There are many misconceptions about diabetes. I have read two separate articles lately (here’s a sciency one and here’s one from the press) that indicate overweight diabetics fare better than thin ones – and when you start talking about what that might mean, people are quick to shoot you down. Maybe that’s why it was always so hard for me to lose fat – maybe there was a reason for it to be there. Anyway.
Something that took me twenty years to realise that nobody tells you is that the same foods affect you differently depending on where your blood sugar’s at. This shouldn’t be revelationary, because the idea that the same food has a different effect in different circumstances is far from new, but we’re always told “this is how it is, peasants”, and then we’re told off for not taking personal responsibility when we’ve been badgered to do exactly what we’re told.
It clearly bugs me in a big way, but it’s a topic for another time.
- DIABETES DISCLAIMER: I was diagnosed with diabetes more than twenty years ago. It was a complete surprise to everyone, as these things often are. Subsequently, I inject the hormone insulin. People who don’t have diabetes don’t inject insulin – it exists naturally in their body, produced by the pancreas. Insulin, put simply, allows sugar to pass from the blood to the cells of the body (particularly the cells of skeletal muscle). If you don’t have insulin, the sugar can’t get from the blood to the cells, and this causes damage in a variety of ways. The challenge with diabetes is generally keeping the blood sugar levels low – without insulin they tend to rise – so you need to make sure you’re injecting enough insulin so that you can metabolise all your food properly. If you have too much insulin, or you don’t eat enough food relative to the amount of insulin you inject, you will experience hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), a condition that makes it look like you’re drunk. The way to cure hypoglycaemia is by eating.
I’m very fit, so my insulin sensitivity is very good. I don’t need to inject much, even if I’m not training a whole lot – there are many variables, but it’s well established that exercise increases insulin sensitivity (even if you don’t lose weight), so we’ll go with that. Whatever the reason, my muscles can suck up the sugars eagerly, as long as there’s some insulin around.
What’s interesting is that when my blood sugar is low, my body will work hard to efficiently draw sugar out of pretty much anything that has the merest hint of carbohydrates in it. The very same food – when eaten at other times when my blood sugar level is higher – might not do much at all to raise my levels. Sometimes, usually after I’ve been training – if I eat something small like a sandwich or whatever, I don’t need to inject any insulin at all to be able to metabolise the sugars.
They don’t tell you that. Maybe they don’t know, maybe it’s different from person to person. The thing I keep coming back to is that the body knows. When your sugars are low, and you eat, it’ll help bring your levels up. When they’re not, the impact isn’t so extreme.
People talk as if the human body is a Bunsen Burner, but – however it may sound – human bodies really do vary. The effect of a given food is different when my blood sugar is low, to what it is when my blood sugar is high. Same food, same quantity, different effect because the circumstances are different. It’s logical, but nobody really talks about it in that way. They just want you to control everything with your iron diabetic fist.
Also, another thing they don’t tell you – my insulin sensitivity is cyclical. Some months I need to inject slightly more, some months less – it’s so subtle it took me twenty years to figure it out. They don’t tell you that in the textbooks. In fact, there are a lot of people who would disagree with me – what’s funny is that my twenty years’ experience and my independent research seem not to count for much in the eyes of some. But I understand that too – one human is a very small sample size, and I don’t really qualify as a significant scientific study all by myself.
Tasty, sugary, disobedient food for thought.