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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Food and healthy eating

Enjoying what you eat is one of life’s pleasures, but sometimes it can be tricky if you have diabetes. Here we share stories from people who have learnt how to manage their condition and continue to enjoy food.

Karen smiling

KarenDiagnosed with type 1 at four years old

Eating with gastroparesis

Balancing diabetes and gastroparesis can be a nightmare, particularly if you’re being sick and are going hypo. Sometimes you can suck a sweet, or I’ve tried glucose gel, which works quite well. When I first got gastroparesis, I stopped eating healthier foods, because they took longer to digest. Running the risk that what I ate was going to get stuck in my tummy, I didn’t want food that was going to keep me fuller for longer!

I love vegetables and had previously had a healthy diet, but I gave up eating dark green vegetables because I’d experience a cramping in my gut. I didn’t really eat brown bread, either. Then if I did eat those sorts of things, because they were new to my system, digesting them was quite uncomfortable. For years, my diet wasn’t great.

In January 2020, a comment from the doctor who was giving me my botox made me realise I needed to lose a bit of weight and get fitter. I Googled a lot and looked at calories on packets and worked out how thing affect my system. Then, I started off slowly and gradually increased fibre and fruit in my diet.

The first 21 days were difficult. At one point I thought, ‘I just need to stop this.’ But then I told myself to keep going, that my gut would get used to these changes. And it has. It’s been really good.

It took about a month for my system to get used to it. Thanks to my botox treatment, if I have a sandwich now, I can choose brown bread over white and I eat loads more fruit and vegetables. I also try not to take it to the point where I’ve eaten too much.

Getting active

I also started walking more. I do about two hours a day now. I leave early, then do a lap around the hospital where I work, which is about a mile. I often have to go to the pharmacy at the other end of the hospital, so that involves more walking. Then at lunchtime I get a 20-minute break so I then do another lap, and then I do two in the evening, which is nearly two miles. Because I’m only doing it for 20-25 minutes at a time, it feels easy. And while I found going to the gym made me have bad hypos, walking doesn’t make my sugars drop as drastically, so it’s more manageable for me.

Recently, at my annual diabetic review, I discovered my HbA1C had gone from 59mmol/mol to 54. I was so made up! I’m hoping it’ll be even lower at my next review.

Changing my eating habits – I don’t want to call it a ‘diet’ – and making lifestyle changes have made such a difference.

Read Karen's complete story
Pauline smiling

Pauline McCullochDiagnosed with type 1 around her 40th birthday

Insulin and food

When I arrived home from hospital I was worried about how much insulin I was going to need to take. It was all trial and error to start with. I had my first hypo alone, and that was scary. I called my husband who came home from work to be with me, and throughout my ongoing journey with diabetes he has been so supportive. I started carb counting initially through advice from the online forum. It’s trial and error in the beginning, especially when I was using pens as you can’t do very small doses like you can with a pump. I think carb counting has been one of the most beneficial things for managing my diabetes along with managing my insulin to cover food before eating. 

Useful resources

The best source of information for me in the early days were the books I purchased from the Diabetes UK online shop, I’m a keen reader anyway and I wanted to take in as much information about the condition as I could. Forewarned is forearmed as they say. I’ve tried to be proactive in managing my diabetes, I try not to let it control me and one way for me to combat that was engaging with people online, I use Twitter and have a group of friends there I can chat with about diabetes that’s been so helpful for me. I also went to a local group although found the focus to be a bit on the type 2 side.

Read Pauline McCulloch's complete story
Diabetes UK

Francisco CasteloDiagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2016

Knowing the risks

Looking back, my lifestyle hadn’t exactly been ideal. I was drinking far too much – sometimes up to three bottles of champagne a night. I was also eating too many carbs and having too much sweetener in my diet. I was carrying more weight than I should’ve been, which must’ve put added pressure on my system.

I think because of this, I didn’t really turn to anyone for support. I felt like I had done this to myself and could’ve avoided diabetes if I had been leading a more modest lifestyle. But it provided a huge wake-up call for me and I knew things needed to change if I was to avoid further problems.

Read Francisco Castelo's complete story
Colin Rattray

Colin RattrayDiagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2000

Making positive changes

One of the biggest benefits of the lockdown is the opportunity it’s given me to experiment more with food – without putting a whole load of sugar in my mouth. I’ve started preparing food myself rather than resorting to ready meals. I’d describe myself as a plain cook but in the past few weeks I’ve been getting more adventurous. The other night I prepared a chicken and vegetable egg foo young, which I thought was quite impressive – and it tasted good. 

I’ve also been meal planning a lot more. I look at what I’m going to get in and then see when I can use it. So I’ll typically plan a seven-day menu. I might buy lots of mushrooms so I can make soup, or peppers and onions for a stir-fry. Yes, cooking from scratch does take more time, but I think the more you do it the more you enjoy it and the results are beneficial. I know that by learning to cook it’s going to help me in the long run. 

My supermarket delivery guy has been an absolute hero. He makes me go and sit in the lounge, then comes in, wipes everything down with an antibacterial wipe and puts the food away. He’s on a schedule and yet he’s still looking after me.
 

Read Colin Rattray's complete story
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Ivor HellerFound out he had a high risk of type 2 diabetes in October 2019

Making changes

I was approached by the owner of a local cafe which offers healthy meals. For five weeks they made all my meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner which were fresh, low calorie vegan meals without any gluten, dairy or refined sugar in them. I thought I had nothing to lose and would give it a try. 

I learnt so much about foods I like, and those that I don’t like as much. I enjoyed pretty much all the meals and discovered things like black rice which is much lower GI than regular white rice and makes a healthier alternative. I really enjoyed the way they prepared vegetables, things like parsnips and I found myself trying new foods (some I liked a lot more than others).  

I also stopped drinking coffee and snacking just for the sake of it. The first week without coffee was so hard and I felt physically terrible, with really bad headaches. But now I don’t even fancy it, I sometimes have tea with a splash of oat milk or peppermint tea instead.

I don’t feel like eating red meat or processed foods like sausages, bacon or ham at all anymore, and they used to be a fairly big part of my diet.

I’m not saying I will never ever eat a sausage sandwich or a curry again, but I am thinking about what I eat a lot more now and taking it very seriously.

Challenges

There have been some challenges along the way. As visiting director, I attend a lot of away football matches. The grounds usually serve really nice meals but they were all very happy to accommodate me taking along my own food when I was following the plan. 

I really love a curry and it was hard to see everyone else getting stuck in to curries, with plenty of rice and naans, washed down with beers and wine, on our annual curry night.

I had my bottle of sparkling water and lentil and mushroom shepherd’s pie pre- prepared for me. Of course, people took the mickey but I am a strong character who can take public scrutiny.

I have received a lot of support and encouragement from my team AFC Wimbledon. Other people have since reached out to me saying they are worried about their own health and that I have inspired them to make changes, too, which makes it all worth it.

Read Ivor Heller's complete story
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