Whether it’s a two-week break in Spain, a luxurious cruise across the Caribbean or a backpacking trip across Asia, eating healthy should always be a priority- for everyone, not just type 1 diabetics.
When I travel I tend to go on longer trips, so I can’t use the excuse of “I’m on holiday” to justify eating lots of bad food, but when I am on a city break, I pretty much use that excuse every time. It’s all about finding the balance and to hopefully help you out, here are my top tips on eating healthy on holiday with type 1 diabetes.
Before embarking on any trip, I’m always googling “best places to see”, “best things to do”, and importantly, “best things to eat”. This is mainly to curb my curiosity and to feel excited about visiting a destination, but it’s also a great way to pre-empt any new carbohydrates I may encounter.
This means you can check the carbohydrate count online and work out how much insulin you may think you’ll need if you encounter the food abroad. Obviously, your insulin intake is dependent on more than just carbs, but it’s a good place to start. If you like to have a visual representation of your food sizes then the Carbs & Cals book is great, and I hear they have an app now.
If you know of other apps then drop them in the comment below so I can add them in! You could always make your own mini book with printouts/photos of food and their estimated carbs. Do whatever feels comfortable for you and helps you eat healthy on holiday with type 1 diabetes.
When you're in a new country there are a variety of factors that can affect your blood sugars, ranging from the heat, the cold, the altitude etc. You may find your background insulin isn’t acting as great as it usually does, or your carbohydrate ratio is a little off. This is perfectly normal, and I’d be surprised if no one noticed any difference in their control at all.
Continually check your blood sugars and look for patterns that you can review for the next day. This way you can adjust your insulin intake or carbohydrate ratios to combat any annoying blood sugar fluctuations. This doesn’t happen overnight (or if it does, then I am jealous), but your body will adjust if you allow it to.
Stick to what you know
If you know you’ve got great blood control based on your usual diet at home, then try and stick to that diet if it works for you. That doesn't mean you can’t indulge- everyone can indulge, but it’s about moderation. When I went to South America, at the beginning of the trip I was eating a lot of pasta, simply because Brad and I are backpackers on a budget and tuna pasta is probably the cheapest meal you can make on the road.
My body isn’t used to pasta, I only ever had pasta if I’m in Italy and treat myself to a lasagna, so otherwise, it can be a struggle to get my carbohydrate count sorted, and I never found of any of the bolus wizards useful. I decided that this wasn’t a great way to go- and it was also making me gain weight (not cool), so I cut out the pasta (to once a week) and replaced pasta with massive salads. Less insulin, better tummy and better bloods.
Control the buffet- don’t let it control you
The all-inclusive buffet. You either love it or you hate it. I hate it….well, I do love it, but I have to hate it. All-inclusive buffets are popular on family holidays, drinking holidays and cruise ships, and whilst they do have their advantages (unlimited food and alcohol), they can wreck havoc with your diet and blood sugars.
I remember the last holiday I went on with a buffet was when I was 13ish and I think I put on 1 stone in two weeks (granted this was before type 1 diabetes), but since then I try to limit my buffet intake, as I have no self-control because I LOVE FOOD. Here are my top suggestions for controlling the buffet.
1. Choose a smaller plate, or if you prefer a larger plate, then make sure it’s filled up with vegetables and salad by at least half.
2. Keep track- some people bolus before they eat food, but a buffet is a little unpredictable. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our bellies and we don’t eat everything on the plate. So I would suggest making note of everything you’ve eaten then bolus at the end for it.
3. Fill up on soup and cold meats. If you don’t fancy the challenge of counting carbs etc, then why not stick to low carb foods. Try the soup, then fill up on meats and cheese!
4. Drink a glass of water after each plate. A buffet can cause over-excitement and mean we eat really fast, slow you down by drinking water between each course, that way you’ll find out if you are full quicker.
5. Chew your food slowly. This links to number 4. When we eat fast, we don’t know when we are full. I remember reading somewhere you should chew at least 10 times...so I actually try to do this!
6. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. I need to tattoo this on my head. It’s not a race or a competition. Eat what you need and then stop. If you're full but still wishing you tried the chorizo and chicken paella, don’t fear. The chances are that the dish will be on another night.
Being active helps keep the insulin active in our bodies (that’s not a scientific term- just something I made up). It helps circulate the insulin throughout our bodies. So when you are over-indulging try and take up some form of exercise before or after your meal.
Chances are you will be near a swimming pool so take full advantage and swim! I usually find if I am eating street food and “sightseeing”, I will need very little insulin- especially if it’s warm. So remember to consider external factors along with your food.
How do I count carbohydrates abroad?
As I've mentioned before, the best thing to do is to Google the carbs of particular food beforehand to get a basic understanding and idea of your insulin requirements and download an app or buy the Carbs & Cals book to help with you a visual representation of portion size.
If you are dining in a "chain" restaurant, google the restaurants menu as you'd be surprised how many have their nutritional information online, or if you are at a restaurant and would like to know what portion size you have been given- then ask! They'll have scales and packaging, and there is no reason they shouldn't tell you. If you are in a county that doesn't speak your language, then use google translate to get your message across.
Do you have any other tips for eating healthy on holiday with type 1 diabetes? Comment below!
Remember, I am not a medical professional, just a girl with T1D. So before embarking on any trip or make any adjustment to your diabetes and insulin regime, consult with your doctor or DSN.