This article was written by psychologist Dr Jen Nash, who has Type 1 diabetes.
Your relationship with food
Did you know that you have a ‘relationship’ with food, in the same way that you have a relationship with friends, family and loved ones?
The diagnosis of diabetes brings this relationship into sharp focus – suddenly lots of ‘strangers’ (in the form of health professionals) are intensely interested in your diet...
They may often ask many detailed questions about the ‘what’, ‘how much’ and ‘when’ of your relationship with food.
Bear in mind...
It's natural to feel a bit scrutinised by this attention, and perhaps even guarded. The intentions of even the most well meaning health professional can feel a bit intrusive. This article will help you think about how to adjust your mindset following diagnosis so you can feel more equipped to face the food challenges ahead.
Food is such a pleasure, and life with diabetes doesn’t mean the end of this. The difficulty is that in our food-abundant environments there are over 30+ reasons why we eat, and hunger is just one of them.
We often beat ourselves up for not being able to stick to our healthy eating plans, but traditional advice tends to assume that we are only eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full.
All of us - with or without diabetes, and of all shapes and sizes - know that this is often not the case...
Setting achievable goals
Remember that living with diabetes doesn’t mean you need to feel restricted - it’s just a new skill to develop in order to find the balance between ‘healthy’ foods and ‘treat’ foods.
I often encourage application of the ‘80:20 rule’ or ‘90:10 rule’ to food decisions (making healthy food choices 80-90% of the time is much more likely to be successful in the long-term than striving for 100% at all times).
Talk to your health professional about the best way to manage this healthy balance. There are a number of practical things you can do to help give yourself the best possible start:
- Remove foods that you know are your ‘go-to’ temptations
- Set small, achievable goals
- Keep a food diary if you find tracking helpful
Slipping off the healthy eating wagon
Just like relationships with spouses, partners and family members have their ‘ups and downs’, it’s completely usual for your relationship with food to have similar ebbs and flows.
Food is everywhere and has so many meanings, that it's common to find the journey of navigating it tricky at times.
If you’re someone who tends to beat yourself up for getting off track, I encourage you to treat your relationship with food in the same way you might play a game, as explained below.
When you play a sudoku puzzle or a game on your phone, you might ‘fail’ a level or don't perform as well as you may like, but you probably also keep your ‘performance’ in perspective. Games allows us to have an ‘oh well’ attitude, which means that we don’t let our less-than-perfect performance one day stop us from playing the next.
How can you experiment with developing a similar kind of attitude towards your food choices – if you make a less-than-perfect choice, how can you keep it in perspective, and is there anything you can learn and try differently for next time?
Practical ideas to give yourself the best chance
Don’t forget practical ideas like experimenting with one new, healthy food or recipe each week – you never know what delicious healthy new foods you may discover.
Also, remember that preparation is a key part of succeeding at anything in life. Experiment with aiming to think ahead in your day or week in order to prepare.
This way, you’re less likely to grab a takeaway purely because there’s nothing quick to hand.
We’re also more likely to achieve a goal when we have some accountability. If you can, ‘go public’ with your intention with a supportive health professional, friend or family member.
Evidence shows you’re more likely to succeed as you know you’re going to have to ‘report back’ to them. This can be a useful strategy in the habit formation stage, until new behaviours become second nature.
A final note
Food is a relationship that you’ll have for life, so by taking some time to reflect and develop the skills to manage it as well as you can, you will ensure it’s as harmonious as it can be.
You can also feel confident that you are doing all that you can to ensure your health is as good as it can be on the diabetes journey.
Keep in mind that nobody is perfect and that everyone's health, diabetes and diet is likely to be managed differently, so focus on yourself and what it takes for you to be in the best health you can be. Good luck!