a couple of slices of cheese there.

A pile of popcorn followed by a spoonful of peanut butter.

A few pretzels and a small smattering of chocolate chips – because chocolate.

These snack combos, as strange as they may be, all describe some snacking behavior that I also refer to as “grazing”. Grazing is all about taking little bits of food when I’m not necessarily hungry. I equate it to eating out of boredom, except I’m not indulging on full meals or anything, I’m simply munching because the food is there and my blood sugar is acceptable enough to the point that I can freely snack without having to bolus, or worry about significant blood sugar jumps later on.

In other words, grazing is a habit I’m trying to break.

grazing

I’m not stupid. I know that the aforementioned foods I choose to graze on contain carbohydrates. Whether trace or moderate, they’re still there. And I choose to ignore them.

I don’t know why. If I want to have a snack, then that’s okay, as long as I take insulin for it. But I guess my rationale for grazing is that I’m taking “itty bitty” amounts of food that will minimally impact my blood sugar, if at all.

Then again…it’s not exactly logical when those small snacks DO wind up impacting my blood sugar. Usually, the spike happens several hours after, and each time I get angry at myself for a) not having enough self-control to resist grazing and b) not taking insulin for it when I do give in to the bad habit.

Nearly 21 years of diabetes and I’m still occasionally blown away by the minutiae of it: how just the slightest smackerels can take a toll on the straight-lined graphs I strive to achieve daily.

Diabetes in the Renaissance

Can you imagine having diabetes in the 14th – 17th centuries??? The answer to that is no, you probably cannot…because without modern medicine, it wouldn’t have been possible for a T1D to survive in the Renaissance. And ‘cuz, well y’know, the Black Plague was a thing back then and lots of people didn’t survive.

But fortunately, we’re living in the 21st century, which means we have access to all sorts of things that help us manage diabetes. Still waiting on that cure, though.

Where am I going with all this?

I wanted to recount my recent trip to a Renaissance festival, in which I spent a day taking care of my diabetes while jousting tournaments, Shakespearean performances, and drunken debaucheries took place all around. And you know what? It was easier than I thought it’d be.

Sure, I didn’t check my blood sugar with my meter as much as I should have. My inner germaphobe was reluctant to rely on my meter for accurate results, seeing as there weren’t really any hand-washing stations on the fairgrounds. (Remember, this is the Renaissance…things were a little grimier in those days.) I used hand sanitizer whenever it was available to me to keep my hands clean, but it was a bit of a challenge, especially when my mitts got caked in mud post-ax throwing.

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Enjoying a turkey leg alongside a serving of Chardonnay at the Renaissance Faire – y’know, to keep things classy.

Thankfully, I had my Dexcom G6 to help keep me on track as I ate my way through the fictional 16th century village. I was jazzed that several low-carb options were available to me; throughout the day, I snacked on a giant turkey leg, a Scotch egg, and spiced nuts. Maybe a “diabetes-friendly” diet would’ve been easy to follow in the Renaissance? Though I will admit that I gave in to temptation and ate (devoured) a slice of cheesecake. On a stick. And dipped in chocolate. Not low carb, but super YUM.

So even though my diet was far from nutritious at the ye olde faire, I think that all the walking around and sharp-objects-throwing kept my blood sugar in check, much to my relief. My experience at the fest is just another example of how diabetes won’t prevent me from living life to the fullest, whether it’s in the reality of 2018 or the fantasy of the 16th century.

My New Favorite Low-Carb Recipe

The other night, I had two of my close girlfriends over for a couple hours of chatting and snacking. I’d thrown together a veggie tray for us to munch on and mentioned to my friends that I had tons of vegetables in the fridge that I wanted to try and use up in the next few days. They asked what I had, and I went through the list: tomatoes, snow peas, carrots, celery, peppers, and zucchini. At the mention of “zucchini”, one friend asked if I’d ever made zucchini pizza before.

My ears perked up. Zucchini pizza? I’d heard of making low-carb pizza using keto crust or even cauliflower crust, but not zucchini.

She told me how easy it was to make what she described as zucchini pizza bites: Cut up a zuke, top the slices with marinara sauce and cheese, and toss it in the oven. It was such a simple recipe that I decided to scour the Internet for ways to zest it up a bit.

That’s how I came across zucchini pizza boats, my new favorite way to consume pizza-esque food without all the guilt.

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One half is shorter than the other…because I couldn’t resist tasting my creation before snapping a pic. Oops!

Here’s how I made ’em:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil – this makes clean up easier.
  2. Cut zucchini in half, lengthwise. Pat the insides dry. Place both halves onto the baking sheet.
  3. Brush olive oil on each half. Sprinkle garlic salt on top.
  4. Spoon marinara sauce (or any kind of red pasta sauce) on top.
  5. Sprinkle any kind of shredded cheese you like on top (I used a Mexican blend), followed by Parmesan cheese.
  6. Add mini pepperonis on top. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted nicely on top.

And that’s it! Incredibly quick, easy, tasty, and filling. I ate these with a small serving of roasted Brussels sprouts and chicken meatballs and I was super satisfied. The best part is that I barely bolused for this meal and wound up with a fairly straight CGM graph.

I’ll definitely be prepping zucchini pizza again in the future, and maybe I’ll even add a few more carbs into the mix to see how my blood sugar fares.

Why I Decided to do a 3-Day Cleanse (and How it Impacted my Blood Sugars)

No carbs. No dairy. No meat. No processed foods. Strictly vegetables, fruits, and shakes for the next three days. 72 hours – I could do it, right?

Last week, I completed a 3-Day Cleanse. My goal was that it would help me feel a little bit refreshed after a couple weeks of nonstop gluttony. I figured it’d help reset my system and make me feel less bloated and tired. I didn’t want to do a typical “cleanse” though, the kind that forces you to stop eating any and all food and stick with juices. That’s why I did this particular program – I would be eating real foods on a regular basis throughout all three days. The bonus was that it would be foods I’m familiar with and are generally low carb, which could only mean good things for my blood sugar.

My routine for all three days would follow this format: Wake up, drink a glass of water, blend a shake together with one serving size of fruit. I’d have a cup of herbal tea one hour after breakfast, and one hour after that, I’d have a fiber-filled drink. Lunch would consist of another shake, one serving of vegetables, one serving of fruit, and one spoonful of hummus. I’d have an afternoon snack of baby carrots and one spoonful of almond butter with another cup of herbal tea an hour after consuming the snack. Dinner would be one last shake, one cup of vegetable broth, and a spinach salad with olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on top. I could have a final cup of herbal tea any time in the evening.

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I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did throughout the program, but those three days taught me a lot about how the things I put into my body impact not just my blood sugar, but my state of mind. Here’s what happened during my cleanse:

  • Day 1 – This day was by far the easiest to complete. Despite dialing back the amounts and types of foods I was consuming, I didn’t feel hungry at all – everything sated me. I was really enjoying watching my Dexcom CGM graph because it barely budged. I stayed right around 90-110 mg/dL for most of the day, probably because I was eating minimal carbs. Fewer carbs means less room for error, and this concept was definitely cemented into my mind by the end of the cleanse. I went to bed with a slight headache at the end of day 1, but a smile on my face. This would be a breeze!
  • Day 2 – My CGM sensor went kaput by mid-morning, and I was PISSED about it. I wanted the ability to continue tracking my blood sugars on this cleanse, and suddenly it was no longer available to me (because oh-so-conveniently, it was my last sensor in stock). Fuming over my CGM situation, I started feeling slight pangs of hunger shortly after having my fiber drink. I ate lunch as soon as I could after that, and spent much of the rest of the afternoon fighting a headache and dreading going home to see – not eat – my mom’s delicious home cooking. On the brighter side of things, my digestion seemed to be improving already and I felt a bit less bloated.
  • Day 3 – I went from “Oh, this cleanse will be a breeze!” to “OMG THESE ARE THE LONGEST THREE DAYS OF MY LIFE GIMME REAL FOOD AGAIN BEFORE I HAVE A MELTDOWN” in less than 48 hours. That’s gotta be a new record. I distracted myself as much as I could from my misery by burying myself in my work, which helped to a degree. But I couldn’t fight the lightheaded sensation that seemed to grip my entire body. I was confused by that – I though only eating real, plant-based foods would eliminate crummy feelings. Maybe I was experiencing a sort of withdrawal as my body got used to this new diet? I can’t confirm that, but I suspect that after a few more days, I likely would’ve felt much better…or hungrier. I’ll leave it to speculation because there is no way I’m doing this again any time soon. But MAN, am I proud of myself for completing the cleanse without cheating, not even once.

So if I felt THAT miserable toward the end of the cleanse, then why am I glad that I did it? Mainly, I’m astonished at how much easier it was to maintain my diabetes and “desirable” blood sugar levels in that three-day time period. Even without my CGM, I was still getting great results. It reinforced something that I already knew: that the body will react accordingly to the quantity and quality of foods that are used to nourish it. It made me realize that perhaps I should toy with cutting down my daily carb intake and upping my veggie/fruit/protein consumption to find out whether that positively impacts my blood sugar in the way that I think it will. This doesn’t mean I’m starting a low-carb or keto diet; rather, I’m simply going to follow a more thoughtful one.

To sum it up, this three-day cleanse/torture act/lesson (whatever you want to call it) helped make my understanding and appreciation of food much stronger, which makes it worth it in my book.