How Many Grams of Carbs in THAT?

I hate scales. I mean I really hate them. The kind of scales that you have to step on at every doctor you ever go to once you have diabetes; the kind of scales that taunt you sitting under your cupboard in your bedroom, knowing that it is “only recommended to weigh yourself once a week” but inevitably draw me to get on them most days; and most of all, the kind of scales my mum used to weight every gram of carbohydrate that passed my lips once I got type 1 diabetes.

Back in those days in 1979, we were given a list of “Forbidden Foods” ( i.e chocolate, lollies, sugar, ice cream, honey, most cereals and anything with the word sugar or even a suggestion of the word sugar, even cough medicine!) and a list of “Free Foods”. Now this was more interesting as it included all the sliced meats, cheese and so on that were full of fat but NO carbohydrate so go for it!

Mum did what she was told and measured and counted all of my food. We had to learn and learn fast, where there was a “portion” in all foods, which at the time was measured as 10 grams of carbohydrate per portion. Of course this was different to how they did it in America and later, we shifted across to their exchange system which was 1 exchange = 15 grams of carbohydrate.  It took me years to get this change over but now it is just the way I look at food.

At that time we also had pretty average insulin which was injected twice a day only and we had set portions for every meal, 6 times a day that MUST be eaten no matter what. Essentially we were injecting insulin and then “feeding the insulin”. Thankfully we now operate more on a matching insulin to what we eat system but in essence, the old portion or exchange system is still the mainstay of the “diabetic” diet. Whatever that is.

On an insulin pump you are told you need to count every minute scrap of carbohydrate to “get it right”. This means if there is 2 grams of carbohydrate in your milk added to a cup of tea you “should” count this and have a tiny drip of bolus insulin. Hmmmmmmm, I am not sure in practice this is the case for most of us.

I certainly don’t count the milk in my copious amounts of tea every day!

The hardest thing of all is working out carbohydrates and how much bolus insulin to have when eating away from home. When you have a package and can work out carbs, not too bad; when you make something at home and can work it our fairly closely, better; when you are out and someone dumps a plate of food in front of you, or a nice dessert in particular – not so easy! Add to that the complexity of GI which we now know about and it gets even trickier.

Point in fact – I was at a lunch with a table of Diabetes Educators once and a dessert plate with mixed little cakes came out – “how much carb do you guys think is in that?” I ask…. “How much insulin would you all take?”    Blank looks from all.

Nobody could possibly get this exactly precise.

At a Melbourne Cup charity luncheon I was working at at my lovely volunteer who like me, has had type 1 diabetes for many years, is on a pump and knows her stuff – asked me how much insulin I would bolus for the yummy custardy dessert  ( of which I had two!) – ” I don’t really know!” I replied. You know what I do? I “guesstimate”, then keep an eye on my BGL for a few hours, adding in small bolus if needed later.

Is this “right”? I don’t think there is a right. I remember years ago hearing a presentation at a national diabetes conference where some dietitians had done a study with children “guesstimating” the carbs on their plate vs exacting every morsel – and they had almost the same outcomes – proving that the guesstimation was just as good.

I don’t know about you but I don’t carry scales with me. I don’t carry a carb food guide with me everywhere I go and then spend ages trying to find every food in the book before I eat a meal, get all the calculations of the various components of a meal and then add it all up before I eat. I can not even be bothered using an app to work it out because life is much to full to be spending all my time obsessing and calculating carbs.

I say we are so lucky to have the vast array of foods we have here – so enjoy food, be healthy, have regular treats, aim to keep BGL on target, do your best with making your insulin match the carbs you eat – but never ever become a slave to thosescales and turn food into something to dread, rather than something to delight in and be joyful about.

How do you feel about scales and do you calculate every minute decimal point of carbs?






  1. Bronnie on December 22, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Carbs are an interesting one for me.. 🙂

    I’ve had Type 1 for 2 years now (50Yrs) and no one told me that I had to have a PhD in Mathematics when I got it. It’s true what you have written above, if you get a package the carbs are listed , if you cook at home you can guesstimate but eating out for a long time was a hit and miss thing.

    At first, my hubby and I just didn’t go out but after becoming a bit stir crazy and wanting to see friends for dinner, we created a tiny little hand book that I carry with me. It took a while but we’ve worked out: Fish and Chips – 9mml; Fried Rice: 8mml, Thai green curry 15mml and so on. It’s given us a lot more freedom for take-away and our friends are actually enjoying trying to cook meals with minimal carbs 🙂

    I am drinking a lot less alcohol then I use to. I still love the taste but I’m finding it really throws my numbers around. It affects how my insulin works and even a single glass of red wine can make me feel like I’ve been wacked across the head with a bit of 4X2.  Organic red wines are much better but even then, I’ll only have 1 glass.

    Anyhoo… thank you for listening and have a wonderful Christmas everyone.
    Bronnie x

  2. Recycled_Interiors on December 22, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Bronnie that is a great way to handle it! Sounds like you have got it all sorted and you are so right about the maths!! Yes I ended up giving up alcohol 17 yrs ago as it didn’t agree with me at all. Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful Christmas x

  3. Sandra K W on January 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I do much as you do Helen and guesstimate the carbs when I am eating out followed by checking my BGL a couple of hours later to correct any difference. usually I am close but the thing I am finding really hard it the amount of fat in foods when you eat out. I do not chooses fried foods but often find that pasta comes marinated in oil which really throws my BGL’s later. I went out to  vegan lunch earlier this week and had what I though was a healthy meal consisting of roasted a vegie burger with sour dough rye bread and skordalia. I bolused what I thought I needed and kept correcting all day as the invisible fats kicked in. At 10.00pm my level was still over 10 after not eating all afternoon and night.   I thought I had to eat before I went to bed though, which worked out well. Life with type 1 is extremely difficult.

  4. Recycled_Interiors on January 12, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Sandra K W so frustrating!! I think this we work out our own ways and that is what is important – you know your body the best

  5. lizayers on December 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I kept nodding my head when reading your article Helen! I was dx in 1983 and still remember my gorgeous Mum putting a note in my lunch box each day listing “sandwich 2, fruit 1” etc… to make sure she had packed enough carbs to feed my twice daily injections!!!

    Now I find it reasonably straightforward at home to measure carbs except when baking when I don’t follow a recipe, and honestly can’t be bothered adding up my numerous ingredients’ carbs and then dividing them by the number of biscuits/slice size….

    Eating cake or other dessert out is really tricky! Like you and the others who have commented, I best guess then follow up with bolus if needed. Not so easy to rectify if I overbolus in the first place.

    Business sounds great – hope it goes well!!

    • Helen-Edwards on May 14, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      Hi Liz – sorry for the late reply – I ahve been on somewhat of a diabetes blog break! Thanks for sharing your experiences! Sounds very similar to me 🙂