Can't, Shouldn't, Don't

Thursday, December 20, 2007 | 19 comment(s)

These aren't happy or festive words.
But 'tis the season of holiday parties and Christmas cookies and a constant barrage of sweets, so (sadly) these are the words that have been bouncing 'round my head lately.

When faced
It's really embarrassing how much time I have devoted in my life standing over such a tray and waging a gut-wrenching mental debate with myself over whether to eat something or not.

Just last week I was confronted with a plate of chocolate truffles put out as samples at Whole Foods. I probably stood there for 2 minutes at a maximum, but boy, did it feel like an eternity.

I am proud to report that I somehow turned around and walked away from this tray of chocolate morsels without having eaten any.

with a plate of cookies at a holiday party, does the voice in your head ever say: "I can't eat those, I have diabetes."

Yeah, me neither.

"Can't" is a very restrictive word.
It smacks of authoritarianism.
Stripped of freedom and choice.
Authoritarianism sucks.
And, besides, it inspires rebellion.

A slightly less restrictive word, but in the same vein, is "shouldn't".

As in: "I know I shouldn't eat these, but... (fill in your favorite rationalization here -- my favorite has something to do with 'knowing' how many carbs are in a given delectable).

There's a bit of gray in "shouldn't".
It's soft.
As in, yeah, I know I'll regret this, but I'm willing to pay that price.
There's a judgment call involved.
Something of a quick cost-benefit analysis going on subconsciously.
It rarely works.
The sweets almost always win.

A much finer, much more effective, word is "don't".

I find that when I'm faced with temptations my inner voice starts chirping.
Silence is Deadly
Getting the inner voice to engage is a crucial first step to will power defeating sweets. The next piece (and overall point of this post) is the realization that what that voice inside my head is telling me matters.

One thing I know for sure, when there's no mantra-repeating pep-talk going on in my head, I'm sunk. Cookies consumed, ice cream eaten, candy bar devoured. Almost in a haze.

Mental illness concerns aside, the voice inside my head is a good thing.

But phrases like:

"I can't eat that" is (like I said) way to authoritarian and I'm very likely to rebel just on principle and eat the damn whatever it is.

"I shouldn't eat this" is a step in the right direction, but it's as leaky as a spaghetti colander. The consumption of the sweet can almost always be (ir)rationalized.

Lately, I've found "I don't eat this/that because I have diabetes" to be a much more empowering sentence/mantra. There's a sense of independence and determination in it. It's a decision I've made. I'm stronger for making it. I know myself, I know my disease, I know my weaknesses, and I know what is right for me. Eventually it could evolve to simply "Cookies? Oh, I don't eat them," as if I'm talking about eggplant or mushrooms or anchovies or any other food that I'm not fond of. It has the potential to just become part of "who I am."

The Holiday Challenge (Again)
Similar to last year, I've taken an oath of abstinence from sweets through the holiday season. Last year, I was desperate to obtain an A1c reading below 7.0.
I didn't meet this goal. I know (now) that some portion of my failure has to do with stuffing my face with anything that didn't have sugar in it as a way to avoid eating anything with sugar in it (bad idea). Bottom line: Indiscriminate snacking of any kind leads to poor blood sugar control.

But for the most part I was clean -- completely off sweets for 4+ months.

This year, I'm just kinda disgusted by my eating habits. I blame a lot of this on my sleep deprivation, but I know that pointing fingers and making excuses doesn't change or improve my eating habits.

This year, I'm doing it because I need to.

You see, I have a problem.
I'm a bit of a sugar-junkie.
I have an almost insatiable sweet-tooth.

I drink about 100 oz. of Diet Coke per day to help quench this sweet need.

If I make myself a cup of tea or a bowl of oatmeal, I put 3 packets of Equal/Splenda
They Taste the Same to Me
I can't tell the difference. Even Sweet & Low does the trick for me. And if you believe what it says on the packets, that's equivalent to 6 teaspoons of sugar!

When it's put that way it I kinda gross myself out.

in it.

There is simply no such thing as "too sweet" for my palate.

My Achilles heel for sweets is ice cream. For quite some time now, we've had a household rule that bans ice cream from our freezer. If it's there, I hear it calling my name (it has a sweet, sweet voice, too). I wake up thinking about it. So (naturally), I have a nip for breakfast.

Megan has (mostly) been a good sport about this rule. But she too has a bit of a sweet tooth and has occasionally brought some ice cream in the house (which has lead to a few minor disputes). Our compromise has been that ice cream that I don't like is allowed in the house (e.g., coffee flavored ice cream), otherwise she goes across the street to a convenience store when an ice cream urge hits. And then there are the birthday celebrations or dinner with friends that we occasionally host and ice cream is often served. If we're on top of things we send folks home with leftover dessert items. Otherwise, the remnants of ice cream disappear
Depends on the Quantity
If there's just a little left, I've certainly been known to wolf it down. If there's 'more than a little' (admittedly, a vague measurement), I've also been known to fill up the ice cream container with water and dump it down the drain.

rather quickly.

When the babies were born this fall, we had incredibly generous help from Meg's parents and they stayed with us for 10 days or so. On the night before they were leaving my mother-in-law baked a banana cake. I came home from work, I was exhausted, everyone else had gone to bed and I was still downstairs cleaning up, and I proceeded to eat much of the cake (it was DEliciOUS). There was also some left over ice cream in the freezer (the in-laws are inveterate ice cream consumers) that I had so far successfully avoided. When I opened up the Breyer's Neapolitan Ice Cream, thankfully all the vanilla was gone and only a spoonful of chocolate left (much of the strawberry was left, but I'm not a fan).

After this little binge, I was quite upset. Initially, I was angry at my mother-in-law, but also at myself. I dumped the ice cream down the drain (it was mostly symbolic since it was just the strawberry left), and I wrapped up what was left of the cake in tin foil and a zip lock and placed it with some of the things my in-laws were going to be taking home with them.

The next morning, I asked my mother-in-law if she wanted to take the cake home with her. When she declined, I was probably a little too harsh when I dramatically dropped it into the garbage can and told her that she couldn't just bring ice cream and sweets into our house (and I'm sorry about that).

She was a little shocked. Since then she has been worried about not being able to have that rule at her house during Thanksgiving or what we can do for the holidays when they're in town. I assured her that having sweets in the house for special occasions was fine, but that for every-day-run-of-the-mill life, I can't have it in my house. When I'm out-and-about, I'm frequently faced with food choices and tempted by sweets. And for special occasions, I can steel myself and successfully avoid eating sweets. But for day-to-day, I don't want to have to deal with these temptations
It's an Addiction
Having ice cream in the freezer and/or leaving cake/cookies/brownies on the kitchen counter isn't all that different from leaving a 6-pack in the 'fridge at an alcoholic's house.

Not cool.

I'm not ready for any sort of 12-step program, but I do realize that acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step toward dealing with the problem.

in my home.

I know I'm only about half-way through peak sweets exposure season (aka, the holidays). I also know that abstaining from sweets is what is best for me. It's going to be hard, but I'm hoping the mental edge gleaned from this subtle phrase ("I don't eat that because I have diabetes.") helps me get through the season sweets-free.

19 Comment(s):

Blogger Donna said...

I keep myself full of Diet Coke on a constant basis. Try that & hopefully, it will help with curbing the appetite for sweets. Or at least it should keep you full enough that you won't eat too many. Good luck & happy holidays!

Blogger Scott K. Johnson said...

Kevin - I am so in touch with you on this post. I swear, I could have spoken (written?) all of the same words.

It just makes me feel so little. Like I have no control of anything in my life. If I can't resist sweets or ice cream, how can I possibly accomplish anything substantial?


I do like the idea of using "don't". That does work better, or at least sound better.

You hit home with me on this Kev! best of luck to the both of us!

Hey - on the upside, if we do ever decide to join a 12 step program we can be each others phone buddies or whatever it is called.

At least with the distance between us we'll be less inclined to say "what the hell, let's meet at the store and drown our sorrows in a pint of ice cream together"...

Take care Kev - catch you around!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanx for sharing these thoughts with us, Kevin. The use of "I don"t" is a good point. I made the experience, that it is easier to keep on a "big NO" once decided, than to decide the question whether or not to eat xy over and over again.

Anne aka KF from Germany

Blogger Minnesota Nice said...

Oh damn damn damn.
I hate feeling shackled by urges, cravings, or whatever the heck you want to call them. When I wake up on Saturday morning, the first thoughts that come to mind are "what fun things can I eat today" or how to do my best to avoid them. I even dropped out of a favorite book club because they met for breakfast on Saturday morning and everyone slurped down blueberry pancakes with whipped cream.......
And then there was the time I bought two giant bags of caramels at Halloween. After mindlessly eating half of one bag, I decided to get rid of them - couldn't throw them away as I'd dig them back out; couldn't take them outside because I don't like my dark alley at night; was afraid I'd clog the garbage disposal; so I got the bright idea to flush them down the toilet. It was a bit laborious unwrapping them all, but I did, only to find about 20 minutes later that I'd completely clogged the toilet.
So I had to make a trip to the all-night K-Mart and buy a metal drain snake, which I was only vaguely familiar with, and up for a couple of hours trying to get the hang of using it.
I think that those of us who have had db long term still have big feelings of deprivation in our heads - the strict exchange system and no treats made a lot o room for the "you can't have it so you want it even more" attitude. But now that we can successfully have ice cream, in moderate amounts, doesn't really solve the problem either.
I don't have any answers. Sorry I blabbed so much.

Blogger Bad Decision Maker said...

this is a really interesting post, thanks...

i HATE (and don't use) the word can't too. i couldn't quite put my finger on it, but you got to part of it... its too restrictive, makes me feel claustrophobic or something

the don't is interesting. it does sound better. i should try it.

i came home from a party last night at 411 (not from alcohol, i stopped myself after 1/3 of a beer)... my insulin pump isn't working right and i was STARVING when I got to the party because i had to go straight from work so the snacks were my dinner, but still... does not feel good, doesn't have to be that way

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found that when sugar is an addiction to stop the cravings one must: remove all sugar from diet including substitue sugars at least for 3-5 months. You may wonder what will giving up even substitue sugar give me. It will give you the ability to say I really don't need or want sugar any more and the struggle is over--fianally PEACE

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year!

Amazing how a simple word substitution can feel empowering. You speak of common struggles; therefore, you speak to me.

Hope all is well in the new year.

Blogger Allison said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for commenting over on my blog. It's great to hear from a fellow DC type 1. I got referred to a Dr. Lando in Alexandria and supposedly he's up on all things pumps and CGMS. 1st appt is in March.

Happy to meet you,

Blogger Sue Marshall said...

Hi Kevin,

I found your blog and took a look -- congrats on the children! Beautiful. I don't know if you can put out news items on your site, but I'm a Type 1, now on a pump, but I've designed some kitbags for people with diabetes -- we've all got a lot of kit to contend with these days, but it's there to help us. Please take a look at

Best wishes,

Sue Marshall

Blogger George said...


Blogger ..M.. said...

Hey Kevin - Long time no post, I've been leaving you alone because I know you're busy with family stuff, but here's your (friendly & gentle) kick in the pants... we miss you!

I thought you might like to see what silliness I created using your BG logging file...

Blogger ..M.. said...

Ah, blogger can't handle longer links it seems.
Try this:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are things going, Kevin?

Blogger The Patients Voice said...


We have just launched a test version of a new site which you might find of interest

Please go to



Blogger Minnesota Nice said...

Okay. Buddy. You've been found out!!! Thanks to the lovely Ms. Allison.
I will admit that you looked great and the kidlets are beautiful! How 'bout an update and some more pics? Please?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm totally amazed by the amount of detail you put in documenting your blood sugar levels. Quite impressive.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holidays blow for me as well. It's not just the food. It's the pressure of eating "healthy" around a bunch of people pigging out.


Blogger Shannon said...

Just in case you're receiving your replies via email...

I found your (much too long ignored, though I understand the two babies thing) blog a couple of weeks ago. My 7 yo daughter was diagnosed back in March. It's been very interesting reading your take on things. I hope that you find the time to jump back into blogging again soon.

I hope that all is well with you and your family.

- Shannon in CO

Blogger Bernard said...


It's been a long time since we've seen a post. I hope you're all well and looking forward to a good Christmas.

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