Last week I introduced to you the high carbohydrate, low fat diet plan which was used to treat diabetes in the UK in the early 1990s. This was a diet I went on which caused me to put on significant weight and led to terrible control of blood sugars. Several years of being diabetic and a new diet was about to be prescribed, one which was seen as better than before…
During another visit to the hospital, which I hated, the doctor checked my weight and again commented on how I should lose it. I felt like screaming at her that it was her fault she forced me to eat all those carbs before, but I held my tongue and my Mum and I listened to all the advice they had to give. Nothing much changed with my insulin amounts, except that by now I was injecting more and more insulin and seemed to be constantly resistant to it. But the doctors did mention, as an afterthought, that they have a new diet plan that’s better than the old counting of ‘exchanges’.
‘Exchanges’ were a word for carbohydrates (with 1 exchange being worth 10-12g carbs). Counting carbs is actually a good thing, insulin is injected according to the amount of carbs you eat and seeing as carbohydrates are the one substance that diabetics can’t handle properly, it makes sense to keep counting what you eat in order to keep track of how much to inject. But counting carbs or ‘exchanges’ was now old news by the mid 1990s and the new diet was recommended for all diabetic patients (at least all the ones treated by my doctor!).
Look at the plate
The new plan was to look at a plate of food and judge whether the portion amounts looked right. Now let me get this detail clear, the dietician was very particular that this was done right, so we had to make sure that the plate looked right. We weren’t given a chart of what the plate should look like, there was nothing I could take home to keep and look at so I’d know what to do. Instead we were briefly given advice on what a good plate looked like – it had to look healthy and not be overfilled with food, and…well that was pretty much it!
Let’s be clear, the doctors and dieticians were, I suppose, trying to get me and other diabetics to live a less restricted life. To feel as if we can eat like non-diabetic people by not being stressed with all the counting that being aware of the amounts carbs or ‘exchanges’ can cause. It’s true it can be very stressful to try and work out how many carbs there are on a plate, especially if you’re eating out, but it’s something diabetics just have to do.
Looking at a plate to see if it looked healthy seemed like the wackiest and weirdest advice I’d ever had, but it was the diet they were all recommending so of course my family and I tried it. It was freeing to be able to eat what I felt like without counting, and of course I could cut down on carbs now if I wanted to as long as the plate looked right. But after just days of trying this new advice I was confused and my blood sugars went more out of control than ever before. I kept injecting the same doses of insulin, the doctors kept increasing my twice-daily doses when I attended the clinic but this was only every few months. I had very high blood sugars and then drastic lows leading to hypos. My blood sugars started swinging up and down and I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes I had lunch and was fine and other times I was high or low. My blood sugars became out of control and I resigned myself to having ‘brittle’ diabetes, I didn’t think I’d ever get it under control.
Not caring about the plate
A few more months and no more advice from the doctors, and despite trying desperately hard to control my blood sugars, I eventually gave up. By now I was a teenager and I started eating foods that were unhealthy, and I didn’t care. I ate sweets, biscuits, ice cream, and then later binged on chips (French fries). I stopped looking at my plate and trying to eat healthily, instead I started overeating on a massive scale. I was tired, exhausted and sad everyday from the toll the diabetes took on my body and the added bullying and pressures I got at school. I started eating as a way of comforting myself, and I didn’t really care. At no point did I stop injecting insulin though, I just didn’t know what to do and my family and I regularly guessed how much extra insulin I should inject when I was super high.
The diabetic doctors continued to blame me for my weight gain, by now the extra weight was my fault, and they told me to lose it. I tried, I tried exercising at home, but being bullied made it hard. I didn’t want to eat less, food was my only comfort in life, and I constantly felt lethargic which I now know was from the diabetes. Diabetes, especially high blood sugars, can actually lead to fatigue and this should be taken seriously (especially if someone is in diabetic ketoacidosis -a further complication- at the time). But I got no help from doctors and my school teachers treated the diabetes like it didn’t exist (more on this in a future post), so I didn’t care, instead deciding to just get through the days of my teenage years rather than living life and enjoying them.
Back to the beginning
After years of eating a messed up diet and suffering as a result, I finished school and a while after that I finally saw a different doctor. By now the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) program had arrived in the UK and I was put on this new strict regime which freed me to eat any amount of carbohydrates that I wanted, as long as I injected accordingly. I was moved onto multiple-daily injections instead of the twice-daily ones I was doing and this changed my life. It didn’t cure all my problems (a post for another time) but it fixed things for the better. I finally had a way of eating however much, or little, I wanted while counting and injecting the right amount of insulin for that diet. My weight slowly improved and a few yeas later I shed all the excess pounds and am now at a healthy weight.
The new diet went back to counting carbs just like the original diet of ‘exchanges’ did. The difference though was that I could finally eat what I wanted and I wasn’t forcing my body to eat more. The new diet isn’t the final solution to my problems, but it’s the solution for many type 1 diabetics and it’s a diet/plan that makes sense.
How much damage can a diet do?
The two diet plans I mentioned before DAFNE are real plans that the diabetic doctors and dieticians put me through. Years later, looking back at them I can see how damaging both diets are. On the first plan where I had to eat 240g carbohydrates a day with a 6-2-6-2-6-2 ratio, I was eating far too much. My body couldn’t process carbs and yet here I was forcing them in. Looking back at my insulin requirements at the time, I was injecting so little (less than 9 units a day!). I have to to wonder if I could have gotten away with injecting nothing at all if I had just eaten a lot less (given the fact it is now known that I had steroid-induced diabetes at the time).
The second diet plan is the most crazy I’ve ever heard of for diabetes but it’s what my doctors did recommend. I remember my Mum and I looking at each other when the dietician was explaining how you just “look at the plate”. We just couldn’t understand how this would work and we were right, it didn’t. ‘Looking at a plate’ makes no sense if you’re not going to count carbohydrates on that plate. It wasn’t even like the NHS plate guidelines of today where you have pictures of a plate separated into sections showing how much protein, carbs, veg, etc. you should have for each meal(or plate). This was literally looking at a plate and seeing if it looked healthy. We had to guess that it wasn’t an overfilled plate, that it looked ‘normal’ and then that was it. It didn’t matter if it was a plate heavy in potatoes of heavy in salad, as long as it looked right and wasn’t too large it was fine. This diet led me to lose control over my blood sugars completely and I became so super resistant to insulin, that in the end that I was injecting around 100 units a day (if I did this amount today it would cause brain damage!)
These two diet plans were recommended by doctors and the NHS (the National Health Service in Britain). At the time I was growing up this was what I was told would keep me healthy and keep my diabetes controlled. Although we all have health guidelines we follow today, and usually these are in the best interest of people, it’s because of my experiences with so-called healthy, recommended diet plans that I now look at every new piece of medical advice with an air of scepticism. If a diet plan doesn’t feel right, if it’s making us feel sick then maybe it’s not the right plan for us. Of course I am no doctor and I cannot offer any medical advice (so please don’t take what I say as medical advice), but I do advocate that you should listen to your own body and if you are diabetic, and carbohydrates make you feel ill and make your blood sugars worse, then maybe we shouldn’t be eating so many, no matter what doctors say. What do you think?
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.
What do you think about these two crazy diet plans, especially the ‘look at the plate’ plan? Have you been given any strange diet advice or heard of other strange diet plans? Would you follow these plans or do you question when something sounds wrong? Whatever your views are and whether you are following a healthy diet plan or not (I’m not too good at the moment myself), do get in touch and tell me what you think in the comments below 🙂