Confession time – by Helen May


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I have a confession: I love food. This may of a surprise when you see someone slim. But I don’t mean I love eating lots of food. What I mean is I love eating lots of different types of food. When a new restaurant opens in town, I want to try it. When I go on holiday, I want to try the local delicacy. When I spot a new type of vegetable, I want to know how to cook it. When I watch a cookery program on television, I want to make the recipes. Let’s face it, you can eat more calories when you use them to make the food.

I guess I’m lucky I also enjoy exercise and I am not a huge fan of a big greasy fry-up. However, it’s not always easy. When I come home after a frustrating day of work, sometimes, I like the chance to create something in the kitchen. But usually, I want something quick and my cupboards are full of raw ingredients (flour, onions, eggs, spices from around the world, …) but very little last minute cookery. Jamie Oliver can cook three courses in 30 minutes because he has had the time to do the shopping first not coming in from a long day in the office.

The other challenge is managing diabetes. There are two issues: counting carbs and knowing how much I will eat.

In an ideal world, all food types will transmit their carb count directly to my insulin and it will automatically dial-up the right amount. In a less ideal world, everything will be labelled with the carb count so I can manually dial-up the insulin. However, a pineapple does not come from the supermarket with a carb count label on it. The dim sum wrappers from the Chinese supermarket has very little English on it. The menu in the local Thai restaurant does not list the number of carbs in each dish. When I try a new bread recipe, should I accurately weigh each type of seed and flour I use and add the carbs for each of the ingredients and divide by the number of slices? It takes away some of the fun of cooking. When I visit friends’ houses for dinner, it seems rude to ask them for the carb count in that delicious masterpiece they have created. When visiting a gelateria in Italy, my focus is on the tastes of the different flavours of icecream on offer not the carbs within each flavour.

I would rather guestimate the carb count of fresh and interesting food combinations than live off pre-packed, pre-prepared meals with the carbs neatly listed of the vacuum packs. I don’t want to be restricted to eating at home where I know everything I eat compared to trying out new restaurants, visiting friends and travelling around the world. My guestimates have some basis: over time, I have got used to visualising portion sizes and, occasionally, when it’s convenient, I take a peek websites such as glycemicindex.com/ to check the approximate number of carbs in something new. OK, so there is a risk I could take too much or too little insulin but, I have good awareness, my meter and dextrose with me most of the time.

Even if I knew exactly how many carbs there are in a portion of food, often I’m trying something new so I don’t know how much I am going to eat until I’ve tried it. It may be amazing. I may want to eat more than a single portion. But sometimes, I cook something that didn’t turn out how I expected or order something at a restaurant that is smaller than I thought it would be. When you look at the graphs of the bolus insulin, it takes fifteen minutes to start working. So should I take my insulin fifteen minutes before I start eating? But how can I do that when I don’t know how much I am going to eat until I’ve tasted it or seen it? I couldn’t sit for fifteen minutes with my food in front of me before I have my second bite in order to wait for the insulin to start working. I love my food too much: I couldn’t wait.

I could stick to the foods I know. I wouldn’t be the first to have the same every Monday and the same every Tuesday and the same every Wednesday and … I would take the same amount of insulin every Monday and the same amount of insulin every Tuesday and the same amount of insulin every Wednesday and… But would my diabetes control be any better than it is today? It may be but it might not because it’s not just the food and insulin that affect my control it’s exercise and stress and illness and … If I ate the same every week, I would miss out on one of the loves of my life and probably wouldn’t be any healthier and definitely less happy. So I will keep to my guestimating and be an “Afteree” rather than a “Beforee” when it comes to taking insulin with my meal.

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