Wednesday, 2 January 2013

To eat or not to eat?…A question many with diabetes would love to ask

Will Self’s recent ‘point of view’ certainly gave me food for thought.

He argues that we have become obsessed with food, which dominates our high streets and our television programmes and we could do well to remember that eating is really a way of satisfying hunger rather than being a creative occupation. He also reminds us that there are plenty of people going hungry in our own localities, with food banks opening up with depressing frequency, even as we make the agonising choice of which ready meal to purchase from the heaving supermarket shelves. He suggests that we tend to take the easy option of an eating culture instead of attending to more challenging cultural developments in arts or science. He begs us to resolve to purge ourselves of our food obsession in 2013.

He has a point. There’s a lot to digest in his column (pun intended!), including the observation that when hungry, it doesn’t matter to our bodies whether the food we consume is cooked in a celebrity kitchen or a billy can over a single gas ring. This particular point made me reflect on how, actually, we know these days that food does matter to our bodies and that maybe all the attention on food in recent years has been a force for good - for example we know our bodies react differently to unsaturated and saturated fat, complex or simple carbohydrate, animal and vegetable protein and soluble and insoluble fibre. The outcomes of eating different proportions of these can literally be the difference between life and death, so for all of us these developments are in fact, vital.

That’s not to say there’s a direct relationship between ‘media cooking’ and health, quite the opposite sometimes, if recent reports on the unhealthiness of celebrity endorsed recipes, are to be believed, with many found to be way over the recommendations for fat, sugar and salt. However, another way of looking at this is that such research can actually serve to offer a new way of bringing healthy eating recommendations to the attention of the masses consuming food related news – perhaps another benefit of our food-orientated culture?

My main reflection generated by this column was the thought that for the couple of million people with diabetes in this country, eating or not eating is not a simple option, although many would dearly like it to be. I have heard many times from people with diabetes that just to choose to skip a meal would be a luxury and the liberation felt by those who have experienced this, perhaps through starting pump therapy, reversing the early signs of type 2 diabetes, or for the lucky few, an islet cell transplant, is immense.

For the rest, eating is often a daily grinding juggling act, a way of getting through the day without experiencing hypos or high blood glucose symptoms, catching a hypo in time to prevent embarrassment, and simply being able to fit food in with their social or work schedule. Many say that an obsession with food ‘comes with the diagnosis’ and that looking at food in an enjoyable way can become a rare thing. Someone with Type 1 diabetes I met recently explained it like this ‘you see a lovely roast dinner and prepare to enjoy it….I see a maths equation - ‘how many carbs + insulin will equal a normal blood glucose level?’. Such mathematical calculations are part and parcel of everyday life with diabetes.

We’ve written in this column before about our wish for more and better access to technologies such as insulin pumps, and more flexible medication regimens that do so much to expand the options around eating for people with diabetes. Whilst we do our bit to make eating and cooking calculations easier with diabetes, for example with our carb-counted recipe book, it's also our regular new year hope that even more people with diabetes will get the chance to ask the question ‘to eat or not to eat?’ and answer it in any way they like.

The Never-ending Culinary Merry Go-Round

'Carb-Counted Recipes for Diabetes’

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