Suitable for Diabetics – By Olly Double


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The other day, we had some groceries delivered by Ocado and they’d included a little free gift in amongst the stuff we’d ordered. They do that every now and then. In among the more prosaic stuff you’ve bought – the long grain rice and the washing-up liquid – they’ll tuck a little treat, and it’ll always be something you’ve not ordered before. It’s a smart bit of advertising, because if you like it you might start buying it in future, and even if you don’t you think, ‘Ah, Ocado must really love us, because they’ve given us an extra grocery item.’

On this occasion, we didn’t think that though. What they’d given us was a little pot of a new brand of ice cream. Nothing wrong with that of course, but somewhere on the pot was printed those words that make your heart sink: ‘Suitable for diabetics’.

My first thought was, ‘Wow, how do they know that our sons Joe and Tom have type 1 diabetes?’ Have they had computers analysing our orders and worked it out using complicated algorithms? Have they stuck miniature cameras in amongst the onions and the boxes of Shreddies that they deliver and witnessed the boys using their insulin pumps to bolus for their meals? Is Ocado turning into the kind of surveillance-based police state envisioned by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Or is it just a coincidence?

So what was it that made this sweet frozen treat so suitable for the pancreatically-challenged? Check the list of ingredients, and you’ll see that they’ve thoughtfully replaced the sugar with a well-known sweetener that can have a laxative effect when taken in large amounts. Why is that suitable for diabetics? Do they enjoy having to run to the lav clutching their stomachs every five minutes?

One of the first things we were told when Tom was diagnosed back in 2000 was not to bother buying things that claim to be suitable for diabetics. They tend to compensate for the lack of sugar by upping the fat content, or simply replacing it with the kind of sweeteners that can make you spend more quality time with your toilet than is strictly necessary. Anyway, the point is not that people with diabetes can’t eat certain kinds of food, but rather that they have to know how much insulin to have to cope with them.

With that in mind, I suggest we start a protest movement drawing attention to this issue. Given that there’s no food that diabetic people can’t eat simply as a result of their diabetes, let’s start printing up ‘Suitable for diabetics’ stickers and go around the supermarkets putting them on everything – ice cream, chocolate, breakfast cereals, bread, jam, ketchup, lettuces, spaghetti, tins of tuna, butter, frozen peas, radishes, aubergines, mince, eggs, cheese, instant coffee, whatever. In fact, why stop at foodstuffs? After all, there’s nothing unsuitable for diabetics about, say, deodorant or shoe polish. So let’s get busy slapping ‘Suitable for diabetics’ stickers on as many non-food items as we can think of – light bulbs, batteries, glue, fairy lights, shower gel, bicycles, cameras, televisions, CDs, duvets, fondue sets, whatever.

And why stop at things you can buy? Wouldn’t it be a brilliant, life-affirming message to start putting ‘Suitable for diabetics’ stickers all over the place, just to make the point that people affected by diabetes can live as full and rich a life as anybody else? After all, something else we were told when Tom was first diagnosed was, ‘This shouldn’t stop him doing what he wants to do with his life.’ So let’s get those stickers out there. We can put them on aeroplanes, museums, libraries, running tracks, theatres, sports stadiums, chemical plants, universities, theme parks, hang gliding equipment, whatever. Ideally, we wouldn’t even stop at physical objects. Imagine how cool it would be if we could put ‘Suitable for diabetics’ stickers on abstract concepts like love, curiosity or adventurousness.

Having said that, although I believe passionately and militantly that Joe’s and Tom’s diabetes shouldn’t stop them doing whatever they want, I also recognise that the full implications of that can be a bit scary. Of course, Jacqui and I do encourage them to be as independent as they can be, sometimes they do something that makes us wonder whether they’ve taken it a little too far.

The other evening for example, Joe had gone to the university where I work, which is about seven miles away from where we live. He’d gone there with his friend Ed, because there was supposed to be a public lecture on something to do with physics which he thought sounded interesting. In the event, the lecture was cancelled but rather than do the simple thing and catch the bus home, he and Ed decided they would walk it. Not only did they walk the seven miles from Canterbury to Whitstable, but they decided to go along the Crab and Winkle way, an unlit path right through the countryside. As if that wasn’t independent enough, they didn’t tell anybody what they were doing. Joe didn’t bother calling us before setting off on his epic trek through the farms and woodlands of Kent, so the first we found out about it was when he arrived home two hours later.

When he told me what I’d done I said, ‘Oh my God! What if all that extra exercise had brought on a hypo while you were yomping through the dark along muddy tracks?’

‘Calm down dad, I checked I had plenty of hypo treatments before we set off,’ he replied. ‘I had enough with me to cope with five or six hypos. Plus I had my phone with me in case we got into trouble.’

‘OK, well that’s – very sensible, I suppose.’ I paused while I let it all sink in. ‘Was it fun?’

‘Yes, it was really fun. And a bit scary.’

Scary or not, he was clearly very elated and told everybody about it at school the next day. He had clearly challenged himself, and he’d certainly challenged Jacqui and me as parents. It was probably a good thing that he didn’t phone us before they started walking, because we might have tried to talk him out of it and that would have done nothing to encourage his independence.

What he and Ed had done is exactly the kind of crazy, impulsive thing that people in their mid to late teens should be doing. And he had proved to us that a seven-mile walk through the wild Kentish countryside on a winter’s night is – without doubt – suitable for diabetics.

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Hi Teresa,

Thank you for commenting, we’ve spoken to our advocacy team who would like you to get in contact so that they can to help you and your son. If you could get in contact by emailing advocacy@diabetes.org.uk or by calling 0345 123 2399 and asking to be put through to Advocacy.

Thankyou! My little boy has type 1 diabetes, he is six. Well meaning people give me foods that are ‘suitable’ for him, I try to explain, but I often feel people aren’t really listening. His school have stopped him going on little trips and he is not allowed to go swimming as there is not a member of staff to go with him. I have offered to go along, but they have not taken me up on that. I feel very strongly that he should be able to do whatever he wants to do and be treated like any other little boy. I loved reading your words, so nice to feel understood!

‘Yes, it was really fun. And a bit scary.’

I don’t suppose it would have been half so much fun if it hadn’t been a bit scary for them.

On the overall subject of ‘Suitable for Diabetics’, when I was first diagnosed with Type 2, a matter of a couple of years ago, I can remember being told to avoid foods marked as being suitable for diabetics as: a) they were chock-full of these laxative sweeteners, b) they were usually more expensive. So not only did you develop a close relationship with your toilet, you paid more for the privilege as well!! So good luck with the campaign, and I’m glad your son had fun on the ‘Crab and Winkle’! Incidentally, is that the old Canterbury and Whitstable Railway?

I liked your comment

“One of the first things we were told when Tom was diagnosed back in 2000 was not to bother buying things that claim to be suitable for diabetics.”

When I was telling people I had been diagnosed with Type 2 many asked if I had to eat special foods instead. I personally feel that there needs to be better education with regards to food. There is no middle ground for some where nice things can be enjoyed in moderation.

As for exercise well I always go prepared with gels and such when I go on a long bike ride.

Always amazes me when as a Type 2 on metformin, people tell me what I should or shouldn’t eat being diabetic. I’m on a weightloss forum where some people are on the very low carb diet and they insist its the best thing for diabetics! I keep telling them, that whilst I have lowered my carb intake a little, there is actually no necessity to cut them out altogether. Why spend your life cutting out the nice things to eat and making your life a misery?

My late mum was T2 insulin dependent and always said “Eat what you like but have it in moderation” She lived to be 89 years ol and in full control of her diabetes until she became ill with pneumonia. Being diabetic didn’t stop her living her life.

Your sons are right to live their lives to the full, so many young T1 diabetics seem to have problems coping with their condition and just give up rather and let the diabetes control them, instead of them controlling the diabetes themselves. You have brought up two very sensible lads who could well become great ambassadors for the young diabetics.

I think your idea of the stickers is a great one LOL! Or we could all go round our supermarkets with megaphones calling it out!

I agree with everything you have said. As a type 1 diabetic myself using a pump I hate hearing ‘oh surely you can’t eat that, your diabetic’. It really does annoy me and I think suitable for diabetics stickers would be a good call! Go for it!! I am 27 been using insulin for 10 years and I hate being diabetic , please don’t be too hard on your sons if they rebel against it occasionally its damn hard coping with it! =]