Last night I came across a Tweet from Ginger Vierira (@GingerVieira) that caught my eye. I thought about it for a few minutes before responding (always a smart thing on Twitter).
It's a complicated issue. In a nutshell, with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) we have to calculate how many carbohydrates we eat and administer an appropriate dose of insulin. Okay, it's a lot more complex--meauring blood glucose (BG), adjusting the insulin dose to get to a target, etc. If you've done it, you know.
But her question is complex, too. Insulin is expensive as hell and more than a few people follow a diet low in carbohydrates that requires a lower dose of insulin. If you can't afford it, the obvious solution is to use as little as possible. Tragically, so-called "insulin rationing" can be deadly. Too many people are forced to do that and it'll definitely affect your relationship with food.
It's long been proven that keeping blood glucose as close to normal as possible leads to fewer diabetes complications. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, or DCCT, was so conclusive that it was ended early so that the information could be shared promptly. Consequently there is a school of thought that the healthiest strategy is to best manage T1D a "low carbohydrate" diet is the way to go. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein is the acknowledged pioneer if this approach and it's most vocal advocate. Details, pros and cons can be found here. Again, like insulin rationing, if you want (or feel the need) to follow this approach, it'll also inform your relationship to food.
There is another way of thinking about carbs and diabetes: if you know how many carbs are in a meal, and how your body utilizes insulin, then you can eat like a person without diabetes--within reason. I'll put an emphasis on "WITHIN REASON." A Big Mac, large fries, large strawberry shake and an apple pie has 283 grams of carbohydrate--103% of the recommended daily allowance (their number, not mine). Whether you have T1D or not, that'll give your pancreas some serious pain.
But what if your stomach doesn't work right? To review 8th grade anatomy, after you swallow food it enters the stomach. Acidic digestive juices are secreted and along with the stomach contracting to mix it up, after a while it empties from the stomach and enters the small intestine. If there is a problem with how the stomach contracts, or passes it to the small intestine, you might have gastroparesis. "Paralyzed stomach" is a loose translation, and this complication affects 1 in 3 people with T1D. I've been wrestling with it for over a decade and I can tell you it makes living with T1D a monumental challenge. Here's why:
When we inject (or pump) insulin at mealtime, we are counting on the predictable rate of action of insulin. We are also counting on the speed that the carbohydrates start getting converted to glucose. Done right, blood glucose will rise (it does that in people without T1D) but not too much. But with gastroparesis, the food is held in the stomach for too long, or it empties too slowly. Consequently the insulin starts working but if there isn't any of that food to work on your BG will dive. That's bad and can result in hypoglycemia, or low BG. Normally you treat the low BG with carbs, but now you have just added more carbs on top of the carbs from the meal. Guess what: your BG is going to spike, likely resulting in hyperglycemia. The solution to that is more insulin. Welcome to the Gastroparessis Hamster Wheel.
There are dietary recommendations on how to eat with gastroparesis. The University of Virginia's guide is well respected, as are tips from the International Federation For Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders or IFFGD. Both are useful and naturally before starting this, or any diet or treatment for T1D always talk to your doctor or a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist.
So how do you manage T1D with gastroparesis, and how does that inform our relationship with food? I'll describe my experiences in future posts. In the meantime, be well and stay safe!