I read blog posts from fellow DOC-ers last week regarding National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. During a busy work week, I read most of them while in bed, late at night, which led to all sorts of weird food dreams, but the point is, I have found the posts fascinating, heart-felt, and painfully honest. Every post, I related to on some level. Reading those posts inspired some self reflection and prompted me to review my own own relationship with food over my 33 years with diabetes.
It is no wonder why so very many diabetics are challenged with food issues. The supreme emphasis on food every single day seems like the perfect vehicle for an eating disorder. When I was diagnosed in 1979, my parents were trained on the “exchange system”. This carb counting stuff we now do, didn’t exist in my world. My “quick” acting insulin was Regular which peaked HOURS after it was injected. I remember morning recess in grammar school, everyone speed walking (no running in the halls), to get outside while I sat in the classroom eating my peanut butter on graham crackers. I would eat them so quickly, with most of my peanut butter snack/mess stuck to the roof of my mouth, knowing that as soon as I was finished, I could go out for recess too. How could I not have food issues?
Like so many of my diabetic peers discussed last week, I also snuck food as a teenager. My sneak food was ice cream. I would eat it in my room while I did my homework and hide the bowl and spoon under my bed. When my Mom made us do major room cleanings, she would unearth a spoon fossilized to a glass bowl from under my bed. Sometimes the spoons were so ice cream glued that you could pick up the bowl just by lifting the spoon handle. I can remember lying and saying it was a cereal bowl from my night time snack (oh yeah I ate a snack after dinner and before bedtime). In the days of the exchange system, cereal was somehow considered healthy while ice cream was a big no-no.
When I was a sophomore in college, in a conversation with my dormmates, something came up about cotton candy. I said how I’d never had it but I was too grossed out by the idea of eating cotton. Everyone looked at me bewildered. They asked what I thought cotton candy was made from. I explained how its pulled cotton saturated in colored sugar. The girls howled with laughter. A friend explained how cotton candy is spun sugar. I thought she was wrong. She said there was NO cotton involved. I still thought she was wrong. She told me how she’d had a summer job where she made cotton candy, NO cotton. I started thinking I might have been given bad information. I called my Dad. Our conversation went a little bit as follows:
Me: Dad, does cotton candy have cotton in it?
Dad: Ummm no.
Me: DAD! You TOLD me it was made out of cotton.
Dad: When was this?
Me: What do you mean when was this? I’m 19 years old and my dormmates are all laughing at me because I was just adamant that cotton candy is sugar laced cotton, like cotton balls. YOU told me that! You told me at the Spring Spectacular in 2nd grade!!!
Dad: Well I don’t remember telling you that, but IF I did, it was because you couldn’t have it and I didn’t want you to feel like you were missing something.
So yes, did I have a healthy relationship with food while I was growing-up? Other than practically choking to death on peanut butter laden graham cracker sandwiches, hiding melting ice cream under my bed, and possibly being the most naive sophomore in my college, yes, I had a wonderful relationship with food.
During college, my weight went up and down. For the most part it went up, not down. After I graduated, I worked with a woman who was A Dieter. She started doing Atkins. She lost weight. I was used to trying to eat lower carb since it made my blood glucose levels more stable. I read everything I could about low carb and diabetes. I started following the Atkins diet too. I lost weight. I took less insulin.
When I decided to get an insulin pump (after years of wavering on the idea), my doctors pushed me to eat more carbohydrates. As I grew accustomed to my pump, I also realized I had a heck of a lot more flexibility with when and what I could eat (or graze-eat). In the blink of an eye, I found myself embracing the idea of eating whatever I wanted. I ate cookies for breakfast… a lot. I would read the nutrition info and beep, beep, beep, perfect bg’s as I wiped the cookie crumbs from my mouth.
Shortly after my I-have-a-pump-I-don’t-need-to-take-a-zillion-shots eating fest started, I had my first true heartbreak and suddenly eating was painful. I simply couldn’t eat. I ate so little a day it was alarming. I NEVER felt well when I ate. I got really skinny. I went to therapy when my CDE sat me down and told me they all were worried. Therapy helped.
I didn’t want to gain back all the weight I’d lost, but I wanted to be healthy. I went to yoga. I tried different types of yoga. I ate more. I learned about me. I started to put more weight than I wanted back on. My co-worker started the Fat Flush Diet. She talked about it A Lot. I read the book and did the diet too. I felt obsessive about what I ate and had lists and lists of foods I didn’t eat. I found myself weighing myself morning and night. I combined the diet with Atkins. I couldn’t get rid of any of the weight I’d gained. I did more yoga. I got a treadmill in my office and walked. I switched to The South Beach diet. Still there was little change in my weight.
I learned from all these diet books, I learned lots of conflicting info too, I tried hybrids of all these diets. The control I lacked in my personal life was all directed into control of what I ate. I ate a lot of diet foods. I ate weird and expensive foods. I made recipes for “normal foods” out of ingredients I could only only buy in “health food” stores.
I’m not sure when exactly it happened. I dated again, I had relationships that ended in heartbreak but my weight wasn’t affected like that first time. I tried different exercises. I moved. I lived my life. My weight went up and down but not huge fluctuations.
By the time I reached my early 30s, other things stole my attention and obsessing over diets went out the window. You know what else went out the window? My scale. I don’t weigh myself. I know when I’ve gained weight because my clothes get tight. I decided to make an investment in myself. I got a trainer at my gym. If I could justify all the money spent on health foods, I could splurge on a trainer. A trainer taught me to really use the equipment at my gym (I’m paying to go there, why didn’t I know how to use 1/2 the equipment).
Keeping myself on a schedule to workout is important to me. It’s a physical and mental need too. My relationship with food has improved over the years. I still don’t have a great relationship with peanut butter (especially the fancy kind). Ironic that the food I raced to eat at recess is the demise of my will power. I don’t store a lot of food in my home (it’s NYC, I don’t have much space for anything) and I don’t eat all the food on my plate and that’s OK. I try to mix protein with my carbs because it gives me stability with my bgs and I think helps my energy levels. Oh, and I have still have never had cotton candy. It may NOT be made from cotton balls, but its hard to un-see that one.
Wow, Alecia – thanks for your story and brave confession! I admit, when I was in diabetes summer camp one year, a bunch of campers in our cabin discovered a stash of cookies that one of the (non-D) counselors had hidden. We devoured it — and got scolded for it later.
But it was truly liberating. Not eating the cookies per se, but partaking in our individual cravings with seven others who secretly yearned for the same thing. Every time I hear about another person with diabetes sneaking food, it validates my own rebellious feelings and behaviors. So thanks.
And by the way, if you’re still concerned about weight and eating habits, my impression from the two times I’ve met you is that you’re doing fabulous.
Thanks Scott. The feedback on this both publicly and privately about “sneaking” food has been amazing. There are so many feelings from liberated to severe guilt and all the feelings in between.
It was a tough post to write and then post, but I too, all these years later, felt a sense of validation!
Wow, I find it really interesting how both diabetes and life in general both have contributed to your food views. I agree with what so many of us have said – it’s so hard to have diabetes and not have a screwed up relationship with food.
And also, I always thought I was the only “bad diabetic” who snuck food way back during the exchange days (I was diagnosed in ’79 too). It makes me feel better know know I wasn’t the only one.
Karen, at some point we should hold have a Diaversary party together! Maybe 2019? Fabulous at forty (with D)?