Is there a more contentious issue when it comes to diabetes than food? Possibly, but when it comes to what we eat as part of our diabetes management plan, there is a lot to wade through.

For those who have had diabetes for more than a few years, it is highly likely that guidelines will have shifted, if not outright changed directions. The food plan that was ‘in’ for me at diagnosis is different to what is recommended now. In the last twenty years I have heard and read so many different ideas about the best ways to eat to ensure optimal diabetes health. My head has spun – and so has my stomach at times – with the chopping and changing ideas. To be honest, I can’t keep up.

Plus, we live in a world where everyone from celebrity chefs to movie starts are health gurus, tricking us into believing they have the answer to nutritional nirvana… if we just take this super elixir or this mushroom and cacao supplement. (Yes – I’m looking at you Ms Paltrow. Shush now, please. )

The DEEPtalk event last week was under the ‘mealtime challenges’ banner, but it covered more than just what happens when we sit down to eat. Because, we all know there is much more to food than sustenance and the sum of a nutrition panel. If that was the case, we’d be happy eating things that looked and tasted like, and had the texture of cardboard.

Considerations around the food we eat are social, political and environmental. We need to think about what we will be doing with that energy we have going in. It has to look, smell and taste appealing. Food triggers memories and deep emotions. But it can also be a source of difficulties. The eight different topics at DEEPtalk took in a lot of those different issues.

Phylissa Deroze welcomed us to her holiday table, enticing us with a seemingly endless buffet of delicious foods. But that festive spread became an obstacle course as she explained how difficult it could be to ensure she felt she was being true to eating the foods that she felt she wanted – and needed to eat – while dealing with the challenges of food pushers. ‘The two main ingredients in holiday food is carbs and love,’ Phylissa told us. As it turns out, both challenge her diabetes management.

Speaking of carbs, Antje Thiel reminded that just thinking about carbs when trying to assess how food impacts glucose levels was naïve and short-sighted. She listed a veritable shopping list of other factors that need to be measured. From hormones, to the timing of eating to the weather…these factors (plus a hell of a lot more) all impact in some way.

Quinn Fisher and Leighann Calentine shared the stage together and did a great tag-team presentation about how being a kid, and now teen, trumps diabetes any day, announcing early in the talk ‘Cake is totally bolus worthy!’ which seems as good a motto as any by which to live one’s life. Quinn is 14 and has had diabetes since she was three, and her family’s practical approach to how she manages things like sleepovers and birthday parties makes good sense.

Sara Moback spoke about a topic that simply does not get enough airtime: diabetes and eating disorders. She shared the story of her anorexia nervosa diagnosis and the treatment she received following that diagnosis. And she also reminded us that the focus on food, and the constant striving for a perfectly straight, unmoving CGM  trace are surely contributing factors to why girls and women with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder.

Paul Louis Fouesnant’s presentation had my heart racing as he explained how he managed his diabetes and the fears of low glucose levels after a broken down car left him stranded for a couple of days in remote Madagascar. Clearly he is the type of person you want around in emergency situations: he can make fruit puree from foraged berries. Paul Louis’ presentation was about the challenges of travelling to countries where food may be a little different to what we are used to. But he is firmly of the belief that you try everything in front of you – and enjoy your travels.

Bruno Helman introduced us to his vegan life with type 1 diabetes, explaining the road he took to becoming vegan and how he manages his training to run marathons. (Oh, and when I say ‘marathons’, I mean 27 in a year. As you do…) For me, Bruno’s talk probably challenged many of the ideas about diabetes eating than any of the others, simply because it was the most different to the eating plans that I have subscribed to over the years. As someone who absolutely loves vegetables, and incorporates them into every single meal, I still think there is a lot more I can do to increase the plant-based component of what I’m eating. (And I don’t just mean more carrot cake..)

Melanie Stephenson eloquently shared how she moved from adding marathon running to sprinting, and how she carb loads to ensure that she performs at her peak on race days. Can I say how refreshing it was to hear someone talking about carbs as nothing more than a form of nutrition, rather than something to be demonised and feared. Mel and some friends decided that not only would they run a half marathon, but they’d also break the world record for the number of people with diabetes running in it. They did that in June this year.

And finally, Bastian Hauck rounded out the event, using one of the best analogies for diabetes management that I have ever heard. The audience was mesmerised as he challenged everyone – except those of us with diabetes – to commit to a week, and then a month of daily dental flossing. With caveats: it had to happen twice daily at 8am and 8pm. Oh, and any other time food or drink was consumed. Plus, the correct amount of floss needed to be used each time: 5cm for each 10grams of carbs…no more, no less. And, of course, people were required to keep a record of all they ate. How many people in the room were prepared to even try this challenge? One. That’s right…one person. Thanks, Doug!

Eight topics; nine speakers. And this just barely scratched the surface of the different ways food can be used as part of a diabetes management approach.

My job was to introduce the event, the speakers and tie together the theme for the event. In other words, I had the easiest job for the day.

I listened to each DEEPtalk twice – once during the rehearsal and then for the official event. And they brought home the message that there is no one size fits all to eating when it comes to diabetes, in exactly the same way that there is no one way to do any aspect of diabetes management. The speakers also showed that food is never, ever only going to be about diabetes. Sometimes, an apple is just an apple, not 15g or 20g of carbs, requiring <X> units of insulin.

Guidelines are all very well. I understand that they are based on best practise and evidence. I also understand that HCPs like guidelines because they make things so much easier. But for those of us living with diabetes…our days are not lived according to guidelines or checklists or evidence. Our lives are lived by morning coffees, and neighbours dropping in for cake, and someone bringing cookies into work, and mango season. And, damn it, I just want that piece of chocolate/pizza/watermelon…

DEEPtalk showed us how just a handful of people with diabetes manage the challenges, success and joys of everyday eating. We all have our stories about what works for us. I love that this event allowed people to share them in a safe and non-judgemental way. We need a lot more of that.

If you’ve not watched the DEEPtalks yet and would like to catch up, the link is can be found in this post

L-R: Antje, Leighann, Quinn, Bastian, me, Sara, Paul Louis, Melanie, Bruno, Phylissa

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen. There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. All mine. 

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