The Impact of Diabetes on My Relationship with Food

There’s no cutesy lead-in to this post…I’m going with a very straightforward statement here:

Diabetes has caused me to have a very weird and strained relationship with food.

How? Oh, let me count the ways…

Diabetes has positively impacted my relationship with food because it has helped me understand the importance of nutrition. I’ve had to learn how carbohydrates, proteins, and fats affect my levels, as well as the role that the glycemic index of foods play into the picture. I’m also grateful that diabetes has caused me to realize there are limits – I can’t mindlessly eat huge quantities of food (though on occasion I do, more on that in a minute). I must measure everything out, and I believe that this forced sense of portion control has helped me maintain a (mostly) healthy weight.

But diabetes has also, absolutely, negatively impacted my relationship with food.

Here’s pretend cartoon me, being absolutely adorable as she calmly whips up a feast in the kitchen (LOL there’s so much wrong about that sentence)!!!

For starters, I can get so fed-up with having to account for every single morsel I consume in a given day – I resent having to take insulin for foods I’d otherwise find enjoyable. Plus, there’s a lot of guilt associated with my regular food consumption. “Should you eat that?” is question I hear not just from others, but from myself as I have to think about whether certain foods are worth not just the calories, but also the amount of insulin that I have to dose for it. And don’t even get me started on how literally unsavory it is to have to eat food when I’m already full but dealing with a low blood sugar…

In a word, my relationship with food is complicated…and I don’t hesitate to blame my diabetes for that. Don’t get me wrong: At the end of the day, I loooooooove food. Really, there’s very few things that I don’t (or won’t) eat or at least try. I enjoy consuming a large variety of foods and I like to eat veggies almost as much as I like eating chocolate (that may be a bit of a stretch, but I think you get my point).

It’s just unfortunate that my diabetes forces me to overthink every food choice that I make. So I’m that much more hopeful for the day which I can eat food without having to think twice about it, without having to feel guilt, shame, doubt, anger, sadness…nothing but pure enjoyment.

An Enjoyable Eye Exam

I think I just had the best doctor’s appointment of my life (so far).

And the most incredible part about that statement? This was my very first appointment with this particular doctor and she absolutely nailed it. I’m almost bummed that I only have to see her annually…

Let me back up a bit. This doctor is my new ophthalmologist (eye care specialist). I switched to her because I’d seen my previous one for just about my entire life, and while he was unquestionably an excellent and knowledgeable doctor, we had some…personality clashes that made my yearly visits with him not so great. It wasn’t like we had a breaking point or anything during my last appointment with him, I just decided that now was the time to make the switch to someone else.

So I did. In August, I contacted the new doctor’s office and set up an appointment. I also wrote to my old doctor and requested the last few years’ worth of notes to be faxed to the new doctor. I’d never written a formal letter like that before, but I kept it short, sweet, and professional by informing him that I’d be seeing a new doctor, providing him with her location and fax number, and thanking him for taking great care of me over the years.

An Enjoyable eye exam
I totally snagged this picture of the exam equipment during the few minutes I was in the room alone. 

Making the switch was as simple as those steps – I had nothing else to do but show up for my appointment on September 1.

When I arrived to the office, I took note of all the social distancing protocol in place. There were only a dozen or so chairs spread out throughout the waiting room. There were dividers in place and stickers on the floor to mark six or more feet apart from the next person in line. The receptionist took my temperature with a contact-less thermometer and of course, nobody was allowed into the area without a mask.

Pleased with the careful measurements the office had taken, I waited for a few minutes before being called into an exam room. A nurse gave me a brief exam and had me read an eye chart using my current glasses prescription, then she dilated my eyes before leaving to go get the doctor.

Within a couple minutes, the doctor entered…and it was nonstop chatter from the moment she came in to the moment I left the practice. Her bubbly energy was infectious and it was obvious I was speaking to someone who truly loves her job. She let me know straightaway that her son is also a T1D right around my age, so she’s more than familiar with every facet of caring for it (with, of course, a special focus on eye health).

We talked a little about everything from insulin pumps, careers, CGMs, my broken bone (she was rocking a brace on her foot, so we shared a laugh over our injuries), and our studies in college. And yes, eventually we did get to the eye exam component, which took barely 60 seconds. She exclaimed with enthusiasm over my “gorgeous” eye health and told me that she is a T1D cheerleader, meaning she recognizes how hard we work to take the best possible care of ourselves.

Absolutely amazing, right?!

The appointment ended with me mentioning my appearance in Dexcom G6 advertisements, and she requested that I send her a clip via email. I did so shortly after I got home, and received the loveliest response back:

“You are spectacular. See you next year!”

I swear, I’ve never left a doctor’s appointment feeling so wonderful about myself. It’s a credit to all physicians like this one, who are passionate about what they do, happy to really engage with patients, and demonstrate in-depth knowledge of medicine and the human body.

It’s Not Always Diabetes’ Fault

“OMG, it sounds like you have super brittle bones. What’s up with that? Is it because of your diabetes?”

I sighed into the phone, grateful that the telehealth professional couldn’t see my annoyed facial expression.

“Oh no, it’s nothing like that. I’m just clumsy!” I tried to keep my tone light and threw in a little laugh for good measure. She went on to say something about how I might want to consider taking calcium and/or vitamin D supplements, but while she went off on her tangent, my mind wandered.

What does bone health have to do with diabetes? And why does it seem like everyone assumes that all of my health issues are directly related to my diabetes?

it's not always diabetes' fault
When it comes to blaming diabetes for other conditions, some people have their heads in the clouds…

Truthfully, it’s a safe assumption – the vast majority of the time, anyways – that my diabetes does have some sort of influence over the rest of my health. Plenty of studies indicate that comorbidity is common with type 1 diabetes (in other words, other conditions are diagnosed alongside the primary condition, in this case, diabetes).

But is my diabetes the cause for my seasonal asthma? Is it the reason I’m allergic to cats and dogs? Did my diabetes create the digestive issues I’ve faced since childhood? I don’t know, maybe. There could be a tenuous connection there.

On the flip-side, is my diabetes responsible for my (almost always) excellent blood pressure? Does it have anything to do with my slight arrhythmia? It’s not as clear-cut in those areas; in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a real cause-and-effect relationship when it comes to those things.

So do I blame my diabetes for “brittle bones”? Heck no. I blame my breaks in the last couple of years purely on myself and my tendency to rush around in an uncoordinated manner. And on top of that, based on how quickly I healed from my last break, I expect my recovery to go as well this time around, and I doubt that’d be the case if I genuinely had brittle bones.

This time around, it’s not my diabetes’ fault, that much is clear. And it’s also pretty obvious that I need to exercise a little more patience with health professionals who 1) don’t know me well and 2) are just trying to help me improve my overall health.

It’s a gentle reminder to be a touch more graceful in how I move…and how I respond to innocent queries about my diabetes and other health conditions.

Doctors Who Just “Get It”

Doctors who just “get” diabetes are the best.

And I’m not exclusively talking about endocrinologists here, because really, they’re the ones who specialize in diabetes…so, you know, they are supposed to just get it.

I’m talking about the other medical professionals that people with diabetes might see in addition to their endocrinologist.

Take me, for example…I see a primary care physician, a dentist, an allergist, an OB/GYN, and an ophthalmologist.

And only a couple of those specialists really understand what it means to have a T1D patient in their care.

Doctors Who Just _Get It_
It’s really nice when my doctors don’t question my authority on my own diabetes.

For example, I saw my allergist back in February (before all this COVID stuff) to see if she could switch me to a nasal spray that cost less than the $45 per month I was paying (because let’s be real, if I can save money on a prescription, I’m going to do it). The appointment was supposed to be quick and easy, but it turned into a two-hour affair (!) because she was concerned about my asthma.

I highlighted my issues with asthma in a post from January. The big takeaway from my most recent spells of wheeziness is that the inhaled steroid I was taking to deal with it at the time was making my blood sugar skyrocket, and I felt like I had to choose between breathing comfortably and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels…not an ideal this-or-that scenario by any standards.

So when my allergist detected some “squeakiness” (her words, not mine, and it makes me laugh because that’s a cute way to refer to the rasping gasping of asthma) in my lungs when she was listening to my breathing with a stethoscope, she asked me to catch her up on my history with asthma. When I did, she immediately understood my reluctance about taking the inhaled steroid, and prescribed me a new medication that will reduce my asthma symptoms as well as some of my allergy symptoms.

I’m never going to be thrilled, per se, about adding yet another medication into the mix: It’s just one more thing that I have to remember to do each day at a certain time. But what did excite me about this prescription is that I’ve noticed a real difference since I’ve started taking it. And more importantly, I felt heard by my allergist. She didn’t write off my concerns about the inhaled steroid, she took extra time during the appointment to run tests, and we had a back-and-forth dialogue in order to get to the bottom of things.

It was a stark contrast to the appointment I’d had with a nurse practitioner from my PCP’s office in which I was prescribed the inhaled steroid DESPITE having voiced my concerns, and the appointment was over within minutes.

It’s a bummer that not all medical professionals “get” diabetes, but it’s also a reminder that as patients, we can make a difference by continuing to advocate for ourselves until they do understand.

When Diabetes Isn’t Responsible for an ER Trip

If something unexpected happens to me in terms of my health, I can almost always safely blame diabetes for causing whatever it may be. But when I absolutely, definitely cannot blame my diabetes, I can’t help but feel angry at my body for rebelling at me in ways that it shouldn’t. Particularly when those ways end up with me making a trip to the emergency room.

Let me set the scene: It was a Tuesday evening, around 7:45 P.M. My partner and I were watching an episode of Stranger Things (we’re not caught up yet so please, don’t spoil it for me). Suddenly, I felt an itch on my upper left arm. Like anyone would, I scratched it. But then it got more intense. Like, really, seriously itchy. I rolled up my sleeve so I would be able to scratch with greater ease, and was surprised to feel some bumps emerging on the itchy patch of skin.

I peeled off my sweater and stepped into better lighting in the bathroom so I could examine the area better. There was a large patch of red, inflamed skin on my arm that was covered with bumps that looked like hives. I was dumbfounded. Unsure of what triggered the hives, but alarmed by how swollen and irritated my arm looked, I shot a couple text messages to my EMT father and nurse best friend, who both advised me to get my arm looked at stat.

HUGGING THE CACTUS - A T1D BLOG
Stranger things have happened in my life with diabetes (just had to sneak a pun in there)

And that’s how I found myself in a crowded emergency room, tearful and furious at my body, on a random weeknight. Part of me was relieved that my diabetes didn’t seem to have anything to do with this (but see my recent post on Metformin and you’ll understand that I have some theories about that being the cause). But the other part of me was so pissed off that my body just couldn’t be normal for once. I felt that my body was lashing out at me like an unruly child, declaring its anger towards me in the form of an incredibly itchy, ugly rash. I couldn’t help but stew over the whole situation the entire time I waited to see a doctor.

Long story short, a dose of Benadryl cleared up the hives within an hour. The doctor was unable to determine a cause, since I couldn’t think of anything new introduced to my diet or any new scents/lotions/detergents used in my household. And insect bites got ruled out because the doctor was certain that a bite would be more localized and not spread in a giant patch on my arm. I’m still perplexed at how it happened, but I guess I just have to make peace with the fact that it did and be grateful for 1) making a total recovery from it and 2) not experiencing any issues with my blood sugars as a result of it.

When diabetes isn’t responsible for an ER trip, it means that it’s okay to still be upset about it, but also glad for not having to explain the intricacies of diabetes to every doctor and nurse that walks into the room…because I can’t think of a single PWD that would ever feel happy about taking on that happy task.