Everyday, people (especially people with diabetes) are bombarded with messages to limit, restrict, avoid, and feel guilty for eating carbohydrates. Not surprisingly, my clients with diabetes often tell me they are afraid of eating carbs. A fear of eating carbs with diabetes can undermine your ability to make mindful decisions based on self-care.
It might seem counterintuitive, but fear is not an effective motivator! It can lead to misinformation, misunderstanding, and toxic emotions like guilt, blame, shame, and depression. And none of that actually leads to better self-care or health. So how does someone with diabetes stop being afraid of eating carbohydrates?
Fear breeds restriction. Restriction breeds fear.
What many of my clients share with me is that they are afraid of eating carbs because they have been told they are bad when you have diabetes. (Actually, even people without diabetes are getting this message!)
In an attempt to address this fear, they resort to a restrictive eating mindset, thinking that by avoiding or eliminating carbohydrates, they won’t be afraid.
Fear can make any choice seem not good enough because fear moves the goal of eating a balanced meal to a meal that is better. “Better” of course means eating fewer and fewer carbs until you have nearly eliminated carbohydrates from your diet, hoping that the fear of eating will end. But it doesn’t, does it?
In fact, this feeds a counter-productive cycle. Restriction causes you to re-act, or repeat the same decisions, over and over again. As you restrict carbs, you find yourself more focused on them, craving them, and perhaps eating them more often and/or in larger portions.
With diabetes, you may notice that your blood sugar goes up, so that affirms your fear of carbs!
5 steps to overcome fear of carbohydrates
The thing is, avoiding carbohydrates won’t stop your fear. Understanding what a balanced diet really means when you have diabetes, and learning how eating certain foods affects diabetes management, does.
1. Notice when you are thinking in terms of “good and bad”
If you notice you’re trying to be “good” by making “good choices,” that’s a red flag you may be stuck in a restrictive mindset.
The idea of being “good” often starts as an intention to make more informed choices, but when the reason you’re trying to “be good” is based on fear, something shifts. Fear can trigger guilt, blame, and shame, common triggers for overeating and bingeing.
2. Check your belief system
Pause and ask yourself, “Do I believe all foods can fit in my diet when you have diabetes?”
Fear and being afraid of eating certain foods makes it harder to think, read a label, consider your options, or make a decision. As a result, your fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!
(In our book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, we tackle how to resolve some of these difficult thoughts about food and eating.)
3. Decide how you want to feel about your decision-making
To embody the subtle but meaningful differences between mindful eating and restrictive eating, try this activity. Find the section Mindful Eating vs. Restrictive Eating in chapter 3 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes. Read one word from the “Restrictive Eating” list then the contrasting word from the “Mindful Eating” list. Reading them aloud, with meaning, especially if two people alternate reading the words from the two lists, will help you hear the striking contrast.
Notice whether any of the words impact you as you hear them. Did anything surprise you? How do the differences feel? Which list feels limiting? Which list feels empowering?
How do you want to feel about your decision-making?
4. Learn how different foods affect your blood sugar
While the message “carbs are bad” simply isn’t true or helpful, when you have diabetes, the amount of carbs you eat at a snack or meal does impact your blood sugar.
Here’s a brief explanation. With diabetes, your body can’t process glucose efficiently. Therefore, it’s necessary to be mindful of the total amount of carbohydrate you eat at each meal or snack so your carbohydrate intake doesn’t exceed your body’s ability to process the glucose.
But that doesn’t mean carbs are “bad” or that you shouldn’t eat them! It means that is wise to learn about the carbohydrate content of different foods and experiment with different types carbs and amounts to see how they affect your blood glucose. Talk to your diabetes team and read Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes.
5. Use the Mindful Eating Cycle to guide your awareness and decisions
We hear a lot of restrictive, fear-based messages all around us, so I understand why thoughts surrounding food and eating get all tangled up. When you have diabetes, that makes it more difficult to make decisions based on self-care rather than fear.
The Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Diabetes Program uses the Mindful Eating Cycle, an easy to understand and amazingly effective tool to help you move away from restrictive, fear-based thinking to discovering a balanced way of making decisions about food that support your overall well-being – even if (or especially if!) you have diabetes!
Release the fear of carbs with diabetes!
I have seen firsthand how effective mindful eating is for stabilizing blood sugars by showing clients how to stop being afraid of carbohydrates and eating. They replace fear with understanding and curiosity and that makes all the difference!
To learn more about how mindful eating can help you with prediabetes or diabetes, please visit mindful eating for diabetes.