We were a motely bunch. Teenage girls who had fooled around with their insulin to lose weight, a seventy year old woman so embarrassed about her few extra pounds that she had never appeared completely naked to her husband, a few very slightly overweight men, and a few downright obese women. All of us had type 2 diabetes and all of us, for one reason or another, were scared to death of food.
A few years back, I attended a class on how to eat with type 2 diabetes. The stress was on eating, on giving yourself permission to down small quantities of what – for lack of a better word – are deemed ‘off limit’ or bad foods. Like Oreos, or ice cream, or fill-in- your-own-evil-carb.
The workshop leader had suggestions. Go to the supermarket and buy everything you ever craved – Krispy Kremes, cartons of Ben and Jerry, sticky buns. Take it home and eat as much as you want. Without restriction; without cares. Repeated for a few days, this behavior would radically wean us of the idea that there were ‘forbidden’ foods, and allow us to approach formerly off-limit provisions with more equanimity. Once we took our favorite foods off the ‘forbidden’ list, she said, we would begin to realize we could have a single cookie, or two, without resorting to eating the entire box.
Next, she suggested that we carry around a feed bag filled with whatever it was we craved – baby Snickers, Twizzlers, Fritos – and then, when we found ourselves hungry, we’d be allowed to decide what it was that we were hungry for and then let ourselves have a small amount of the desired food, right at the moment of craving. The theory was that this might stave off a later attack of the killer munchies – one Snicker compared to inhaling the entire bag.
The result – fewer binges, a few pounds lost, better sugars.
What was the response to this rather practical advice?
Total, complete and unmitigated horror. The entire class appeared to shrink as one, take a deep breath, and then unleash their anger on the instructor. How could she think that we would do that? How could our sugars not rise? Why did she want to sabotage us?
It isn’t sabotage, she said. It’s eating to your hunger; it’s deciding what you want – salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, soft – and then filling that void. Which, she said, is what simple eating should be about.
The audience knew better. Eating was medicine. Eating was problematic. Eating meant high/low sugars, balancing meds, trouble on the scale. Eating meant filling emptiness, blocking loneliness, quelling emotions. The instructor listened, and shook her head. Eating was sustenance, she said.
I was reminded of this class when I read Jessica and Jane’s posts this week, where they both talk about difficulties with eating and diabetes. I think Jane makes two good points about the abundance of food making life more difficult for us all and about getting back to that place that she identified in childhood where eating was linked to hunger and not everything else.
I’m not sure of the answer to any of this. But for those of us locked in a struggle of diabetes highs and lows and foods that are “good” and “bad”, it might be occasionally beneficial to remind ourselves that even as we aim for awesome sugars, we also eat for a variety of reasons – for sustenance, for pleasure, for sociability. And yes, sometimes for loneliness, sadness, or even happiness.
Maybe, sometimes, we need to be a little less tough on ourselves and admit we’re simply human.
Maybe, sometimes, an Oreo is simply an Oreo.