The Splenetic Diabetic

I was going to write about strawberries today, with a recipe (how well do you know me?) that inevitably involved fats and carbs on top of, or rather underneath, the fruit. Then I read a post by my friend Nicola Miller, who has just been diagnosed with diabetes, and who now can’t even eat a single juicy peach without doing complicated mathematics and without suffering unpleasant consequences. 

So, with her permission, I am re-posting her piece here. It’s called ‘Why Diabetes Has Made Me Detest Clean Eating Even More’. Read it and weep.

I bought a plumptious white peach on Sunday and perched it on the windowsill facing my desk so it could bask in my admiration. I tried to find pleasure in the anticipation of eating it but the important part – that a delay in eating must be voluntarily self-imposed to be truly enjoyable – has gone.

I was diagnosed with diabetes six weeks ago. My days of eating peaches without care are over.

These days I have to perform carb maths, tapping on my phone with fingers sore from multiple pinpricks. (How did people in the olden days cope without apps to help?) I conduct an internal dialogue with my pancreas and liver (please let me eat this!) in front of market stalls or rammed up against a seething, hungry mass of humanity at food festivals. I hang around online food sites at 2 am in the morning when I am fitful from hypoglycemia or its hyper-odious sibling and torture myself with the Things I Cannot Have. It’s a form of self harm, I know, but it serves as a necessary part of accepting what has happened to me as I push myself up against my diagnosis in order to leave no room for mistakes in a body as confounding and wily as an old coyote.

Back to the peach….

I calculated its carbs (14-17g) which definitely meant it would have to replace the slice of wholemeal toast I prefer for breakfast and it wouldn’t do at all as a mid-morning snack; I ensured I drank lots of water with it; I ate it slowly; I did ALL THE GODDAMN SENSIBLE DIABETIC THINGS.

By 11 a.m my blood sugars had shot up to ridiculous levels and what felt like a million tiny grains of sugar were needling me underneath my skin, prickling and itching and jabbing. There’s no drug on earth that can fully mitigate these sensations either; they take time to disappear, even after insulin or other diabetic medications return blood glucose levels to normal*. Not even antihistamine works (believe me, I have tried). It’s not itching in any sense that you might understand, rather it feels as if I am being pricked by a thousand needles from the inside. It makes me jump and twitch, my head pounds, my eyes and mouth become as dry as Dorothy Parker. By the time my husband came home I was about ready to burn the world down with fire.

I really, really hate the fact that fruit – and other carbs – have become loaded with problems. I am so resentful that I can’t just eat a piece of goddamn fruit. I have one overriding thought:


I am looking at YOU Gwyneth, Ella, the two Hemsley Sisters. Tess Ward and Madeleine Shaw (whose ‘chia seed egg substitute’ is about as appealing as toad shit) among many others. The fact that so many of you are women does not escape me. I’m calling it a form of dietary Stockholm Syndrome set within a patriarchal system that oppresses women who try to carve out any kind of space for themselves but you don’t have to play along with it. You don’t get a feminist pass out of your self-imposed food jail.

You’re all barking, all of you, with your imaginary illnesses, carney-medicine and total lack of insight when it comes to the one problem you do have – a totally messed-up attitude towards food. You sell this insightless, steaming pile of pleasure-deprived crap to vulnerable people whilst those of us with real illnesses struggle to mitigate the dietary limitations these place upon us and wonder why the feck anyone might deliberately deprive themselves. You would take advantage of people like me if you could.

I don’t restrict carbs because I need to post photos of myself on balmy beaches hashtagged #blessed. I don’t restrict them because I erroneously mistake a full belly for bloat and I cannot cope with the idea of my body taking up more space in the world. I don’t restrict carbs because I have bought into a weird, sex ‘n death ‘n food vibe based upon ancient biblical concepts of denial that you all seem too wilfully dumb to understand, anyway.

I CAN’T eat more than 30g of carbohydrate a day, something which is really difficult to do and makes me wonder why anybody would choose to live like this. Doesn’t really matter where the carbs comes from either if I eat too many or too swiftly, although carbs that take longer to be absorbed (brown rice, eg) are *better*  but I refuse to accept that anyone with taste buds will always think ‘oh yum!’ when offered brown rice over a piece of sourdough spread with good butter or a bowlful of cacio e pepe, with a snowy covering of pecorino, or indeed a tray of roasted root veg. A handful of cherries or juicy peaches are as damaging to me, blood sugar-wise, as a chocolate bar is at the moment. When it comes to sugar, my body doesn’t care if it’s the *worthier* fructose from whole fruit or the baddie du jour, glucose. It gets mighty pissed off if it’s lactose, too. My diabetes doesn’t give a shit about clean eating and prefers torture by a thousand sugar-needles over my old habit of negative self-talk if I over-indulged. If you want to get all biblical then let’s call it a damn’ hair shirt.

When you are told you cannot eat the foods you have always adored, it feels like part of you has died, never mind the dire warnings of actual death or blindness, renal and heart disease or the grim possibility that bits of you will literally start dropping off if you don’t maintain ‘good control’. (It doesn’t escape me that some of the language of diabetes care resembles the self-think of eating disorders**). I’ve not forgotten that time when as a HCP, I took a patient for an X-Ray and a blackened, diabetic toe rolled out of his sock as we removed it. I intend to die with all my toes – and toe rings – still attached to my feet because, to paraphrase Kate Moss: “nothing tastes as good as having all your toes feels.”

I never did eat much white bread, white rice or pasta. I’m actually not a huge fan of pasta tbh. But when you can no longer blithely eat these sturdy workhorse carbs, by god you realise the fundamental role they played in your culinary repertoire. It’s really hard having to cook food for others that you cannot eat. It makes me feel like a feeder; like I have an eating disorder that compels me to cook and serve my family with delicious food whilst I toy with a lettuce leaf and tedious lumps of protein in the next room.

To not be able to sneak a roast potato from the tray when serving up lunch unless you count its damn carbs like Scrooge on Christmas Eve? Horrible. Snaffling the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakers? No longer a spontaneous joy. Having to ask Leon or Pret for the carb content of everything you think you might be able to eat and having people look at you like you’re some kind of Gwyneth Loon-Disciple? Humiliating. Ordering drinks in pubs? Challenging because caffeine shoves me into hypos really swiftly and there’s not many drinks that are sugar-free and caffeine-free. For those of you suggesting water, YOU try drinking it all night (and thank you to Sue for introducing me to a modified rock shandy which made me feel like a normal person in a pub again). And I haven’t even addressed the joys of eating out in decent restaurants where it feels like an insult to ask chef to accommodate you by leaving this or that off the finished dish. Yes I know I can just leave it but sitting in front of morsels of deliciousness knowing you cannot eat them is really, really shit.

Basically, when it comes to restricting food groups, the transaction will always be voluntary for clean eaters. They know they have a get-out clause. They know they don’t have to do it. If their resolve breaks and they decide to eat a slab of cheap chocolate or hunk of white bread, it really ain’t gonna hurt them because despite whatever woo nonsense they believe in, physiological homeostasis really isn’t that precarious. Pretending that it’s a matter of life and death for them, that the food they willingly exclude is harmful to them (when it is not) is sickening. For those of us contractually obliged to no longer eat in abundance the kinds of food we love because our bodies have let us down, the exclusion is of a more permanent kind.***

* My diabetes is my diabetes. Yours may have different symptoms.

** That’s a whole ‘nother blog post on how diabetes can really mess with body image and food issues. Feel free to commission me on this.

***Yes I am angry I have diabetes. It’s rubbish.”  

11 thoughts on “The Splenetic Diabetic

  1. Good read. I do not know if this might help: tell your friend to check the work done by doctor Valter Lungo on fast mimicking diet: he says (with good evidence, even if, I admit, the whole nutrition/health is a mine field) that fasting, done under superfision and in a specific way, might help in (amongst other things) diabetis (if u google valter longo + fast mimicking diet you will find the medical papers he pubblishd his research and other related material – it makes for a goos read)

  2. Oh Boy, what a wonderful name for a new blog ‘The Splenetic Diabetic’.

    Thank you Linda, it really helps that this blogpost has had a good response (instead of people thinking I am all bitter and twisted!) XX

    • Haha, perhaps you need to launch a spin-off blog. Seriously, though, I feel for you. I can imagine having a very similar response in your position, though probably with more cuss words. Big hugs. Lx

  3. I very profoundly relate to your situation.
    I am, after forty five years of cooking professionally and as an amateur, I am now floating in the very same boat as yourself (if you turn around, you’ll see me eyeing you, hungrily reconciling the moral implications of cannibalism)
    As a cook, I am at the very top of my game and yet, I no longer enjoy the wonders of my art; Pasta Carbonara made with fresh laid eggs and guanciale that I cured myself come to mind.
    I too, have held a close friend, my surrogate mother in fact, as she faced the loss of her toe, so I am aware of the fact that a suicide by croissant is not pretty. Still, it is cherry season here in Northern California, and there are cardboard fruit vendors brimming wirh bags of them on nearly every corner. It’s something I await every year and this year, the rains have made them particularly splendid, abundant, and very inexpensive…. But I do go on and life goes as well.
    Thank you for your essay. Just stay on your side of the boat, if you don’t mind.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Erich, and thanks for the follow. I have huge amounts of sympathy for both you and Nic – what torture for a cook. Do please check out Nicola’s blog too as she was the author of this piece … the link’s in the first paragraph. Regards, Linda.

  4. This is such a powerful piece. I had no idea that diabetes is so life-limiting, or that eating a nice juicy piece of fruit could be such a lottery. I can so understand why people who self-impose unnecessary clean-eating regimes on themselves must seem at best barmy. I had an English friend in France who though perfectly healthy denied herself anything at all with sugar and gluten. No cheese, no alcohol. In FRANCE. My best wishes to Nicola, and with hopes that before too long, there may be strategies, or new treatments, to help her along.

    • Thank you, Margaret, I’m sure she’ll read this and appreciate your comments. I find her frustration with and rage at the clean eating brigade entirely understandable. What torture, as a food lover and food writer, to find your diet so proscribed. Lx

  5. Many years ago, my dad was overweight, overworked, a smoker with poor dietary habits (he was a musician) and a family history of diabetes. He was eventually diagnosed with it himself. Between his doctor and my mum (an RN for 30 years) they were able to treat him without insulin for many years by “controlling” his diet. They were very successful with it, however the initial stages made the siege of Stalingrad seem like a walk in the park. Mealtimes seemed more like a restaurant that had two types of offerings on the menu: diabetic and non-diabetic. I don’t know how Mum did it but she was able to juggle his meals to allow him bits from both options but it worked extremely well and he never felt left out or that he was doing without some of his favourite foods. It was somewhat fascinating watching her silently calculate portions and the pros and cons of each food item without drawing attention to his illness whenever we went out for a meal. The upside was that he never lost any limbs like his father did. Although he recently passed away, he lived with diabetes for almost 40 years that he surely never would have had without Mum and her culinary and maths skills. I honestly don’t know if I could do it myself.

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