In 2013, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 15. I was rushed to the hospital with blood sugars of 38.8 mmol/s or 700 mg/dl. I began insulin treatment straight away and the first meal I received was toast, followed by breaded chicken and potatoes.
My blood sugars spiked after each meal.
Feeling worried, I asked my endo about this, and she said it was normal for a person with diabetes to spike after meals. The advice I received was “You can eat whatever you want as long as you take insulin for it. There is no such thing as a diabetic diet.”
For the next four years, I tried my hardest to achieve steady blood sugars following the UK ‘Eatwell Plate’ guidelines, aka a high carbohydrate diet. Being told I could carry on eating whatever I wanted at diagnosis was the only bit of normality I could grasp onto. But, after years of carb counting and working with my diabetes care team, I still couldn’t consistently achieve steady blood sugars. My A1c results came back as “abnormal – but expected.” Every day was a rollercoaster, which also meant a rollercoaster of emotions. I was constantly tired, emotional and exhausted.
I knew there had to be a better way to manage this disease.
After a particularly rubbish day with my diabetes back in 2017, I began researching online. I came across a perfect CGM graph on social media with the caption ‘I got 99 problems but blood sugar control ain’t one.’ I was amazed and wondered how it had been achieved. Luckily, the image was tagged #lowcarb.
I googled ‘low carb and type 1 diabetes’ and found Dr Bernstein’s books. I ordered them and began learning about this alternative way of managing type 1 diabetes. Very quickly it all began to make so much sense. My lightbulb moment was discovering The Law of Small Numbers:
Small amounts of carbs = small amounts of insulin = small chance of error/fluctuation.
After hours spent reading books, researching online and looking at other type 1s for guidance and inspiration, I tried eating low carb for a week and was absolutely blown away by my results. On my first day my blood sugars stayed between 4-7 mmol/l. I went from taking on average 60 units of insulin a day down to just 26 units.
Mentally and physically, I felt stronger. I was able to exercise without dropping low. Three whole weeks went by without going hypo or hyper. I was no longer experiencing energy crashes throughout the day. Gone were the cravings for carbs and sugar. I was still able to eat delicious food – I just swapped regular flour for almond flour, sugar for sweetener and so forth. There are so many amazing recipes online that you can practically make anything low carb.
For the first time in my life, I felt in control of my diabetes, instead of the other way around. I realized that although many factors can affect our blood sugar, there is no escaping the fact that carbohydrates have the greatest impact.
My family and friends could see a difference in me too, and I remember a friend telling me, “You look so much happier.”
Three years on, I still follow a low carb lifestyle and my most recent HbA1c result was 4.6%, well within the non-diabetic range. Many doctors are astonished by my results and often tell me they have never seen a type 1 with blood sugar control like mine.
What I find incredible is that if I hadn’t come across the CGM graph on social media, I might still be living with rollercoaster blood sugars. The one question I had back then and still have to this day is ‘Why wasn’t I told about this earlier?’
In the UK, a lower carb lifestyle is not even presented as an option for people with type 1 diabetes and is actively discouraged by many diabetes charities. I am fighting to change this. I joined the Instagram diabetes community last year to share my journey with low carb and to raise awareness. I still get emotional each time I get a message from someone saying low carb has changed their life or their child’s life.
Some people say low carb is restrictive. In my opinion, low carb isn’t restrictive – diabetes itself is restrictive. Low carb is freedom.
For many of us, low carb is not just about food, it’s about life. It enables us to live long, happy and healthy lives without our diabetes getting in the way, now or in the future.
Low carb truly is the closest thing to feeling like a non-diabetic.
And that’s the reason I still eat this way three years on.