It feels a long time now since the rush of new year’s resolutions. Back in January, a whole bunch of my friends and colleagues jumped on the latest bandwagon, as they do every year, to go sugar-free, carb-free, dairy-free or, with the 5:2 fasting diet, pretty much food-free. Did they last? No. Do they look much fitter, healthier, happier? No again. Why does it bother me? I guess it’s something to do with seeing intelligent adults submitting themselves to a yo-yo regime, complete with mood swings, when with Type 1 diabetes, that’s precisely what we try to avoid.
People often ask me now if we follow some sort of special diabetes diet. Well, it’s called a healthy balanced diet. Pretty much the same as we ate before Type 1, with fresh fruit and veg, low fat, high fibre, plenty of lower GI slow-release carbs for growing boys, and, yes, sweets and ice-cream now and then. It’s the diet that managed to build my boy back up after diagnosis, when his already lean frame had lost over 7 pounds in the space of a week. And coincidentally, it’s the same diet that helped me shed the extra 7 pounds that had stubbornly clung to me since the kids were born. It’s a trial and error diet, where you learn how rubbish it feels to have a blood sugar of 23 mmol when you haven’t bolused enough for a doughnut. It’s neither the extreme of the current fad for sugar-free diets (I’m not about to substitute sweet potatoes for chocolate in my brownies), nor is it the carb-fest of the Great British Bake-Off, but it’s a balancing act of trying to make food remain a pleasure, while instilling healthy eating habits that an 11 year old boy can carry through life.
Of course, the difference now is that every mouthful is accounted for with a fingerprick blood test, a complex ratio of insulin to carbs, delivered by a pump that’s attached to you 24 hours a day, and a nagging mum saying “have you bolused?” It’s a relentless, unforgiving routine with no days off and no option to give up come February. And no matter how accurately you carb-count, the randomness of Type 1 can still throw you a crazy high or low blood sugar, just because you’re growing, or because you’re tired, or because you’ve been playing hockey or because it’s Monday.
But it also gives you something else. It gives you a child with the patience to manage the mundane, and the resourcefulness to deal with the unexpected. It gives them a healthy scepticism of tabloid headlines such as “Yogurt slashes diabetes risk” (“I think they’re referring to Type 2 again, aren’t they Mummy?”), and it gives them a knowledge of carbs and how their bodies work that puts most adults to shame. We had friends over for dinner the other day who were on a carb-free diet. Later, as my fit, healthy Type 1 young man tucked into the untouched leftover pavlova, he raised his eyebrows and commented “Whoa, no carbs at all? They must be really tired!”