With November comes Diabetes Month, turning the focus of the nation, and the world, on diabetes and its related issues. This is the time when we, as a community of people living with and caring for loved ones with diabetes, raise our voices to show society that a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to stop us from climbing mountains and raising families and living amazing lives. We can do, be, and eat anything, right?
So why am I using a cupcake, or some other sugary treat, as a symbol of “sticking it” to diabetes? What’s the deal with celebratory carbs?
I’m not anti-cupcake. Quite the contrary – I think they’re delicious, I love baking them, and I love making them as decadent as possible. They are a treat, and an excellently indulgent one, at that.
But man, they are an absolute disaster for my blood sugars. Rarely do I have a cupcake (or similarly sweet treat) without seeing either a high blood sugar as a result of under-bolusing, or a low blood sugar due to overcompensating for the mountain of frosting. I can’t lie and pretend I have the whole cupcake-to-chaos avoidance ratio figured out. My diabetes simply doesn’t respond well to overly-indulgent treats.
“People with diabetes can eat anything,” “they” say.
Yes, yes they can. They can physically bring a food item to their mouth and consume it. This is true. It’s not a matter of “can’t,” but “should.”
“People with diabetes shouldn’t ever eat cupcakes,” the “other they” says.
I have a hard time accepting absolutes. The absolutes are what make me feel frustrated.
“People with diabetes shouldn’t ever eat cupcakes, or have babies, or eat gluten, or lick wallpaper, or ride unicycles, or shimmy their shoulders sassily on airplanes.” Or, “People with diabetes should always prick the side of their fingers – never the pad! – and CGM sensors can only be worn on the abdomen and if you’re not on an insulin pump, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
People with diabetes aren’t all the same. There isn’t a one-size fits all model to management, and what works for one person may not work entirely for another. (Actually, what works for one person on one day might not work entirely for her on another day.)
It’s not that you can’t have a cupcake. You can. You should, if you really want one. But I have a hard time subscribing to the “eat cupcakes to stick it to diabetes” mentality. Sticking it to diabetes by way of consuming mass amounts of excessively-sweet carbohydrates doesn’t make me feel like I’m sticking it to diabetes. Instead, I feel like I’m sticking it to myself, creating a tough-to-manage situation.
Can I eat a cupcake to celebrate my diabetes anniversary? Hell yes I can. One year, my husband bought me an ice cream cake and we ate giant slices, ignoring for a few minutes the constant mental burden of diabetes and choosing to celebrate my longevity with celebratory carbs. But should I eat cupcakes all the time? I don’t think so. For me, it’s a mess. I either over-bolus and end up tanking, blood sugar-wise, or I bolus too conservatively and end up higher than I’d like. All for a bit of sugary sweets? Not worth it, for me.
People with diabetes can eat anything. This is true. But I like embracing the mentality that people with diabetes can do anything. We can excel in school. We can become CEOs. We can find love. We can raise children. We can ride bikes and climb mountains. We can eat cupcakes, or pizza, or chicken, or eggs, or anything they served on Fear Factor (like the goat eyeball – how many carbs are in a goat eyeball, anyway?). We can drive cars. We can wear out shoes from running so many miles. We can sport bionic pancreases.
We can make good decisions. We can live long, healthy lives. Sometimes that good decision comes in the form of a cupcake, piled high with frosting and representing a refusal to succumb to the psychosocial burden of life with a chronic disease. And sometimes that good decision comes in the form of declining the cupcake and embracing a long run, or a quiet moment sitting on the deck, or simply saying no to the potential blood sugar bounce that may come as a result of a disease that is relentless. There isn’t a right answer, and there isn’t a set response that works for everyone, or on every day.
Cupcakes don’t represent rebellion. They represent indulgence and fun and delicious moments that everyone deserves, in moderation. They are awesome. But I don’t always have to say yes to them, or consume them as a way of flipping the bird to my diabetes. I tell diabetes to go screw every time I test my blood sugar, or calculate my insulin dose, or fight for insurance coverage. Healthy decisions make me feel in control of this unpredictable disease, and that’s the kind of power I need to move forward as an advocate this November, and every November.