Living with Type 1 - Sophie's story
This years Diabetes Awareness Week is about shining the light on the many incredible #DiabetesStories from all corners of the world.
We sat down with Sophie – a Type 1 warrior from Devon who was diagnosed in 2013. Here, she shares her experience of diabetes so far – the highs, the lows, the learnings and why a low carb lifestyle is her choice for more stable blood sugars.
At what age did you discover you had Type 1 Diabetes?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 15 years old. I had a feeling something was wrong as I was always thirsty, and I'd lost a lot of weight. I was taken to hospital and started insulin injections straight away. It definitely came as a shock!
Can you tell us a bit about your experience so far?
My journey hasn’t always been smooth. When I was diagnosed the general advice was to carry on eating whatever I wanted as long as I took insulin for it, and to have a large amount of carbohydrates with every meal. The recommendation was a high carb, low fat diet. Unfortunately, carb-counting is not as easy as it seems. Even though I tried my hardest with my blood sugars, every day was a rollercoaster, and I would spike and drop out of range. My carb/sugar cravings were strong, and I would get hangry if I didn’t eat every hour or so!
I tried to stick to healthier high carb options such as porridge, bananas, jacket potatoes, and whole grains, but even these would spike me. My hair was thin, my skin was dry, and I had dark bags under my eyes. I was exhausted all the time and I was worried about what the high blood sugars were doing to my body. My diabetes really restricted my life, and I began to wonder if eating “normally” was worth the short term and long-term side effects.
So, what changed?
Four years later, I was browsing social media when I came across a steady blood sugar graph. The caption was “I got 99 problems but blood sugar control ain’t one” and they had tagged ‘lowcarb’. It was at that moment I put the words ‘low carb for type 1 diabetes’ into Google. Lots of articles and studies came up about people with type 1 diabetes who were having great success eating this way and were achieving normal blood sugars. I ordered some books, joined Facebook groups and began learning about an alternative way to manage type 1 diabetes.
My lightbulb moment was discovering ‘The Law of Small Numbers’: Small amounts of carbs = small amounts of insulin = small chances of error/fluctuation. That was a game changer for me and it began to make so much sense.
What changes did you start to make?
I changed my meals and snacks to lower carb versions and within the first week my blood sugars were the steadiest they’ve ever been. To my surprise, I really enjoyed experimenting with new recipes and trying new foods. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. My friends could see a difference in me as well and said, “You look so much happier.” My hair started to grow thicker and stronger, my energy levels increased, and I wasn’t spiking anymore after eating. I would look at my blood sugars and not believe they were mine!
My last HbA1c result was 27 mmol/l or 4.6%, which is well within the non-diabetic range. My doctors are blown away at my results and a lot of them tell me they have never seen a type 1 diabetic with such steady blood sugars. After years of struggling, I am so grateful that I have finally found a way to manage my type 1 diabetes that is enjoyable, healthy and sustainable.
Can you tell us about the impact of a low carb diet on your insulin levels?
So many things can affect our blood sugar – stress, the weather, hormones, exercise, sleep, but there’s no denying the fact that carbohydrates have the biggest impact. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, I have a meal that is high in protein and healthy fats and low in carbohydrates. This keeps my hunger levels and blood sugars steady throughout the day and overnight.
When I was taking large doses of insulin to cover high carb food, it was very easy to make mistakes. Because I had a large amount of insulin on board to cover the carbs, I would drop low regularly, especially during exercise. The high carbs foods would also spike my blood sugars instantly or spike them later on.
Now I take between 1-3 units of insulin per meal, which is a lot safer and manageable. Because I am taking smaller amounts of insulin, I rarely drop low during exercise now. Eating foods that are low in carbs enables me to completely avoid a large spike in my blood sugar.
What are some of the greatest challenges you've overcome?
It was a challenge to re-learn everything I thought I knew about food and switch to a lower carb lifestyle. For years I had restricted my fat intake, so it took a while to get used to drizzling olive oil over salads and enjoying double cream! I also believed if I reduced my carbs, I wouldn’t have much energy, but instead the reverse happened. My energy levels returned, and I was able to go out hiking and surfing for hours, without needing to stop for a break. My family were apprehensive at first too, but after seeing how much happier and healthier I am now, they are so proud. They can’t believe the difference it has had on my health and happiness (and blood sugars of course!)
Talk to us about food – what do you love, find helpful and avoid?
I love cheese, berries, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, Greek yoghurt, eggs, meat/fish and green leafy vegetables. In terms of recipes, my staple ingredients are ground almonds, coconut flour, cocoa powder and natural sweetener.
I choose to avoid confectionery, grains, potatoes and high sugar fruits such as bananas or grapes, as these dramatically spike my blood sugar. Luckily, I can make my own chocolate cake/cookies/muffins etc, so I never feel like I am missing out on anything!
The only time I eat sugar is when my blood sugar drops low. For hypo treatments I stick to dextrose tablets or small sweets, as these are measured amounts of sugar, so I can easily control how much I am having and avoid a rebound spike.
What are some of your favourite low carb meals/recipes?
My tastes have changed dramatically so now even just a piece of plain meat or fish cooked in butter and spices with a side of green veggies tastes absolutely delicious. Lately I’ve been experimenting with low carb recipes for pizza, nachos and lasagne, which have turned out brilliantly. I would say my favourite dish is homemade chicken curry with Fullgreen Cauliflower or Broccoli rice and saag paneer. Amazingly, poppadums are low in carbs too, so I always enjoy one of those with my curry.
It seems like there is a really supportive community out there for people living with diabetes. How important is it to have social groups to share knowledge with?
If it wasn't for the diabetes community on social media, I don’t think I would have ever discovered low carb and would still be struggling with rollercoaster sugars. At the moment a lower carb lifestyle is not even presented as an option for people with type 1 diabetes, which is why I created my page. I believe every person with diabetes should at least know about low carb, so they can choose to follow it if they wish. I love being able to learn from other people with diabetes and talk about our experiences together, sharing recipes and tips. Type 1 diabetes can be lonely if you don’t know anyone else with this condition, so having a supportive online community really makes all the difference.
Follow Sophie on Instagram at @t1dsophie