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Let’s talk about… “Can you eat that?”

Is there any question that irritates a person with diabetes more than, “can you eat that?” Bridget McNulty unpacks it in this month’s column.

Can you eat that?

The weekend before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I went away with my boyfriend’s family for the weekend. His brother had Type 1 diabetes, and I didn’t know him very well. When the dessert was passed around – a giant bowl full of sugar-dusted strawberries, I asked, “Can you eat that?”

He shot me an evil look and said, “Yes.”

I felt guilty about that question for years, because of course as soon as I was living with diabetes I knew how infuriating it was to be questioned about my food choices.

The most annoying question

But why is it the most annoying question? What is it about this one particular question that drives us so mad? I think it’s because of the assumption that we haven’t thought through the food decision we are about to make. And as anyone with diabetes will tell you, we are always far more aware of every food decision than anyone else in the room.

Or perhaps it’s because of the undercurrent of food police that it brings with it: are you allowed eating that? Should you eat that? I know some people with diabetes who are defiant in the face of this question, others who will carefully explain their choices, and others – like my now-brother-in-law – who just say, “Yes.”

A new take on, “can you eat that?”

Recently I was at a friend’s very fancy birthday dinner party with a lot of people I didn’t know. My sensor was on display, and I kept checking my blood sugar and injecting, because it was a three-course meal. A few people asked about how it worked, and I gave a brief explanation but didn’t go into too much detail. Then the dessert came out: malva pudding with cream and strawberries.

It’s not my favourite and if there had been loads of strawberries, I would have just eaten those. But it surprised me that two separate people immediately asked me, “can you eat that?”

What surprised me even more was that it didn’t bother me. Not in the slightest. Because I could tell that the reason they were asking was simple curiosity. The same way I might ask a gluten-intolerant friend what they could or couldn’t eat. They weren’t judging me, or trying to police me, or anything like that. They just wanted to know if this was an option that was open to me.

It made me think… Maybe that’s all the question is ever about? Curiosity about life with diabetes, and how it affects what we choose to eat, or not… Maybe we’ve been giving it extra weight when really it’s quite a simple question. Imagine that!

What do you think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Have a story to share? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook!

What to read next?

Let’s talk about diabetes and food: Diabetes and food. Is there a subject more likely to start people arguing?

Let’s talk about diabetes-friendly meals at South African restaurants: That was the question one of our community members asked.

Let’s talk about being the partner of someone with diabetes: We had the most wonderful Facebook Live session about being the partner of someone with diabetes, and wanted to share it with you.

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Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

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  1. Theo Theo


    I have a more interesting question to explore: “What can a diabetic with renal failure and on dialysis eat?”

    So not only do you have to check sugars and refined carbs, but also dairy products, protein, beans legumes, seeds & nuts, tofu and any soya products, tomatoes, spinach & greens and a whole host of other vegetables, allong with avoiding sodium, phosphates and potassium.

    Now I would really like to hear more about what I can actually eat and that is tasty.

    Any help here here would be great, especially because diabetes is the second highest cause of kidney/renal failure, after high blood pressure/hypertention.


    Theo Boshoff

    • Gosh, that IS a good question, Theo!
      We’ll ask our dieticians and get back to you. Thanks for asking!

  2. Michelle Heroldt Michelle Heroldt

    Hi there. I am Type 1 Diabetic and struggling with what food to eat as well. I also have renalf ailure (stage 4
    as well as Gastroporias….which makes eating a huge issue. If I eat something wrong I get sick as my body does not process it quick enough….Please can someone help with a meal plan I can follow? Nothing difficult and complicated. Just a plan that can work. Huge please….as well as where and how I can obtain a medical sensor to attach to my arm without costing a arms price? My medical aid does not cover the cost of a Diabetic Sensor and they are pretty pricey.

    • Hi Michelle!
      I’ve sent this to our dietician who is putting together an article on renal failure, thank you. As for the sensors, please email – if you’re on medical aid, it should be covered in some way.

  3. Robert SugarMan Barnsley Robert SugarMan Barnsley

    A frustrating question indeed. I do think most times it is out of curiosity, with a hand full of people that think they know better. I remember being at a breakfast and I put a small bunch of grapes on my plate and the whole table eventually was interested to know what I could and could not eat, and all I wanted to do was crawl under the table. My worst is when people arrive at the table with dessert and announce to everyone, but looking at me and state “You can’t eat this, sorry.”. That one does grind me a bit, but we do need to understand that sometimes they are just trying to be nice. Also, most times I opt not to have the sweet stuff at all, not even a small bit, and then I get the “but it doesn’t have added sugars, we got this especially for you”. My suggestion is to not try to cater for a diabetic. We know where we are at, and we will pick out what is good and not good, and if for some reason our sugar is on the way down, don’t look at us funny as we grab a chocolate eclair off the sweet table; yes we can have it, infact right now we must….😂

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