Diabetes, Intuitive Eating and Eating Disorders

For a long time now, diabetes has been an illness used as a scare tactic to support “healthy” behaviours. With our weight centric health care system, we inadvertently turn to demonising weight and eating behaviours as the be all end all of our health status. But is diabetes really a direct result of eating too much sugar, being in a larger body or gaining weight?

Let’s start with a little background before we dive into it.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where the body has trouble either producing or responding to the hormone called insulin.

This hormone is made in the pancreas by cells called beta cells. When our body has trouble either making enough insulin or using the insulin it produces, it results in our blood sugar being higher, because the insulin helps the sugar get into our cells to use as energy.

This can lead to many different common signs of diabetes:

  • Sugary Urine: Yes, sometimes the excess sugar can spill over into our urine
  • Excessive thirst: When we have too much sugar in our blood, our body tries to make us drink more by making us thirsty to try to water down the sugar in an effort to balance it out.
  • Frequent urination: We feel like we need frequent urination because our body again is trying to get into balance and is trying to pee out all that sugar.
  • Extreme hunger: Insulin is like a key that unlocks the door into our cells and lets sugar in to give us energy. We need that fuel to be able to do all the activities we do in a day to just feel like normal human beings. When we can’t unlock that door anymore because the insulins not working or we just don’t have enough of it, we can feel extremely hungry, because our body’s just trying really hard to get some energy.

 

There are 3 different types of diabetes:

> Type 1: This is an autoimmune disease where the body actually destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin. So, it’s really hard for our bodies to process carbohydrates or to process sugars that we eat because it can’t replenish the insulin stores. So, people with Type 1 need to have insulin injections to process food and use it as energy to survive!

> Type 2: This is when the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body can’t use the insulin properly. Some people with type 2 need insulin injections/medication and others don’t.

Gestational: This is similar to type two diabetes, but it’s caused by hormone changes during pregnancy. It gives us sort of like a temporary diabetes, especially in the second half of our pregnancy. It is usually resolved post-partum.

Common Myths around Diabetes

  1. “If I eat too much sugar, I will get diabetes”:
    1. Sometimes people get this idea that we ate too much sugar, and that’s why we got diabetes. But actually, diabetes is really, really strongly genetics. So, you’ll notice diabetes runs very much in families. If you’ve had a lot of people in your family that have had diabetes, it would be a good idea to get checked to see if you are also at higher risk. We can eat sugar and not have diabetes. Sugar does not cause diabetes, and neither does weight.
  1. “People in larger bodies are at higher risk of developing diabetes”:
    1. We see diabetes in people of all shapes and sizes. In fact, thin bodied people can get type two diabetes, and many people who live in larger bodies are at very low risk of type two diabetes because of their genetic profile. The reality is, even if you haven’t gained any weight, or even if you’re in a smaller body, you might have gotten it anyways, because of those genetic risk factors.

Some people get high blood pressure, some people get blue eyes, some people get brown eyes, some people get diabetes. There is all sort of reasons why people develop diabetes and we need to stop thinking it’s solely related to sugar and weight gain.

Weight DOES NOT = Diabetes

Diabetes and Disordered Eating  

Unfortunately, the way most interactions go when it comes to diabetes care, is a strong recommendation for people to lose weight as a way to improve their insulin resistance. Or, if they live in a smaller body, they are advised to never gain weight so that they worsen their insulin resistance.

As you can imagine, this can lead to disordered eating because people will engage in restrictive behaviours in order to either lose weight or prevent weight gain. Even though, their diabetes wasn’t CAUSED by their weight.

Where we are restricting our food intake to try to lose weight or to try to keep our blood sugar’s as low as possible, this often means we are ignoring our hunger and fullness cues. So then, we get into the cycle of under eating, or limiting certain food groups or macronutrients, which only makes us crave those foods even more, because our body needs food!

People easily get caught up in disordered eating behaviours out of good intent because naturally, all they want to do is be healthy and not worsen their diabetes. However, what some doctors and researchers don’t realize, is how this type of recommendation can make someone’s health (both physical and psychological) even worse than what it was.

Intuitive Eating as a Balancing Tool

Eating intuitively when we have diabetes is possible. In fact, it’s a great way to manage your diabetes all while maintaining a healthy relationship with food and our body.

When we are being mindful and intuitive about what our body needs, whether it be sugar or protein or fibre, it’s going to have a positive impact on our blood sugar, which means it’s going to support our overall health. We will have better heart health, kidney health, brain health, and so much more improvements on the long-term consequences of unmanaged diabetes!

One way you can practice being intuitive while managing your diabetes is by doing what I call “Mindful blood sugar checking”:

> This is not about good or bad blood sugar. This is about information gathering. It’s kind of like that investigative journalist who needs to find out more about what happens in our bodies when we eat certain things.

> Checking our blood sugars gives us some information about what food does to us. And there’s no good or bad. It just is what it is!

> Based on this, we will know how to manage our blood sugar based on what/how we ate. If you drank juice and your blood sugar went up, that’s good to keep in mind for when you have low blood sugars. You can rely on juice to help bring it back up to a safer zone.

Intuitive eating, diabetes and eating disorders

When someone has diabetes, intuitive eating might start looking more like a self-care routine with eating, nourishing ourselves, learning about our hunger signals etc.

For people with eating disorders or disordered eating, making peace with food right from the get-go may be a little triggering and even problematic. In this case, we need to really go back to the fundamentals and learn HOW to eat and HOW to take care of our bodies. At the beginning, hunger and fullness cues aren’t necessarily working normally. So, for these reasons, we bring intuitive eating in the later stages of treatment and care. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get included, in your treatment plan! It just means that we have a few crucial steps to do before hand to make sure you feel confident and good about yourself as an intuitive eater in recovery!

 

CONCLUSION

Diabetes is a progressive disease. The disease can change over time and that doesn’t mean we aren’t taking care of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t eat properly or that we didn’t exercise enough, but rather that the condition can change over time. Sometimes that means changing the way that we care for ourselves to make sure we meet ourselves where we are at in the moment.

Reminding ourselves that we’re doing the best that we can with the tools that we have right now and that’s good enough.

 

Looking to find Food Freedom but don’t know where to start?

Check out my FREE Class to learn more about my Guilt Free Method so that you can find food freedom and feel good in your body.

 

🎙 Access the full PODCAST episode here!🎙

Hear me and one of our dietitian’s from The Balanced Practice Team Jasna talk about this topic in this week’s podcast episode ! It’s PACKED with useful information! Click the links below to listen:

Need support?👇

The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating. Our mission is to help as many folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!

We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.

 

Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian and Founder of  The Balanced Practice

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