Should You Be Eating That?

Last week, I accompanied a friend to the endocrinologist and had an experience I didn’t expect: A look at the new diagnosis shock. Oh, sure, I’ve experienced it. Twice. The first time was nearly 21 years ago, when I was diagnosed. The second was 11 years ago, when I started taking insulin.


This time, I saw the “deer in the headlights” look, heard the fear, frustration, and depression, was the one to address the “Why me?” and “What now?”

At lunch after the appointment, I swear I saw the “last supper.” You know—the “I’ll never be able to eat like this again” meal. In my case, it was fried fish and French fries. In his, it was a hamburger, fried potatoes with onions (the place didn’t have French fries), and a real Coke. (“It’s a small one,” he said, the tone of his voice daring me to object.)

Hey, far be it from me. Been there, done that, worn out several T-shirts.

But I didn’t have the heart to tell him what comes next. As if the diagnosis isn’t bad enough, along comes the kicker: well-meaning people, from loved ones to strangers, who feel an obligation to tell you what you should, or should not, be doing. It usually takes the form of “Should you be eating that?” (“No, I ‘should’ be eating what you ‘should’ be eating,” is the proper response, made while staring pointedly at their megaburger, fries, and shake.)

“Should you be eating that?” the city editor asked me on election night, when management always treated us to pizza. (Hmmm…what to say… “I’m required to be here, breathing in pizza fumes, which tend to make me hungry for pizza.” “For some reason, management neglected to provide pizza for everybody else and a turkey sandwich and raw carrots for me.” “Which would you prefer: That I make my deadlines or go out and get something to eat?” “And the fare in the vending machines is any better?” “I failed to get the memo saying everybody in the newsroom should eat pizza except for Jan.” “I’ve been dealing with politicians all day: I need something to take the bad taste out of my mouth.”)

Could I have brought my dinner? Sure. But I believe a slice or two of pizza once in a while won’t kill me. Besides, I can only be “good” for so long. Sometimes you just have to indulge a bit.

Like the time my husband and I were at a restaurant and I decided to have a dish I’d been eyeing for some time but had been avoiding in favor of food that had fewer carbohydrates and less fat. (This was an Italian restaurant, no less—not an easy task!) So I ordered it and took my insulin, which was Regular at the time. For those of you who are unaware, Regular has to be taken about half an hour before eating.

When the food came, my husband said, “Jan, your diab…” He hadn’t even finished the sentence before my appetite disappeared and tears began rolling down my cheeks. I woodenly ate the dish I had anticipated for so long not because I was hungry but because I had to. You can’t exactly remove insulin once it’s been injected.

We had a little talk when we got to the car. Something along the lines of that after he had followed a “diabetic diet” for one month, I would consider him somewhat qualified to give me advice.

“Should you be eating that?” friends will—er, used to—ask me during dessert and coffee after religious services. (“So provide something besides cake, brownies, and cookies.”)

“Oh,” says my server at the restaurant when she sees me checking my blood glucose, “You’re a diabetic. You can’t have dessert.” (“Oh, yeah? Watch this!”)

Now that you think I sit around stuffing bonbons into my mouth all day—I don’t. Back in the beginning, I was obsessive-compulsive about always eating just the right things at the proper times. I thought everybody else should do the same. I also spent a lot of time curled up in the corner in the fetal position, sucking my thumb and crying. Since then, I’ve loosened up a bit. I like to cook, I like to eat, and I see nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence.

I know why they do it: It’s because they’re concerned about us. However, the last time I checked, I was an adult and capable of making my own decisions. Hopefully, my decisions are usually the correct ones and, when I decide I need to indulge, it’s within reason.

So, for now, I might just keep my mouth shut when that oh-so-irritating comment is voiced. At least until I can think up a good comeback.

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  • Diana B

    As a diabetes educator, I often hear,”oh Diana’s here, I better not “cheat” on my diet. Well first of all, I never refer to nutrition and food choices as a diet. After all the first 3 letters describes how most people feel about it. I discourage terms such as “cheating” to describe poor food choices. I have been known to tell family members that it is not their role to be the Diabetes Diet Police and to tell the client to tell those who would comment on their choices “it would benefit me more if you would offer to walk with me after meals than monitor my diet.” I also have Type 2 Diabetes (not yet on insulin) and when someone sees I did not pick up a dessert, I hear,”oh that’s right, you can’t have dessert” My response is always “oh yes, I can have dessert, but I choose not to eat dessert this meal”. I want to present the image that I am in charge of my choices, because I am. We all are. I try not to let guilt or anger guide my choices.

  • Ephrenia

    I don’t have so much trouble with this now. I’ve educated my extended family into understanding that I’m balancing my carbs. They know that if I want a piece of birthday cake, I choose very low carb foods for the meal before having it. And I’ll have a smaller piece than I USED to before I was diagnosed, and scrape off most of the frosting.

    My bigger weakness is chips. I love chips but their carb-content is just too much for me. I have found a substitute I can live with and actually have come to enjoy (Glennys Soy Crisps) but they don’t have those at parties!

    As for well-meaning friends… I educate them about how I make my food choices til their eyes glaze over. lol

  • Jan Chait

    Am I in control even 95 percent of the time? Good grief, no! So many things can affect diabetes control that all any of us can do is the best we can. I’ve had some really out-of-control periods, too. I think what helps me, however, is a really good knowledge of food (I love to cook and I read cookbooks like others read novels) and the fact that I can match insulin dosage to food intake and to help bring down high blood glucose.

  • jane

    Thak you so so much for this! That’s one of my pet peeves. People don’t say those things to overweight people but think it’s ok to say it to diabetics. I have a humalog pen that I use to cover meal… and if I know someone has brought in cake to work, and I’d like a bit, I’ll eat fewer carbs for lunch, adjust my humalog appropriately, and enjoy it guiltfree. That cake is probably doing me a lot less harm than it is many of the ones who don’t think twice about eating it. My A1c’s run 7 or under always. Could I do better? Absolutely. There is always room for improvement. But I think it’s much more important to be aware of your total carbs and account for that as you go through your day.
    Again, thanks for educating people out there.

  • Linda

    I am on insulin. I make ‘acceptable’ food choices 90% of the time. If I see that what is offered is beyond what I would make for myself, Or it is something I just can’t resist – I cover it with extra insulin. But many of my friends seem to want to protect me from myself with same comments you note in your article. I often try to cover it with humor with comments like ” I’ll just take an extra shot today.” Or “I’ll run an extra mile tonight. Want to join me? You could use the extra exercise.” That will usually shut them up. But sometimes I become very indignant. After all, I’m the one pricking my finger 4 times a day and injecting myself 5 times daily. Do they really think I forget?

  • elle

    I’m curious now. Do you ever go on a “binge” and become out of control? It sounds like you and most of the other people reading this are in control 95% of the time. How do you maintain this level of control on your eating?

  • Sandy B

    Hey, been there, done that. Wait until you’re a healthcare professional that goes to the lunch room at the same place you work…. “man, that sure looks good!” as they stare at your plate (one of your clients who also has diabetes AND is an employee, also in management…..yeah, won’t say how high. So, learn what can be eaten and how your body handles the carbs and fat, what’s also happening with the A1, etc. etc. Those who know, do know the drill…. enjoy, life is TOO SHORT!



  • dolphinqueen

    You go girl!! If I never hear that question again it will be too soon!!!

  • PreacherWife

    You obviously don’t eat right. That’s why you are on insulin. You need to have more self control and think about your health. That slice of pizza or brownie is poison to your body as it is to everyone whether they are diabetic or not. Please stop blaming the church for bringing in junk and take some responsibility.

  • Kerr Mitchell

    Interesting comments. I totally disagree with you. Why? I have a friend that indulges in food and drink that is completely off the diabetic diet list. Ha you say? Like he says “I take my insulin so its ok!” I say wrong! Again why? Well one can look at him and say he is wrong. He has lost several fingers and has a stump for a right leg. It was not caused by an accident but by – you guessed it – diabete’s. He is playing with his disease and costing him limbs. NOT GOOD. Not a good article.

  • nubiancinti

    I recently was diagnoised as diabetic and although I know my family and friend mean well, they treat you as if you have no will power or common sense. What is so remarkable is they have no more knowledge than I have but now they are diabetic experts. When I have had something that is not the best for me, I have made the decision and thought out where I will make the concessions to able to have this and then fall back in line. The choices I make harm me directly but I know that these are occassional slip ups and not my way of life now.

  • Jan Chait

    Kerr, if you read the article closely, you’ll see that I indulge occasionally and within reason (most of the time—I’m only human). There are foods I could easily binge on, so I either buy those foods in the smallest container possible or make only small amounts of those foods. The “diabetic diet list” includes all foods. We’re just cautioned to eat lesser amounts of some, such as fats, sweets, and starchy vegetables. At least that’s what a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator told a friend I accompanied to diabetes education just last week. There’s also a not-so-funny little fact about diabetes: There are no guarantees. You can toe the line all of your life and still get complications. Or you can totally ignore all advice and live your life complication-free. That’s why the experts say that certain actions can “reduce” your chances of complications. I’ve never seen any that say you can “avoid” complications.

  • acampbell

    In response to the comment by PreacherWife,
    As a diabetes educator and the wife of someone with Type 1 diabetes, I’ve learned that having diabetes is about making choices, and that people with diabetes must make many, many choices every single day. First and foremost, though, people with diabetes are human, and no one is perfect or makes the “right” decisions 100% or even 90% of the time. Furthermore, diabetes doesn’t happen because a person made the wrong food choices. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition. The majority of people with Type 2 diabetes will eventually need insulin, no matter how “good” they are with their food choices or how well they manage themselves. This is the natural course of the condition. Finally, it’s not a “bad” thing for someone to take insulin, despite what many people believe. Insulin is a natural hormone that the body needs, whether your pancreas makes it or you need to supplement with injections, an inhaler, or an insulin pump.

  • As a caretaker for someone with advance stage kidney disease..I would say something about what she was eating. I know my situation was not like others here, and from what I hear from doctors, the last couple of years dont really matter anyhow. That most of the damage has been done. I am the one taking her to the Nephrologist..I am the one taking her to sleep docs, I am the one etc….. She doesnt feel well, has diarrhea alot… So as you can see sometimes its easy to say mind your own business, but bad choices or alot of bad choices involve other people.
    I went out of my way to buy the good food, to have veggies, to have nice protein and fresh fruit. But she would always go back to milk, bananas and peanut butter sandwiches. Oh and hiding food.
    I know no one is good all the time. I am not. It just comes down to those daily decisions. For me, it changes things to watch someone die. You see the reality of what can really happen to a body going through the last stages of renal failure. Not so unknown anymore. I wouldnt wish it on anyone. You can definitely go off course. Just not all the time. Unless you want the end to come sooner than later. You make the daily choice.