Good morning! Welcome back to Flawed yet Functional! I’m Emily Stauch, and I’ve been experimenting with managing type 1 diabetes better through diet, exercise, healthy habits, and minimal amounts of insulin for almost 3 years now. Diabetes is a complex disease where many input affect your blood sugar, but what about your food? Can you control diabetes with diet? While this isn’t a medical study, I’d love to show you what I’ve learned about managing diabetes with diet.
Diet and diabetes. Touchy subjects. Food is so personal, and the mention of needing to change what you consume often falls on deaf ears.
May I stretch your mind a bit today? I’ve experienced some rather phenomenal changes in my life by laying down my pride (along with my donuts and lattes) and doing the hard work to change my diet. It wasn’t always easy. There have been bad days and good days, but overall, it has been worth it and so good for all aspects of my health.
What Is Diabetes?
Just a quick refresher on the definition of diabetes in case you don’t know. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Both types of diabetes are diagnosed because of high blood sugar, but the causes of high blood sugar are very different.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which means the body’s immune system is literally attacking the organs in the body as though it were an intruder (source). In the case of type 1 diabetes, the antibodies of the immune system are attacking the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. (Insulin helps the body’s cells use the glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream). Once enough of the beta cells are killed (about 80%) then there is not enough insulin in the body to bring down the blood glucose levels and type 1 diabetes is diagnosed.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder (source). When the body is flooded with sugar or carbs consistently and persistently, the body becomes insulin resistant meaning it does not use insulin as efficiently as it should. Since the body is not using the insulin properly, more insulin is required to bring the blood sugar back to normal levels. When the body cannot regulate blood sugar with its own insulin, overall blood sugar rises and type 2 diabetes is diagnosed.
In simple terms, type 2 diabetics have too much insulin (usually) and type 1 diabetics don’t have enough. However, medical research is diving more and more into nutritional links between autoimmune diseases and diet. The findings are surprising. Gluten is found many times as a trigger for autoimmune diseases. The funny thing is, why aren’t we applying this information to type 1 diabetes? If the studies out there say eliminating gluten helps autoimmune diseases tremendously, why not change the diabetics’ diets?
Can You Control Diabetes Through Diet?
These findings beg the next question, can you control diabetes through diet? When I was young, my brother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and my mom changed his diet dramatically. It was conventional wisdom that diabetics must eat a well-balanced diet full of vegetables, meat, fruit, grains, etc. to manage diabetes. In those days, sugar was the “bad guy.” Diabetics were only told to not eat granulated sugar, but eat 8-12 servings of grains per day.
Pardon me while I laugh out loud! Unfortunately, back then, the knowledge of how our bodies process food was not known to the extent it is today. All those grains diabetics were eating were wreaking havoc on their blood sugar. Grains are all carbs that get broken down into glucose when digested. That’s sugar, folks.
So here we are in 2020, much wiser in regards to how the body processes food, and we also have the advantage of better insulin. There are two kinds of insulin, long-acting insulin that lowers blood sugar evenly for 24 hours. Then there is fast-acting insulin which is taken with meals. The fast-acting insulin will spike as the body digests food so that the influx of carbs eaten at a meal is covered by this second type of insulin. However, we use this new technology of insulin to say that diabetics no longer need to lower their carbohydrate. The main goal that I’ve seen in endocrinologist’s offices is to just take enough insulin to cover the carbs.
I feel we’ve gotten this wrong. Yes, 30 years ago we didn’t have the diet part of treatment quite right, but today the treatment plan has gone too far in the other directions. Diet is important. It DOES have a factor in the health of all autoimmune disease sufferers, and it SHOULD be part of every type 1 diabetic’s treatment plan.
What Foods Can Diabetics Eat?
If a changed diet should be a part of every type 1 diabetic’s treatment plan, then what foods can a diabetic eat?
I wish there was a plain and simple answer to this question. There isn’t a clear-cut list of “eat this not that.” The answer lies in each diabetic taking ownership of his/her body and discovering their own food sensitivities so they can put together an anti-inflammatory diet that is free from any food sensitivities the diabetic has.
Anti-inflammatory diets are ones that quell inflammation in the body and allow the body to heal on the inside and resume optimal functioning. When a diabetic is suffering from inflammation, high blood sugar and high insulin usage is one result. On the flip-side, once the inflammation is cured, blood sugar drops, insulin sensitivity increases which allow the diabetic to use LESS insulin to manage the same number of carbs.
When the gut is inflamed, using higher doses of insulin to bring down high blood sugar is only a temporary fix. Once the insulin wears off, the blood sugar will rise (seemingly all on its own!) because the gut is not doing its job.
The best strategy for a type 1 diabetic wanting to find optimal health and minimal insulin usage is to do the Autoimmune Protocol elimination diet followed by reintroductions to discover any food sensitivities and build a diet free of them.
How can I say all these things? How do I know them to be true? I’ve tested my theories on my own body, and they have proven true. I said this article was a case study, so let’s look at my diabetes and diet to see how I control diabetes with diet (and a bit of insulin too!).
My Personal Journey With Controlling Diabetes With Diet
My journey into diet change to manage diabetes started out as a test which I 100% expected to fail. One night, I dove into the depths of the internet reading medical journal after medical journal about the link of gluten and autoimmune diseases. After MANY articles, I knew I had to try it. What did I have to lose? So that night, I quit gluten.
The very next day I was able to stop taking my fast-acting insulin. Yes, that day. I didn’t need additional insulin at meals. This sounds amazing, but might not be so miraculous if you think about it. Wheat products contain a whole bunch of carbs that raise blood sugar. So if you eliminate that from your diet, then the carbohydrate count naturally lowers requiring less insulin.
Here’s the miraculous part: within a few days, I had to stop taking my long-acting insulin because my body didn’t need it. Even taking 1 unit of long-acting insulin would send me low. This is incredible!
More Vegetables and an Elimination Diet
Over the next few months, I refined my diet to include more vegetables but was seeing an upward trend in my blood sugar even after four months of being gluten-free.
In September 2017, I tried my first elimination diet. Dairy, eggs, nightshades, all grains, legumes, and more were eliminated from my diet. It worked immediately! The only problem was I was lazy, and this diet was hard work. So after 2 weeks of amazing blood sugar, I haphazardly reintroduced foods back into my diet.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)
Not two months later, things were climbing in the blood sugar department. Rats! This time I found the Autoimmune Protocol which was really well mapped out in how to do the elimination phase along with a structured plan for reintroducing food.
In February 2018, I tried the elimination diet again, and again, it worked immediately. I’ve been working through reintroductions for about a year and a half. Yes, it is very slow work. When a challenge food fails, it takes my gut 2-4 weeks to heal. Also, cross-contamination is a real bugger. Often times I have to wait months to try a new food because I got some egg or dairy at a friend’s house, restaurant, or hotel. My blood sugar is my key identifier of food sensitivity, so I’ve got to be in a good place before testing a new food.
Managing Type 1 Diabetes With AIP
Here is what managing type 1 diabetes by the autoimmune protocol diet looks like for me. These results are specific to my body, and I write them down as an example and inspiration for you. If you are a type 1 diabetic seeking for better control of your blood sugar, then you must take the same path I did. Through an elimination diet, you will learn your body, its sensitivities, and be able to create the best anti-inflammatory, autoimmune friendly diet for you.
When my gut is healthy, I am able to take 6 units of long-acting insulin per day. My blood sugar remains in the 100 to 130 range, which is the goal for a type 1 diabetic. Since I do not take any mealtime insulin, this means only one injection per day!
However, I still check my blood sugar four times a day so I can see any inflammation very quickly. Type 1 diabetes is a fast-moving disease, and it is self-regulated. So if you go the route of diet change to manage your diabetes better, you must stay on top of it with regular blood glucose monitoring.
To maintain this low level of insulin dosage, I do watch my carbohydrate intake. While I do not obtain the keto level of carb intake, I am in the low-carb diet range. My daily carb count is about 70 grams of carbohydrate or less.
This may sound super low if you are used to the standard American diet. However, once gluten and grains are eliminated from your diet, most of the carbs go with it. A diet that is heavy in vegetables and meat with moderate amounts of fruit and no processed food will be below 100 carbs per day easily.
How to Manage Diabetes with Diet
Is your curiosity piqued? Are you curious if you are diabetes management could be better than with your current diet?
If the thought of diet change intimidates you, there is a course that will help you! The Autoimmune Boot Camp is a step-by-step course to walk you through the beginning stages of an autoimmune-friendly diet. Over the course of five weeks, you will eliminate gluten, processed food, unhealthy drinks, and add a heap more vegetables to your diet. Those changes can be overwhelming, so each week healthy lifestyle habits are wrapped into the diet changes to help you make permanent, lasting changes.
Do you want help getting started? Sign up here to join the waitlist for the next session of the Autoimmune Boot Camp! Get ready to change your life!
So can you control diabetes with diet? In my experience, yes, you can! It is possible to manage it completely with diet for a to-be-determined period of time depending on your body and the progression of the disease. Even after insulin is introduced into your healthcare management plan, diet has a huge effect on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar stability. Diet should be a major factor when determining your type 1 diabetes management plan.