Why diabetes has made me detest clean eating even more


I bought a plumptious white peach on Sunday and perched it on the windowsill facing my desk so it could bask in my admiration. I tried to find pleasure in the anticipation of eating it but the important part – that a delay in eating must be voluntarily self-imposed to be truly enjoyable- has gone.

I was diagnosed with diabetes six weeks ago. My days of eating peaches without care are over.

These days I have to perform carb maths, tapping on my phone with fingers sore from multiple pinpricks. (How did people in the olden days cope without apps to help?) I conduct an internal dialogue with my pancreas and liver (please let me eat this!) in front of market stalls or  rammed up against a seething, hungry mass of humanity at food festivals. I hang around online food sites at 2 am in the morning when I am fitful from hypoglycemia or its hyper-odious sibling and torture myself with the Things I Cannot Have. It’s a form of self harm, I know, but it serves as a necessary part of accepting what has happened to me as I push myself up against my diagnosis. I can no longer leave any room for mistakes in a body that has become as confounding and wily as an old coyote.

The immutable reality of peach carbs (14-17g) meant it would have to replace the slice of wholemeal toast I prefer for breakfast and wouldn’t do at all as a mid-morning snack; I ensured I drank lots of water with it; I ate it slowly; I did ALL THE GODDAMN SENSIBLE DIABETIC THINGS.

By 11 a.m my blood sugars had shot up to ridiculous levels and what felt like a million tiny grains of sugar were needling me underneath my skin, prickling and itching and jabbing. There’s no drug on earth that can fully mitigate these sensations either; they take time to disappear, even after insulin or other diabetic medications return blood glucose levels to normal*. Not even antihistamine works (believe me, I have tried). It’s not itching in any sense that you might understand, rather it feels as if I am being pricked by a thousand needles from the inside. It makes me jump and twitch, my head pounds, my eyes and mouth become as dry as Dorothy Parker. By the time my husband came home I was about ready to burn the world down with fire.

I really, really hate the fact that fruit- and other carbs- have become loaded with problems. I am so resentful that I can’t just eat a piece of goddamn fruit. I have one overriding thought:


I am looking at YOU Gwyneth, Ella, the two Hemsley Sisters. Tess Ward and Madeleine Shaw (whose ‘chia seed egg substitute’ is about as appealing as toad shit) among many others. The fact that so many of you are women does not escape me. I’m calling it a form of dietary Stockholm Syndrome but you don’t get a feminist pass out of your self-imposed exile from joyful eating. Neither do I buy the argument that all clean eaters are psychologically unwell themselves. Some may well be, but does this also apply to the publishers and media organisations who make a lot of money from hawking dietary woo? Nope it does not.  You would take advantage of people like me if you could.

I don’t restrict carbs because I need to post photos of myself on balmy beaches hashtagged #blessed. I don’t restrict them because I erroneously mistake a full belly for bloat and I cannot cope with the idea of my body taking up more space in the world. I don’t restrict carbs because I have bought into a weird, sex ‘n death ‘n food vibe based upon quasi-spiritual concepts of denial and purity.

I CAN’T eat more than 40g of carbohydrate a day. Keeping to this is really difficult to do so I wonder why anybody would choose to live like this. It doesn’t hugely matter where the carbs comes from either which flies in the face of conventional dietary advice to diabetics, although carbs that take longer to be absorbed (brown rice, eg) are *better*.  I refuse to accept that anyone with taste buds will always think ‘oh yum!’ when offered brown rice over a piece of sourdough spread with good butter or a bowlful of cacio e pepe with a snowy covering of pecorino, or a tray of roasted root veg. A handful of cherries or juicy peaches are as damaging to me, blood sugar-wise, as a chocolate bar is at the moment. When it comes to sugar, my body doesn’t care if it’s the *worthier* fructose from whole fruit or the baddie du jour, glucose. It gets mighty pissed off if it’s lactose, too. My diabetes doesn’t give a shit about clean eating and prefers torture by a thousand sugar-needles over my old habit of negative self-talk if I over-indulged. If you want to get all biblical then let’s call it a damn hair shirt.

When you are told you cannot eat the foods you have always adored, it feels like part of you has died, never mind the dire warnings of actual death or blindness, renal and heart disease or the grim possibility that bits of you will literally start dropping off if you don’t maintain ‘good control’. (It doesn’t escape me that some of the language of diabetes care resembles the self-think of eating disorders**). I’ve not forgotten that time when as a HCP, I took a patient for an X-Ray and a blackened, diabetic toe rolled out of his sock as we removed it. I intend to die with all my toes- and toe rings- still attached to my feet because to paraphrase Kate Moss: “nothing tastes as good as having all your toes feels.”

I never did eat much white bread, white rice or pasta. I’m actually not a huge fan of pasta tbh. But when you can no longer blithely eat these sturdy workhorse carbs, by god you realise the fundamental role they played in your culinary repertoire. It’s really hard having to cook food for others that you cannot eat. It feels like an eating disorder that compels me to cook and serve my family with delicious food whilst I toy with a lettuce leaf and tedious lumps of protein in the next room.

To not be able to sneak a roast potato from the tray when serving up lunch unless you count its damn carbs like Scrooge on Christmas Eve? Horrible. Snaffling the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakers? No longer a spontaneous joy. Having to ask Leon or Pret for the carb content of everything you think you might be able to eat and having people look at you like you’re some kind of Gwyneth Loon-Disciple? Humiliating. Ordering drinks in pubs? Challenging because caffeine shoves me into hypos really swiftly and there are not many drinks that are sugar-free and caffeine-free. For those of you suggesting water, YOU try drinking it all night. I haven’t even addressed the joys of eating out in decent restaurants where it feels like an insult to ask the chef to accommodate you by leaving this or that from the finished dish. Yes I know I can just leave it but sitting in front of morsels of deliciousness knowing you cannot eat them is really, really shit.

Basically, when it comes to restricting food groups, the transaction will always be voluntary for clean eaters. They know they have a get-out clause. They know they don’t have to do it. If their resolve breaks and they decide to eat a slab of cheap chocolate or hunk of white bread, it ain’t gonna hurt them because despite whatever woo nonsense they believe in, physiological homeostasis really isn’t that precarious. Pretending that it’s a matter of life and death for them, that the food they willingly exclude is harmful to them (when it is not) is sickening. For those of us contractually obliged to no longer eat in abundance the kinds of food we love because our bodies have let us down, the exclusion is of a more permanent kind.***

* My diabetes is my diabetes. Yours may have different symptoms.

** That’s a whole ‘nother blog post on how diabetes can really mess with body image and food issues. Feel free to commission me on this.

***Yes I am angry I have diabetes. It’s rubbish.




18 thoughts on “Why diabetes has made me detest clean eating even more

  1. I applaud your anger, your refusal to use the disease as support for food-fearing nonsense, and I applaud this sentence :You’re all barking, all of you, with your imaginary illnesses, carney -medicine and total lack of insight when it comes to the one problem you do have- a totally messed-up attitude towards food. You sell this insightless, steaming pile of pleasure-deprived crap to vulnerable people … . Thank you. May you overcome. Victor

  2. Such a powerful piece! Having been variations of plump all my life, I have been mystified at the insensitivity and insanity of normal-to0skinny friends who moan and groan to me that they are “fat.” Knowing the realities of those who struggle with food security, I find it impossible to tolerate those who judge and condemn “choices” that are anything but. Food can be a weapon, and women have become adept at using it on others, but most of all, on ourselves. I wish for you healing and peaches, my friend.

    1. Oh Ronni, you are a total love <3. I too cannot tolerate judgement and deprivation wrapped up as 'choice'. Hopefully by the time I come to the USA next spring, I will be better equipped to eat what I love most. X

  3. Nicola, I am so sorry you have to live these limitations and appreciate your anger and reflection on those who choose limitations out of vanity rather than need. (That said, many of those people also struggle and feel pain, and disordered eating is a horrible scourge similar to addiction, requiring care…but that’s a discussion for another time.) Anyway, I wanted to thank you sincerely for helping me to understand a diabetic and mentally ill relative who complained of being pricked by pins in bed at night. We thought this was a manifestation of her schizophrenia, but perhaps it is better understood as a diabetic reaction, as you described: “rather it feels as if I am being pricked by a thousand needles from the inside.” Thank you for shedding light, and wishing that you find a happy balance between the comfort of food and your body’s reaction to it.

    1. Thanks for your comment and kind words.

      I used to be a MH professional and I have written and spoken about the disordered side of eating in the past having treated many people with EDs, however I feel to typify most clean eaters as ill is erroneous- especially when one considers the mighty publishing and other media organisations who make millions out of their books and shows. As far as I know, not many people comment upon this and food writers are very silent. (Deafening silence when I raised it on twitter!) There are clearly quite a few people working in food who are unwell in one way or another but there’s plenty who are not too. For this piece, I didn’t want to focus too much on this as I think it warrants a separate post of its own.

      I’m interested by your relative’s experiences because of course there are biological signs of mental illness alongside the affective and cognitive. Sometimes the professionals misinterpret the origins of the distress. In addition to this, chronic symptoms of ill-health have comorbidity with mental ill-health too. Sometimes this prickling sensation is caused by hyperglycaemia, sometimes because of neuropathy, sometimes because metformin causes restless legs for some patients and sometimes its a psychologically caused sensation called formication. I have seen it described as ants under the skin and patients can severely damage themselves scratching and picking. It can end up as a form of stereotypy even.

  4. I guess I’m not understanding this whole thing. You people who can reverse your diabetes simply by losing weight, or who can control your blood sugar levels through diet, don’t get much sympathy from me. I’ve been Type 1 for more than 40 years. Food can literally kill me — not over years, but within hours.

    Yet, I don’t have any issues with food.

    Maybe it’s because I have to actually take it seriously, or because I’ve been doing it for so long. I don’t know. But it’s funny (in a pathetic sort of way) to watch you whine about your SIX WHOLE WEEKS of dealing with this. My best suggestion for you is to GROW UP. Get back to me when you’ve been dealing with this for longer than a season of Game of Thrones.

    1. Piss off. I have LADA, not T2D. And everyone is different with regards to food and their attitudes to it. I’d congratulate you on your attitude towards diet but seeing as you seem to lack any empathy at all, I’ll hold back on any admiration w regards to your psyche.

  5. I am so sorry other about your diagnosis Nicola, horrible. And I so agree about all the ludicrous fads peddled by over-privileged first worlders on the insecure and ignorant. Food is one of life’s great joys and to be deprived of it, as you so eloquently express, is painful. Why would you do it voluntarily. I do hope you find a settled way of coping with this very difficult condition, I send you all good wishes.

    1. Thank you so much Penny. You’re right, there’s much privilege involved in being able to restrict one’s dietary intake for no real reason.

  6. I am so sorry that you have this form of Diabetes. You are right to be angry, faddy people feed the machine that keeps it all going. I hadn’t heard of clean eating, but then, I eat those things that I enjoy, mostly on buttered toast. I wish you the strength to carry on and hope that the severity of reaction will lessen. Bless you.

  7. I, too, dislike it. No, I really hate it with a passion. I remember the time a small December tangerine (mandarin?) shot my blood sugar up to a ridiculous punitive number.

    I resisted for years and finally had to start taking insulin injections. I don’t like it, but it has made me able to eat the tangerine. Not spontaneously and with great gusto, but with careful premeditation and dialling a certain number of insulin units into my system.

    I hope that you can find a way to live with diabetes without being in a constant state of deprivation. Everyone responds differently, I believe, but my experience with fasting diets have been near-fatal, alas.

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to post a comment.
      I am starting to think that insulin will be helpful in many ways because, as you say, it means I can have more control over what I can eat and when. I’ve lost a lot of weight because my diet has been so affected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing atm but sooner or later it will become a problem.

      Fasting diets would probably see me off too. I have such a narrow ‘ideal’ BG range anyway; anything below 5.5 and above 7-8 and I start losing it big time.

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