This year is my twelfth as a type one diabetic. Twelve years of finger pricks and injections. Twelve years of calculating how many carbs are in a dish. Twelve years of finishing a workout with a packet of skittles. Twelve years of low blood sugars making me seem socially awkward. Twelve years of turning around and going back because I forgot my insulin. Twelve years of my meal going cold while I check my sugar level, carb count, calculate my insulin dose and inject before eating. Twelve years of thinking ‘I definitely got that right’, only to be hit in the face with a headache and a high blood glucose level. Twelve years of explaining that no, I didn’t get it because I ate too much sugar. Twelve years of hating diabeetus memes and everyone who finds them funny.
Despite what it may seem from this opening paragraph, it’s not often that having diabetes really bothers me. As long as I have my insulin, glucose meter and a pack of skittles by my side I can do whatever I like, if I want to do it badly enough. However, there are definitely a few life hacks I’ve picked up along the way that have helped to improve my living experience with Type 1. I’ve narrowed it down to twelve, one hack for every year.
1. Insulin Pen Tip
This one is for anyone else still using injections. One evening, after eating out, my blood sugar rocketed. This left me questioning whether I had taken my insulin or not. The person with me at the time said, “you’ve had this long enough, how could you still make such a mistake?” That was exactly the problem. A pro about becoming accustomed to the diabetic life is that taking insulin soon becomes second nature. So much so, that sometimes you may be left wondering, did I just do that? This situation happens to me in particular with my background insulin. I don’t want to imagine the disastrous day that would be if I took my morning background shot twice. Full of skittles, that’s for sure. Anyways, this fear and doubt is unnecessary if you use the Novo Nordisk pens. Simply pull out the bottom of the pen then press it down. At the bottom of the pen you will be shown the amount of units last taken, and the amount of hours since you last took it. For example, in the picture below you can see that I took 8.5 units 11 hours ago.
2. Spare Kits
I know I mention this one a lot and hate to be repetitive. However, the amount of times a spare kit has saved the day is nothing to be overlooked. I have two spare kits and keep them where I’ll most likely be if I’m not at home. The first is in my car, the second is in work. Sugar Medical make my favourite diabetes kits and are the most economical brand I've come across. Their kits have quirky designs with everything clearly laid out, so it’s easy to see if you’re missing anything.
However, their new kit with an attached bin for used test strips is simply a game changer. All my life I’ve been leaving trails of bloody test strips behind me, there's just so many! Now, I pop the used ones into the little slot in the kit. This brings them into a different compartment that you empty when full. I'm not exaggerating, but just not having test strips in every nook and cranny has made living with diabetes significantly easier. You can get ten percent off these kits by using the code Josiewilkins10 at the checkout.
3. Wait 2-3 Hours Before Cardio
My number one exercise tip is to leave cardio until 2-3 hours after you last took rapid acting insulin. My rapid acting insulin is usually out of my system 2.5 hours after taking it, so if I go for a run with a steady level at that time, I’ll avoid hypos. However, what I find works best is to run first thing in the morning before taking any rapid acting at all. That way you can be sure that there’s no sneaky insulin in your system to shoot you low. I’m not going to lie, I don’t do this during the winter months. It’s difficult enough to get up on those dark, cold mornings. Never-mind getting up to exercise. Outside. Without breakfast. Nope. However, during the summer months it’s actually a lovely way to start your day! You can click here for some of my exercise motivation tips.
4. Blame the Insulin First
I was once on holiday in Miami when my background insulin completely stopped working. I woke up every morning with a ridiculously high number that simply wouldn’t go down. For the five days of that short holiday, all I did was stress. I stressed that I was sick, that I was eating too much sugar, that my background doses had to be increased. When I got home, it dawned on me that perhaps I should change the insulin vial. Within hours, I was back to normal. My conclusion is that the Miami heat spoiled my insulin leaving it ineffective. I was absolutely kicking myself that I hadn’t thought of such a simple solution earlier! Now, whenever something doesn’t seem quite right with my sugars, the first thing I do is change the insulin to a fresh, unopened packet that has been stored in the fridge.
5. Change the Sites
Failing this, the next step I’ve learned to take is to change the injection site. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes in the hospital, the nurse showed me how to take my long acting insulin and gave the side of my leg as an example. For some strange reason, this stuck with me. I injected my long acting insulin into the side of my legs for the next ten years. In the tenth year, it all caught up with me. I self-diagnosed the situation as lipohypertrophy. This is when fat and scar tissue develop in an area from too many injections on that site. My insulin wasn’t being absorbed properly so I was left with high blood sugars. These would then violently drop throughout the day when I exercised. The exercise would stimulate the insulin to suddenly be released into my blood, leaving me with horrific low blood sugars. Luckily I survived the whole ordeal to realise that there are many other areas of my body where I can inject. (arms, lovehandles, bum, tummy etc).
6. Bring a Medicine Bag on Travels
From point number 4 where I speak of my ruined trip to Miami, you can see that intense temperatures can spoil insulin. Both extremely cold and hot temperatures can leave your insulin useless. I will now never go on a sun holiday without a Frío Bag. These bags keep your insulin within the safe temperatures of 18-26 degrees celsius, even on the hottest of beaches. When I’m travelling by plane, I always keep my insulin in a carry-on medicine rucksack. Firstly, you are allowed to bring an extra carry-on bag if it’s for medicinal reasons- just have a doctor’s note to prove it. Secondly, do not put your insulin in a check-in bag. It will be affected by the changes in temperatures and pressure from where these bags are stored throughout the flight.
7. Vodka Sparkling Water/Spiked Seltzers
A vodka, sparkling water and a speck, *SPECK* of lime cordial is my drink of choice when I’m out for the night. I hate having to worry about blood sugars when I’m out enjoying myself and this drink allows me to avoid this. It requires no insulin. This means that as long as I’m at a steady level at the beginning of the night, I don’t need to constantly check for low or high blood sugars. Also, I don’t need to fret whether or not the busy bartender heard me specify that I want a diet coke/tonic water to mix. Or, let’s be honest, whether he cares. All American diabetics should know about the spiked seltzers available in most bars in the US. They’re a can of flavoured vodka and soda with about 2g of carbs. I loved the Truly brand, specifically their mango flavoured can.
8. Split the Dose for High Carb & High Fat Meals
It took me an incredibly long time to figure out how to eat a pizza. For many sad years of my life I would count the carbs, take the insulin, eat the pizza, have a horrific low blood sugar, fix the blood sugar with sweets, be painfully full, then end up with a disgustingly high blood sugar for hours. Every pizza I ate would end in tears- I’m not even joking. Anywho, no more crying about pizza as I’ve figured it out. It’s still a food I try to avoid due to the mathematics and anguish it causes me. However, I’ve learned that for high carb and high fat meals, it’s best to split the dose that you would normally give yourself. This is because the high fat content slows down the carb absorption, which results in the low blood sugar afterwards. Then, the carbs get absorbed along with the low blood sugar treatment you’ve just given yourself and BAM, high for hours. If you give half of the dose at the time of the meal, then the other half two hours later, this whole situation could be avoided.
9. Ask for a Dry Wine
People often have the misconception that wine is full to the brim of sugar, but most of this sugar is fermented into alcohol. I often drink glasses of wine and see no change in my blood sugar whatsoever as long as it is a dry wine. Sweet wines will raise my blood sugars, dry wines do not. So, when drinking wine, you need to get specific. For champagne, you’re looking for the words extra brut or extra sec on the bottle and you’re avoiding the word doux. For a glass of white, a Pinot Grigio is bone dry and delicious, usually with only 3g carbs per glass. Failing that, next on the dry line is a French Savignion Blanc. For a dry red, I’d recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Pinot Noir.
10. Have an Insulin Routine
Getting into an insulin routine has probably been one of the most beneficial things I have ever done for my diabetes control. Yes, this means waking up at 8am on the weekends to take my insulin, but it’s worth it! Taking my background insulin at the same time every morning and evening means that I have a constant flow of insulin in my body. This results in less random spikes after breakfast and when I get peckish in the evenings. Say for example, I wake up at 10am, take my morning background shot and eat straight away. I’ll most likely see a spike in my blood sugar that I wouldn’t have had I taken my shot at my regular time of 8am. I’ve learned that this is because 12 hours have passed since my last long-acting shot and there is no longer any insulin left in my system. Plus, the long-acting “morning” shot I just took needs time to kick in. This may differ for other diabetics, however, getting into a insulin routine will be beneficial regardless. It will help you to remember to take your insulin and improve your overall control.
11. Get Pretty Diabetes Things
I once read that you should “get a nice thing to make mundane tasks more enjoyable”. I’m not quoting Aristotle. I read it in a magazine. Regardless, I have introduced this nugget of wisdom into many aspects of my life, because it works. My marble chopping board is stunning and I hate chopping onions a little less. The same goes for diabetes medications, injections and finger prickers. Not everything has to be so grim and medicinal looking. Get a cute cover to stick on to your monitor or CGM from Prikkiedief. I’d also recommend a medical ID that isn’t an illuminous wristband, such as ones from Butler and Grace! The Myabetic bags are a lovely gift for a newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic as they are sleek and stylish yet so functional. It’s the little, pretty things that help better the everyday annoyances of living with diabetes. I would advise you to treat yourself to them!
12. Carb Counting
Lastly, I presume you’re carb counting, or else I’m not sure how you’re surviving. When I’m carb counting, I try to keep each meal to a maximum of 30g of carbs. This is the amount that my body can easily digest without going high or low later on. I also always go for the high-fiber option, as fiber reduces the total carbohydrate count in the food and this means less insulin & less sugar spikes. You can click here for some of my favourite high fiber options.
When I’m eating out and cannot control the amount of carbs, like many of you, I’ll google the dish to see how much insulin I roughly need to take. However, what you may not know is that apps such as MyFitnessPal now actually allow you to search the restaurant that you are in and there in front of you is the carb count for the entire menu. If they don’t have the info available for the restaurant you are in you can request it to be super duper prepared!
There you have it. A rough summary of my 12 life hacks that have helped me live a happy life with Type 1 diabetes. I hope you enjoyed this post!