A little while back I did a day in the life vlog of me pootling about living my life and having a little natter about type 1 diabetes. You lovely people seemed to enjoy it, so thanks for that. In it I did a fair amount of eating. Obviously. I briefly touched on the sorts of things I eat and the relationship I personally have with food. So I thought it might be useful and/or interesting for me (hopefully not just me…) to chat a little about the principles of the kinds of foods I eat, and how my perspective on food these days is a rather healthy, balanced one.
That perspective may sound pretty straightforward, but there was a point in my life where I felt completely controlled and entirely trapped by my relationship with food. If you’ve never had issues with food that probably sounds utterly ridiculous, but honestly and rather tragically, it was all consuming and really stopped me from living my life for a while. It wasn’t really about food (it never is), it was about me coming from a general place of feeling quite inadequate, which was all linked to my weight, which suffered because I couldn’t control my eating, which was linked to self-loathing… it’s your textbook downward spiral. And it makes me feel really, really sad these days. I’m putting this out there because I know a not insignificant amount of people with type 1 really struggle with food, due to the constant and inevitable link between the condition and the stuff we put in our mouths. There’s also the pressure we place on ourselves to get the numbers right, which doesn’t help when it comes to the whole being kind to yourself part.
Without a working pancreas you can never just eat for pleasure. I mean, I eat for ALL the pleasure, but first comes the testing and the counting and the dosing. The number of times I’ve sat down at the table dribbling with anticipation for the long-awaited Sunday roast, only to get up a few minutes later having realised I need my injection, to then see that the cartridge is empty, run to the fridge to get a new one, run upstairs to grab a new needle… by which time everyone’s having a jolly old time tucking in and enjoying general family larks. You get the idea. It can be reaaalllllyyyy damn irritating.
Then there’s the “should you be eating that?” question from an ‘innocent’ bystander as this diabetic chows down on a slice of cake. Slow. Clap. Yes I damn well should, thank you. As we well know and repeatedly explain, theoretically a type 1 diabetic can eat whatever they like. But like anyone else, if you eat a shitload of shit at every meal, you’re going to end up feeling like shit. For years and years I never made the connection between the food I was putting into my body and how my mind felt – how much spring was in my step, how much I felt like going out there and living my life. For every fad diet I tried, for every calorie I meticulously counted, for every food group I completely restricted, not ONCE did I pay attention to the ingredients on the packet- whether the food was real or fake, natural or processed, contained four ingredients or 40. And that’s why, I firmly believe, I lost my way a little bit. That, and the whole binging/starving cycle. Rough.
So where am I now? Well, I BLOODY LOVE FOOD. I get SO much unbelievable pleasure from it. I read about ingredients and nutrients and optimising my health in my free time. I love cooking, eating, eating out and food programmes. I’m interested in the state of the nation and how we’ve been sold through clever advertising a diet that’s made us sick, and how we eat for convenience and speed. I eat an abundance of flavours, textures and a shitload of veg because it tastes really, really good. That is not code for a piece of limp lettuce of a lunchtime, by the way. And I eat a LOT. Food enjoyment is a huge part of my relationship, and my friendships. And yet, there was a time when all food made me feel was despair.
So, Miss High and Mighty I’ve Seen the Light and Isn’t Life Just a Breeze Now, what changed? Don’t get me wrong, old habits die hard. Left to my own devices those naughty thoughts can creep in. But I’m ok to face how I feel about something now, rather than hide away and bury it in the guilt of stuffing my face. I used to completely fill my face without thinking, without even tasting the food. It was literally mind-numbing – to block out other feelings that I apparently couldn’t handle. Now I take time and care and attention over the foods I make or choose to eat, and I’m going to damn well savour them too. It’s also about filling your life with other things that you love and care about – healthy hobbies and passions and positive friendships, so that you have less time to spend on negative (incorrect) thoughts about what you’re not worth.
One of the main traps as far as I can see, is the cultivation of a guilt and reward mentality when it comes to food. If certain foods are good in your eyes, that makes others bad. If you’re on a wagon, you’re inevitably going to fall off it, and that is going to make you feel like shit because apparently you’ve failed. Let that wagon roll off into the sunset. There is no wagon. Instead, stop for a minute and think about which foods are going to make you feel amazing and enable you to go out and enjoy life, versus those that will hold you back, slow you down, make your brain play tricks on you or leave you asleep under the desk. From there it becomes easier to make choices that are going to benefit you. I’ve of course always got time for a Sunday roast or a bar of chocolate, but that’s because I know that it doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong, and that’s not the sort of food I want every meal of every day. You’re more likely to find me faceplanting a bowl of homemade guacamole. I eat well yes, but I’m entirely greedy.
I have only one guideline now. I don’t count, I don’t measure, I don’t weigh. I simply try, as much as possible, to only eat naturally occurring foods. That’s not to say I don’t eat chocolate or sweets sometimes because I do, but for the most part, for my main meals at least, I try and make sure that nothing dodgy has been added to my food. When faced with choices, say in a shop for lunch, I think about how well eating one is going to make me feel over the other. How it’s going to taste in my mouth – bland and boring or fresh and real and exciting. It usually makes the decision for me. Then once I’ve made that choice, unless it tastes shit (in which case I’ll be entirely outraged by the injustice. Food is life, people), I don’t think about that decision for another second more. I’ve made an informed decision and therefore it’s the right one, no matter what the actual food is. And if, on occasion, that informed decision is ‘I really fancy an amazing big sandwich today’, so be it.
So what do I generally eat? Ohhhh, so so much.
First up: serious amounts of veg in really exciting ways. Truckloads. Tonnes. Lettuce, cucumber and tasteless tomatoes do not a salad make, by the way. Of course you’re going to resent life if that’s what you restrict yourself to because you’re making an effort to be healthier. My salads are actual mountains, full of every possible flavour and colour and texture going. Roasted veggies play a big part. And FATS. I eat ALL the fats. Nutrient dense fats mind – fish and avocadoes and nuts and seeds and so much olive oil. These kinds of fats make me feel like my body is turning and ticking and roaring in the way it should. And cheese. Ohhhhhh gooey, creamy, delicious cheese. Not every day. But a fair amount.
Then there are kickass proteins – I eat a whole lot of fish, and meat on occasion. I sometimes crave red meat but in the same way I crave dense greens – for the iron. Eggs are my religion – I eat them pretty much every day. They are the Ryan Gosling of food in my eyes. And no my cholesterol’s not high – foods that contains cholesterol (like eggs) do not raise your cholesterol. It’s a different thing.
Then we have the carbs. My fickle friend. Carbs are how we got here in the first place. The whole reason I started this blog was because I put my face in a load of books to try and get a grip on my blood sugars. And you know what? Cutting carbs for diabetics really, really works. When I did that, my blood sugars were more stable than ever before. But, you see, you’ve also got to live. Sushi = LIVING. So now, after many years of dedicated practice, I know which carbs I can handle without the major issue of blood sugar mayhem completly robbing me of my day, and which I can’t. For the most part, I will stick to things like oats, sweet potato, squash and amazing grains like quinoa (hello middle class life). These guys serve me well, and the others are left for the occasional brunch (sourdough bread I HEART YOU) and that oh-so-indulgent and entirely worth it roast dinner of dreams. But on the flip there’s nothing worse than eating shit carbs because they’re the only thing available. Conference sandwiches – I really don’t like you. As with all of this stuff, it’s just about giving it a go and seeing what happens. But be nice to yourself in the meantime, yeh? I *think* I average around 100g carbs a day, but I know the numbers I enter on the meter are often a guestimation. A guestimation built on nearly 20 years’ experience, mind. That seems to work pour moi.