Everyone is encouraged to eat a healthy diet and doctors and the NHS (the National Health Service in Britain) will tell everyone that a balanced diet is important. But when someone has a disease a special diet is often recommended . Diabetics are often given nutritional advice from either doctors or dieticians on the best way to eat healthily and manage their condition, but there are some diets that have been prescribed in the past that now just seem crazy to give a diabetics…
In the early 1990s when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (something I now know was a mis-diagnosis of steroid induced and therefore type 2 diabetes) I was put on a special diet. For the first night in hospital it was important to get my blood sugars down in the normal range but after that my family and I were advised that I had to eat exactly what the doctors told us and to inject the right amount of insulin for that food. Apart from the change in my diet we also had to learn what ‘exchanges’ were (now referred to sometimes as ‘CPs’ or carbohydrate portions – about 10-12g of carbs). I remember the rubbery plastic food that came in a cardboard box. There were different foods like a lump of rice, potatoes and fruits, all worth one exchange (10g carbs). This rubber food was for me to keep for the two weeks I spent in hospital so I could look at it and learn how to judge carbs before I left.
By the end of two weeks my family and I were set, I was put on a specific dose of insulin and told to eat 240g of carbohydrates each day. These were separated into certain amounts per meal. I’d have to eat 60g carbohydrates for breakfast, lunch and dinner and 20g for each snack which occurred after breakfast lunch and dinner. Remembering the amount was easy as each ‘exchange was worth one, and my ratio was therefore 6-2-6-2-6-2 (that’s 60g for breakfast then a snack then 60 for lunch etc.).
Now this may not seem like a lot of carbohydrates to some people, but as a child I just didn’t eat this much, and especially for breakfast. The doctors didn’t ask me what my average diet was and adjusted the insulin to it, instead I had to eat what they told me and I’d be fine as long as I followed the plan.
Struggling to eat
As a child, before the diabetes, my maximum carb intake at breakfast was never over 30-40g a day, that’s a decent sized bowl of cereal and young me just couldn’t manage to eat more, but with the new regime the doctors recommended I had to eat more so I started forcing myself to eat an extra bowl every day. Lunch and dinner was easier to manage, I could load on potato carbs or bread and biscuits, but no matter how much I tried to get used to the new diet, I just couldn’t ever mange the amount of carbohydrates I was told to eat by the doctors. Regardless I still pushed myself, injecting insulin accordingly and eating (or should I say stuffing) as much as I could manage into my body.
On our first visit back to the doctor, my Mum insisted that eating 60g of carbohydrates was just too much and I was feeling sick because of it. We hoped that maybe I could eat less and inject less insulin, but that’s not what happened. The doctor set out the guidelines and said that this was the best diet for me to follow to have good control of my blood sugars. Of course I wanted to keep good blood sugar control, the thought of all the scary complications that could happen if I didn’t have good control (especially as I had a family member with type 2 who already suffered from some of these) was enough to scare me into keeping up the high carb, low fat diet.
So on I went, struggling each and every morning to eat far more food than I could stomach. I forced myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry, and kept on going no matter how bad I felt. Most mornings, especially before school, all I felt was sick. I used to go to school with nausea which would gradually go away by mid-morning snack time when I again had to stuff myself with more food. It sounds crazy now but looking back at this period I did myself incredible damage by forcing myself to eat when I didn’t want to. Of course what happens to someone when they eat when not hungry? Yes, they start to pile on the pounds. And so it was, my thin, physically fit childhood body grew into a large, fat laden one which I started to hate by the time jI was eleven (just one year after being diagnosed as diabetic). Nasty people at school made comments on my weight and my self-confidence plummeted.
The truth about weight
Many people might say and think that my weight gain had other factors and I must have been eating the wrong types of foods or eating more fat that I was told to, or perhaps that it was pre-puberty weight gain. But the fact is that I know that my entire weight gain is due to forcing myself to eat when I didn’t want to and it’s exactly what my doctors wanted me to do. Having been very overweight for a good portion of my life and only managing to become fit and lose all the weight about eight years ago, I do understand exactly what makes us put on weight and what doesn’t. While guidelines tell us to avoid fat, the fact is that if you load up on lots of carbs you can and do put on weight. I wasn’t using up as much energy as I was putting into my system and that leads anybody to put on weight, no matter who you are.
Of course the older I got and the more I grew, the larger the portions I ate became. I put on more weight as a teenager and I do blame myself for this part, I was eating crazy amounts, mostly comforting myself from being bullied. But as a ten/eleven year old child I didn’t want to eat such portions yet, I had no desire to stuff myself but I was forced to follow the ‘recommended advise’. After I put on a significant amount of weight to officially look ‘fat’, my visits to the hospital for diabetes turned sour. The doctors started to blame me for my weight gain, saying it wasn’t good for the diabetes and I’d regularly see a dietician for help on creating a healthy diet. But there was little they could do because when questioned on what I ate, everything turned out to be healthy, and so I continued to eat the carbs and pile on the pounds.
Blood sugar issues
This weirdly high carb diet wasn’t good for my blood sugars (obviously). It was making me feel sick a lot of the time. Back then the doctors didn’t teach my family how to properly lower blood sugars ourselves (I was on twice daily injections which were only adjusted every few months) so we were left to just keep injecting the same doses and adjust it if and when the doctors told us how to. This diet wasn’t good for me, that was obvious from the start, in fact there were signs of this all the way back to the start of my diabetic life, the few days after diagnosis.
By the first week in hospital I was already injecting insulin myself and eating the doctors’ recommended 240g carbs a day diet. But every lunchtime my blood sugars were always high, so much so that the doctors insisted that I go for a walk every day before lunch in order to lower them. This was a long walk around the hospital grounds and it did work in lowering my blood sugars. But at no point did the doctors ever think that maybe, just maybe if I didn’t snack before lunch then maybe I wouldn’t have to go for a walk at all. At no point in the years I was on this high carb, low fat plan (until my mid-teens) did the doctors ever think that carbohydrates might not be the best thing for this diabetic. But things were going to change.
A new diet plan?
After a few more years of eating this weird diet, the doctors finally changed their minds and on the next visit to the hospital I was told about a brand new diet, one which is far better than the old one I was on, it was going to fix everything…or was it?
To be continued…(next week)
Please do visit Diabetes.co.uk, it’s a great place to find out lots of information on diabetes as well as a place to get in touch with others with the illness. I’ve found it a great source of advice myself.
Have you ever been put on a strange diet plan by doctors, whether diabetic or not, or have heard of strange diets that are supposed to be healthy? Do you find it hard to follow diet plans or do you try to stick to a certain eating regime? Whatever you have experienced please do share, I’d love to hear from you and whether your diet is super healthy or you are struggling and eating unhealthily (I’m a bit all over the place myself at the moment) you don’t have to worry, just get in touch and let me know what you are thinking in the comments below 🙂