I’ve been living with type 1 diabetes for six years now. Diagnosed at 17, my life changed.
Equipped with insulin pumps and flash glucose monitoring systems that allowed me to check my blood sugar with one swift scan, I had to revolutionise my relationship with my body. Taking care of my diabetes became the biggest responsibility I had as an under-18 at the time. It was a monumental adjustment.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that renders the pancreas unable to produce insulin. While other forms of the condition can be linked to diet and lifestyle, type 1 is not: many of those living with type 1 have a genetic predisposition (although genetics will not guarantee you develop it).
Virtually anything can have an impact on glucose levels: sleep, stress, exercise, and, vitally, food. In order to calculate the correct insulin dosage, type 1s must “carb count” – that is, determine how many grams of carbohydrate a food might contain, and use this figure to administer the correct amount of insulin. Giving the incorrect dosage of insulin can have significant consequences: too little and glucose levels will skyrocket; too much and they’ll plummet. I tread a fine line.
Earlier this year, the government announced that including calorie information on restaurant menus will become compulsory, with large businesses required to enlist calorie information on menus by April 2022 to encourage healthier choices. This has been the subject of great contention, with concerns surrounding the impact this might have – particularly on those with eating disorders. It is certainly an issue that needs careful thought.
While calories aren’t too much of an issue for me as a type 1 diabetic, listing carbohydrate information on restaurant menus would be life-changing. This has been largely left out of the conversation, but with type 1 cases a mere 8 per cent of total diabetes cases in the UK, it’s no surprise. We’re marginalised even within diabetes discourse.
Often, I’m left guessing as to the carb content in my meals, and while apps like Carbs and Cals, designed specifically for type 1 diabetics, can be helpful should I struggle, I often make mistakes. Chains like Wagamama and Pizza Express list their nutritional information online, which is eternally useful when eating out, but typically, I underestimate the number of carbs in a dish and end up suffering for it later on with high blood sugars. This takes away the fun of dining out for me, but it shouldn’t have to be this way.
And I’m not alone. Amelia has been living with type 1 diabetes for almost 23 years and struggles to eat out. “It’s pretty difficult as I don’t always know exactly what ingredients are in the food or how much is in there – things like sauces can be particularly difficult as they can have sugar added when you might not expect it”, she says. “Chain restaurants tend to have their nutritional information available online, but the carb counts aren’t always easy to find.”
Similarly, Kate was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age, and she believes that making carbohydrate listings compulsory would be transformational: “People with diabetes can, to an extent, risk their lives by not being able to access the right nutritional information and therefore give themselves the correct amount of insulin.
“Eating out with type 1 is always a bit of a challenge and finding the right carb information is hit and miss. I feel there’s no point asking the people who work there as they’re unlikely to know. Listings on menus would be hugely beneficial for me in managing my diabetes.”
With today marking World Diabetes Day, it’s time to change the narrative. Statistics show that less than one-third of type 1 diabetics achieve target glucose levels in some areas. We are struggling in silence and must improve the wellbeing of those who have diabetes now.