Jeanette Terry, T1D, addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes to help improve overall adherence and management.
I adore ice cream. Who doesn’t? But ice cream seems to be my arch nemesis when it comes to diabetes control. I've tried and tried to figure out how to correctly bolus my insulin for a bowl of ice cream, but no matter how hard I try, I either overshoot it or underestimate the blood sugar spike time.
Everyone with diabetes seems to have a few foods like that: favorite foods whose effects on your blood sugar are incredibly hard to predict. Whenever you eat one, you know that it’s going to raise your blood sugar; but when will it spike, and for how long, and how long will you feel the aftereffects? What’s more, different people may react to the same food differently. An unpredictable food for me might be no problem for you.
Everyone is different, so the only way to find your tricky foods is by trial and error.
Even with all those unpleasant unknowns, we still return again and again to these wonderfully delicious comfort foods. And why not? Here in the real world where there are so many issues to deal with, sometimes we just need a little treat that’s special to us, whether it’s ice cream or pizza or something else. So here are some tips on how to deal with the curve balls that those tricky foods throw into your diabetes management.
Smart tricks for difficult treats
The first thing to do is identify your unpredictable foods. I’ve discovered a handful of foods that I know will do crazy things to my blood sugar. The only way to find your unpredictable foods is to watch what happens with everything you eat. Keep a log and compare the times when you have uncontrolled blood sugar levels with the foods you ate beforehand. Look for a pattern. Everyone is different, so the only way to find your tricky foods is by trial and error.
Once you find your unpredictable foods, limit how much of them you eat. That’s simple if they are foods you don’t care much about; but what if some are your favorites—like my ice cream? Some people completely stop eating those beloved foods, and they are my inspiration. But for the rest of us who don’t have will power of steel, we can at least cut down on our indulgences and we will probably get along fine. I want to make it clear, though, that it is not a good idea to eat foods you know will make your blood sugar control worse if you are unsure of your control or of your ability to correct poor blood sugars. In that case, it’s best to play it safe and stay away from foods that you don’t know how bolus for.
When resistance seems futile
Maybe you manage to stay away from your unpredictable favorites most of the time. But if you’re like me, once you eventually get another taste, that soon leads to another, and another. I’m hooked on my favorites, and it feels like I’m always fighting the urge to give in and eat them too often! How can we fight these bad food choices and correct the blood sugar problems they might cause?
One great option is to find a substitute. For example, sometimes if I don’t want to try to predict the insulin needed for a bowl of ice cream, I eat frozen yogurt or sugar-free ice cream instead. For reasons I may never completely understand, they are easier for me to bolus for than regular ice cream. They don’t taste quite as good to me, but sometimes it’s worth it so that I don’t have to deal with the blood sugar rollercoaster.
These days it’s pretty easy to find good substitutes for the unpredictable foods you love most. If you can’t find something that looks good in the grocery store, try searching on the Internet. Who knows, maybe you will find a substitute you like even better and your worries will be over.
After you indulge
Whenever you do eat your unpredictable favorites, be extra vigilant for the next 24 to 48 hours. Test your blood sugar often to make sure you don’t miss any really high or low numbers that could be dangerous. During these times, you know your blood sugar levels are liable to bounce all over the place, so be prepared to not feel well. To feel better, try giving yourself extra water and rest. That usually helps me. Do whatever you can to stabilize your blood sugar ups and downs by using your current treatments. For example, there are many insulin pumps that have options to help with events like these that need special bolusing and basal rates. If you’re not sure what to do to stabilize your blood sugar levels, talk with your diabetes educator.
Identifying your tricky foods
It may take years to figure out which foods have unusual effects on your blood sugar. But you can find your patterns, and once you get the hang of that it will become easier to adjust your insulin for them. It also becomes much easier to deal with unpredictable foods when you have excellent blood sugar control to begin with.
Remember, though, that diabetes control isn’t an exact science. You can never predict with absolute certainty what your body will do next. All you can do is closely monitor what your body is doing and try your best to keep up with it.
Every once in a while we deserve to eat a little bit of our favorite foods. We just need to be prepared for the consequences, even when they seem unpredictable.
Which foods have unusual or unpredictable effects on your blood sugar? Tell us how you cope with them by commenting below.