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Food, family and diabetes: create your summer eating story

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Psychologist Dr Jen Nash looks at how people with diabetes can manage ‘domino dates’ – those events, like summer barbecues, picnics and buffets, where the eating and drinking doesn’t have a natural ending in the way eating a meal does.

 

They’re the occasions where, if we’re not careful, our nibbling and drinking can get out of control eventually affecting diabetes management, especially if you’re attending a few events like these in a row.

 

For people with diabetes this can be particularly problematic, but you can create your own story around this kind of eating and teach yourself to regain control.

What are ‘domino dates’?

Unlike a usual meal that's finished once our plate is empty, food at 'domino dates' often lack this same sense of 'completeness' or being finished – we can always have one more chicken wing, nibble on a few crisps while we're chatting, or have another drink... It's up to us to control ourselves and that's often where the difficulty lies.

Take control

There is a lot you can do to gain control over these 'domino dates', if you'd like to. I'm willing to wager that this summer isn't the only year you've had a picnic, barbecue or buffet to contend with. How have you dealt with them in the past? When it comes to eating, we forget that we can learn from our previous experiences, habits or 'scripts' of eating, to help us decide how we want to do it this time in the here and now.

Whether it's a barbecue, picnic, holiday buffet or something else you've got coming up, think back to the last time you experienced one of these events, or even better, the last two or three occasions. It's likely that there's a way you predictably 'do' each of these type of events. For example:

Did you promise yourself beforehand that you were just going to eat 'healthy' and then on the day found yourself unable to resist the delicious array of food and ate much more than you'd planned or wanted to?

When it comes to eating, we forget that we can learn from our previous experiences

  • Did you estimate how many carbs you were going to eat at a buffet, inject the right dose of insulin but ended up eating more than planned?Did you estimate how many carbs you were going to eat at a buffet, inject the right dose of insulin but ended up eating more than planned?
  • Did you find it hard to say 'no' to the very persuasive person holding the barbecue tongs?Did you find it hard to say 'no' to the very persuasive person holding the barbecue tongs?
  • Did you feel you had to keep up with everyone else at the picnic in order to 'join in' and feel a part of things?Did you feel you had to keep up with everyone else at the picnic in order to 'join in' and feel a part of things?
  • Did you think, 'blow it, I'm on holiday!' and leave the buffet table when you were 110 per cent full?Did you think, 'blow it, I'm on holiday!' and leave the buffet table when you were 110 per cent full?

Create your own story

Now you've thought about your own story of how you've approached a 'domino date' in the past, are you happy with it? Remember these are simply stories – no one's saying they're 'good' or 'bad'. Food can be a pleasure and should be enjoyed. It's just possible, however, that there's another story you could create that would serve you better.

What are some new 'stories' you could develop around food? How about...

  • 'The buffet's going to be irresistible tonight. Perhaps I'll spend a minute or two looking at the top three things I want (maybe things I don't always have at home), have those, and then fill up the rest of my plate with salad or veg?'
  • 'Perhaps I could take the second helpings that Mr Barbecue is offering, but only eat half? Or could I find a way to reply when he's egging me on? 'The first hot dog was amazing, thank you! Maybe I'll have something else later,' might be a way of politely saying no.
  • 'Maybe I can spread out what I'm eating slowly at the picnic, so I've always got something on my plate. I could bring along some healthy snacks, like cherry tomatoes, olives and vegetable crudités, so I can nibble away on them when I've finished and others are still eating?'
  • 'Maybe I could try walking away from the buffet when I'm 90 per cent full this time around? No doubt the next opportunity to eat won't be far off!'

Finding a balance

Holidays and days off are a time to relax and forget about the usual stresses of life, and while we might like to forget about and ignore the demands of diabetes, doing so can often lead to more stress and difficulty in the long run. By taking a few minutes to think ahead about how you can enjoy food and look after your diabetes needs, you'll ensure you're feeling more in control of your choices, health and your overall wellbeing.

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