Ever since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 8 years old in 1992 I began to learn and understand that my activity, food choices, and mental health all had an impact on my diabetes, or what we check multiple times a day, my blood sugar. Can it get frustrating? Yes; I’m preaching to the choir. But it’s interesting. This situation (as in no one day is the same) allows me to understand my body in a way that others aren’t able to do (is this the silver lining??). I can truly assess how certain foods make me feel (energy, mood, mental clarity, blood sugar response, etc) and affect my insulin sensitivity.

Overall, I feel like a scientist when learning how to manage my diabetes and through the last 21 years I have most importantly learned, “There is no such thing as failure. It’s simply feedback. Assess, roll with the punches and carry-on.”

Sure it is easy to get down on myself when I slip up on diet, dismiss exercise and have a sub-optimal blood sugar reading to show for it, but what is that going to do for me? Nothing, and certainly nothing good. The right thing to do is to understand why a blood sugar is high or low (which sometimes can’t be pin-pointed) and think of a way how in the future, I can prevent the situation.

Having type 1 diabetes for 21 years and counseling others with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes I have learned:

  • what macronutrient ratio (number of carbohydrates, verse fat verse protein) work best to have at each meal. For example, I do far better on a low carb diet where the margin of error is less when matching my insulin to my meal/carbohydrate content. Thanks to Dr. Bernstein’s book, Diabetes Solution, I truly grew to appreciate this concept. 
  • Firstly realizing this with myself, I do not thrive on gluten containing grains. Indeed, when I would eat whole grain bread my blood sugars were tougher to control (I did not fully realize this until 2009 when I did a 4 week gluten free diet; and I have been tested twice for celiac with negative results). Furthermore, looking at the data I am not the only person with diabetes finding this relationship. Research suggests that 10% of those with type 1 diabetes has celiac disease and this does not even encompass those with gluten sensitivity. Adding to this foreseen correlation a recent study just came out last year showing that a gluten free diet put a newly diagnosed 5 year old boy’s type 1 diabetes into remission. 
  • Supplements can have a place for people with diabetes. Especially real food supplements (I do not advocate synthetic supplements). I think the topline most important supplements are those that help strengthen our gut integrity and immunity. This can include fermented cod liver oil, vitamin D and a probiotic. Additional supplements can be of use, including chromium picolinate, gymnema sylvestre and magnesium.  
  • Sleep is crucial. If you have diabetes have you ever noticed an increase in insulin resistance with little sleep? When my sleep is rough, I can easily see an increase of 30 mg/dl+ in my readings. This starts in the morning and throughout the day I will notice an increase in cravings as well. talk about a lose-lose situation. 
  • Stress can act like a spoonful of sugar sometimes too. Can you relate with what I am saying? Even good stress can make my blood sugar go up. For example, I do a lot of public speaking and with this event, I am excited to present but have some nervous nerves and if I don’t give a small bolus I end-up with hyperglycemia. Managing stress is just as important in making smart choices of what to put on our plates. 
  • Exercise is so important (as if you already didn’t know). But this month, along with numerous other studies, a study published in Diabetes Care found that people with type 2 diabetes had better blood glucose control and an improvement in body composition. Besides this current study exercise (including walking, swimming, playing, tennis, you name it) can help your release stress, sleep better, have a more positive outlook on life and more. 
The underlying message here is that diabetes does bear a challenge, but it also gives us insight on what works for us. My diabetes is a daily reminder to not only count my blessings, but to push myself to be the healthiest I can be. We have to take the good with the bad and when our diabetes act up, we need to remind ourselves to take our emotions out of the equation and absorb the information as feedback. It’s as if we are our own scientist working on a daily experiment of optimal health.
Cheers to you and good health,
Kelly (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)