What a Little Planning Ahead Can Do: Life With Diabetes

Sometimes I feel like living with diabetes is a game of always lagging behind. Blood sugar readings tell us what our blood sugar is and was, never what it WILL be. Doctor visits, HbA1c readings, logbooks of what we did for the past week, month, half year (well, it used to be logbooks — now it’s probably a smartphone app, but same idea) and the resulting blood sugar; it all can feel like we’re always playing catch-up with ourselves.

That feeling of always playing catch-up with ourselves is a pretty common modern phenomenon. We live such fragmented, hurried, constantly-gotta-be-multi-tasking lives that sometimes it can feel like we NEVER really catch up to the present moment. And so as Diabetians, it can become a double challenge to be proactive about our self-care. We’re playing catch-up with our numbers, while we play catch-up with our jobs, while we play catch-up with our families, while we play catch-up with our…well, with everything!


Unfortunately, when life gets ahead of us, and particularly when our feeling of stress rises, the first things to fly out the door are often some of the MOST useful tools for our self-care; things like meditation, planning ahead for our meals, and exercise.

Meal planning
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the last era of traditional “meal planning.” I don’t know how many reading this will even remember that, but before the short-acting insulins of today, and LOOOONG before the advent of pumps, insulin came in only a few varieties. There was “regular” and a couple different long-acting formulas. “Regular” insulin was the one taken for meals. But it lasted in the system about eight hours. That meant that you had to plan your meals around your insulin schedule, rather than the other way around as it is today. Breakfast and lunch had to be similarly spaced apart every day, and they had to always have the same ratios of carbs each day — because one shot covered them both, and that shot didn’t change. Then dinner had to come early enough that you would still be awake several hours later for your snack, which would finish off your second shot of “regular” insulin. Tired yet?

As tiring and constricting as that scheduling could be, I have to say there are times when I miss it! I miss it because it really forced us to think ahead about our food — to PLAN our food intake, and follow that plan! There was no such thing as “skipping a meal” or failing to pack your lunch — such steps could be catastrophic!

With the advent of more flexible insulins, our lives did improve. And, it should be said, the insulins of today are infinitely better at maintaining tighter control. But they also allow us to be much more DISorganized about our food, and that can sneak up on us sometimes. On a particularly busy day, it’s easy to push lunch off for the sake of a project, then stay late, and then drive home starving — driving straight to the drive-through for some good old-fashioned stress-food! I did that last week after the first full week of teaching resumed!

But just because we CAN eat in a disorganized way doesn’t mean we HAVE to. We can still meal plan — we can still cook a large, healthy dish that can be refrigerated and used for meals that we take with us. And we can still, as Diabetians, truthfully tell our bosses and colleagues that we do, in fact, need lunch, and no we really can’t, in fact, “just skip lunch” today. We can take the best practices of the old meal-planning system and pull them forward to today.

Scheduling our days
OK, meal planning can be done. It doesn’t add much time to our schedule. In fact, it can GIVE us time because now we’re not using up daylight hours to drive somewhere to pick up that fast food that’s not really what we should be eating, anyway. But what about those other healthful things like meditation and exercise? That’s tougher.

Let me give you an idea that first came to me as a music student in high school. You see, I was a pretty serious music student (I must have been — I play and teach music for my living now…), but I still had the usual high school workload. I realized at a certain point that fitting in my two hours a day of practice along with school, homework, other obligations and a social life would require that I be proactive. And so I started printing for myself weekly calendars where I would schedule my time down to the minute. I would pencil in blocks of time for everything. School was 8–3:30. “Downtime” was 3:30–4:30. Piano practice was 4:30–6:30. After dinner was homework.

I kept this scheduling habit through college, and it was really marvelously helpful. And then I kind of forgot about it. In fact, I forgot about that trick until just recently, when I realized, “Hey, I keep writing my blog entry at 1 AM the night before it’s due, I’m not practicing like I want to be, and I keep running out the door having ‘not had time’ to meditate!” And so tonight I printed up some of my old weekly schedules, and tomorrow I’m putting them BACK into practice! I’m going to block out my time to exercise, my time to meditate, my time to cook, and my time for everything else!

The crazier our lives become, the more necessary it is to plan our time, to make conscious choices, and to set our limits. That means asking for an actual lunch break, and asking for those small breaks to check our blood sugar when we need to. It means planning ahead with what we eat. And it means really looking ahead in our schedules to make sure we USE the time we have in the way we should. We all know there’s never as much of it as we would like, but when we start planning, usually we find the time IS there — we just have to be proactive in planning for it!

Two new insulins have recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.