Why I Help Manage My Type 1 Diabetes with a Low-Carb Diet

by Jesse Lavine May 24, 2019

KNOW Better Buns with Cheeseburger

by Jesse Lavine

In the past few years, low-carb and keto have become buzzwords. This lifestyle has seen an explosion in popularity across various social media outlets, scientific studies, and big-name podcasts. Entire companies, centered around these diets, have been founded to help solve the problems stemming from the standard American diet.

But beyond that, following a low-carb, keto diet has truly increased my quality of life.

I have Type 1 diabetes (T1D), and I’ve been living with it for thirteen years. Being diagnosed with T1D is a crash course in chaos theory. And just like chaos, no matter how hard you try to control it … you can’t. I’ll just say it’s a constant learning experience.

T1D is a chronic condition where pancreatic beta cells cease the production of insulin. There are various theories for why beta cells get shut off. Maybe you have a family history of T1D or maybe your body fought off a virus at some point (and whoops!) mistook the insulin-producing beta cells as the virus and killed those off too. I’m not going to focus on the cause here, but it’s important to know that no matter how it happens, the result is an inability to produce insulin.

low carb KNOW chickpea pasta with scallops

Without insulin, our bodies can’t regulate blood sugar. Regulation is key to our bodies’ proper functioning. High and low blood sugar in the short term creates large mood swings and uncomfortable physiological changes. Long term, too much sugar in the blood creates a toxic environment for our organs, which can lead to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), and causes damage to kidneys, blood vessels, and vision. Not enough sugar in our blood creates starving body cells, resulting in seizures or even death.

In non-T1Ds, blood sugar regulation is on autopilot. People living with T1D, on the other hand, have to fly the plane themselves. In other words – they must be their own pancreas. When ignored, T1D can create a dangerous level of chaos within our bodies, leading to tons of medical complications. While this chaos can never be eliminated, it can be controlled.

Let me add, too, that there are many ways for people living with T1D to manage their condition: insulin pumps, multiple daily injections, diet, and exercise. I can’t stress enough that these methods manage T1D. They do not cure T1D. 

In my thirteen years of living with T1D, I’ve come to understand that regulating my blood sugar comes down, most notably, to three factors: insulin, stress, and food.

I’ve tried myriad diets and lifestyles, including vegan, keto, “just as the doctor ordered,” “don’t care,” and more. They’ve all had their pros and cons, each bringing more balance to certain parts of my life and adding more weight to other parts.

Consuming higher amounts of carbohydrates, which quickly break down into glucose, requires more insulin. Protein, on the other hand, breaks down to glucose at a much slower rate, so less insulin is needed. Fat slows down the absorption of both carbohydrates and insulin. On its own, fat can even be metabolized without insulin.

When all three of these macronutrients are combined in a meal, success rides heavily on insulin timing. Do you give insulin 15 to 30 minutes before the meal? During the meal? Split between pre-meal and post-meal?

Insulin is necessary to match the number of carbohydrates ingested during a meal, and it’s also necessary to have working in the background to balance the glucose our bodies naturally release. When following a low-carb diet, the possibility of error from mistaking the insulin to carbohydrate ratio is minimized. The only question is, “How much insulin would my pancreas normally be producing at a time when food is not in the equation?” Of course, that’s still a big question that requires lots of trial and error to answer correctly. As I’ve said, managing chaos is an ongoing process. I’m always learning.

KNOW Better slices with seafood salad

It’s easy to imagine those constant thoughts and mental calculations bring on a lot of stress. They can, and they do. I’ve adopted a few ways of managing my stress with things like yoga, journaling and therapy, and the realization that always brings me a breath of fresh air is knowing that I’m not the only one going through this. My love and appreciation for lifestyle-oriented communities – both virtual and in real life – was born out of this understanding.

The KNOW Better community is not T1D-focused by any means, nor is it focused specifically on keto or celiac or paleo. It’s a gathering of people looking to live healthier lives, and since I’m always looking for ways to live better and feel better, I’m in!

If you didn’t know anything about T1D before, consider yourself more in the KNOW! In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more about my experience living a low-carb lifestyle while managing my T1D and I'll showcase some of the benefits I’ve found.

And, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions or reach out for clarification. You can reach me by DM on Instagram or by email



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