People with diabetes have a complicated relationship with food. Like everyone, we have to eat to live, but eating the wrong foods, eating too much food, too little food, or eating at the wrong time (both too early or late) can cause all kinds of problems for people with diabetes. Food is at the same time a problem (e.g., causing high blood sugar, weight gain), a solution (relieving hunger, treating lows), while also being necessary to stay alive. Trying to make sense of all of this can be stressful.

To start to make some sense about the relationship between diabetes and food, let’s take a look at some of the emotions that food can bring up in people with diabetes. I don’t have the space to talk about overcoming these difficult feelings in a short blog post, but I want to start by identifying these emotions because I think this can be a helpful first step in figuring out how to manage them. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but based on my experience, I’m guessing that most people with diabetes can relate to at least one of these.

Trapped: For a lot of people, diabetes involves a lot of ‘rules’ about what they can and can’t eat. Sometimes these ‘rules’ can make us feel safe (e.g., eating fewer carbs will help me control my blood sugar), but these ‘rules’ can also be very confining and make people feel trapped. Some people feel like they have to make a choice – either follow the rules and keep on feeling trapped, or break the ‘rules’ and potentially suffer consequences like high blood sugar and/or guilt, both of which can be pretty unpleasant.

Out of control: Diabetes is often unpredictable. Even if you eat the same thing everyday (which is no fun), you may get different results. This unpredictability can make you feel out of control, like no matter what you do, it’s not going work. Hypoglycemia can also make people feel out of control with their eating. When you have low blood sugar, it’s normal to want to over treat – in fact it’s how our bodies are designed. But over treating lows can make people feel like they have no control over their food intake, like they can’t stop eating. That can be scary.

Helpless: While this applies to all people with diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes often feel helpless about their relationship with food. When someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they usually get a lot of information about all the changes they have to make to control their blood sugars, and these changes can seem really big and overwhelming. Many people give up on making these changes before they even start because they feel like they will never be able to make them. They feel helpless.

What is your relationship with food? Did you related to any of the emotions I talked about? What others did I miss? Tell me about what you experience.