Today is World Diabetes Day, so I am going to share a personal story with you. In January 2019 I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (pregnancy diabetes).
November 14th is a significant date in the diabetes calendar because it marks the birthday of the man who co-discovered insulin, Frederick Banting. Banting discovered insulin in 1922, alongside Charles Best.
This blog is intended to reassure pregnant women who discover they have Gestational Diabetes, to help inform others, and to promote a low sugar lifestyle. I recognise that every diabetic's journey is different. Thanks for reading.
Gestational Diabetes and Me
I'm not going to lie - my Gestational Diabetes diagnosis last year was a total shock. I was a healthy 30-something year old with no underlying conditions, just a slightly elevated BMI when I became pregnant. I had a couple of tearful, angry, confusing days (all while all my family were abroad and I had a stomach bug to boot!), but got a grip on myself and got on with making the necessary appointments at the hospital and researching how to cope with the last two trimesters of my pregnancy. I joined a supportive Facebook group for GD mums - the name escapes me now but it was linked to this website - and made a decision: I was going to manage my gestational diabetes (GD) by altering my diet alone, as far as possible. Taking medication while I was pregnant was something I was not keen on doing.
And something did have to be done. We all know too much sugar isn't good for anyone, but I thought we were doing ok. My husband and I exercised daily and had a balanced diet; we avoid fizzy drinks, I'm not that bothered by chocolate and sweets, we eat lots of veg, a mixture of meat and veggie dishes, hardly any puddings... but I needed to essentially cut out 90% of my starchy carbs, having to be super strict and focused, and change my eating times and habits completely. Food, more than ever, would be on my mind throughout the day, I could see!
GD can be bad news for both mum and baby, so I had no other option. There was no way I was going to let my faulty placenta/hormones win!
How did life with GD feel?
Those six months with no starchy carbs were tough. This was a huge challenge for me, as I still maintain bread is my favourite food, and cereal a close second. Pasta, chips, rice, potatoes - fine, I wouldn't miss them too much, but bread and cake??? ARGH! Even fruit intake was limited to blueberries and cherries (expensive), and pears (ick), no dried fruit at all and certainly no bananas. I live on bananas, normally!!
I was diagnosed exceptionally early too, at 17 weeks pregnant, so the journey until the end of June seemed a dauntingly long one. Some days I'd fail and curse my blood tester, especially early on when I wasn't sure just how few carbohydrates I could tolerate (basically none!), but never did I fail because I didn't take care or thought 'oh handful of chips won't hurt'. I was so strict, my diabetes consultant appeared to think I was not being honest with my blood numbers recording! I even made my baby shower cake low sugar so I managed a little nibble of that. And being a baker? Oh boy, no cake for 6 months... That may explain my higher than ideal BMI though, cake was always around me.
As a positive, just before I gave birth, I actually ended up weighing 8kg less than when I got pregnant due to my change in diet. Go figure - sugar, even in low doses, is naughty!
After giving birth, GD thankfully generally disappears like magic. My first request in recovery was a giant baguette - no butter, no filling, just solid carbs intake. It was heaven. However, I do need to now keep an eye on my diet and exercise, being a little more mindful than before perhaps. I try hard to avoid carbs as snacks, and I always have a zero carb breakfast - eggs are my saviour. My treat is still ice cream, and I now make sure I drink more water as opposed to squash and absolutely no fruit juice. Desserts? Just when we have visitors for dinner.
Should baby no.2 come along, there's a chance of another diagnosis of GD, but I now know what works for me - there hopefully won't be any failures on my blood test scores like when I was still learning how low my tolerance was for sugar. Diet controlled GD is possible, but I am sure hoping I will escape GD should I become pregnant again.
Top Diet Tips for GD Mums!
Roast dinners - no potatoes or parsnips.
Cheese. Lots of cheese.
Diet drinks are fine, and weirdly I didn't like Diet Coke before I was pregnant, so that gave me a bit of variety in liquid intake. Water can get so boring!
Anything you can slather with peanut butter - including dark chocolate digestive biscuits!
High fat icecream - oh yes!
Meat: Cold cuts, double portions in a meal... GD unfortunately put a stop to my vegetarianism.
Fry-ups - no baked beans, hash browns or toast, lots of sausage, egg, bacon, grilled tomato, mushrooms...
How did having GD affect my business?
Well, first of all, GD made me incredibly tired. There was one instance when I was on holiday and I slept night-day-night, only getting up for a music concert. I even fell asleep briefly at my desk - twice - at work, how embarrassing. I'd get home and go to bed. Life just didn't really have any excitement for a long time! This tiredness meant my capacity for baking was severely reduced. I hired a couple more bakers to my homebaking team and carried on as long as I could - until March, so not long, but I really was on my knees with exhaustion.
Secondly, on a positive note, I discovered so many low and zero sugar cake recipes! I now offer a range of cakes called '280 Zero'. Not all of them were sensible options, the banana recipes in particular, but it was a relief and a serious treat to be able to nibble a little slice once a month or so. I still try to make the cake we eat at home low sugar - good habits die hard!
Almost 18 months on from waving a happy goodbye to GD, I definitely think getting through GD so successfully on diet alone is one of my greatest achievements - topped only by being a fab mum to the baby who appeared at the end of it all! I am so proud of how I managed it, especially given my dedication for cake and bread. Seriously.
Food is very evocative - a simple taste or scent of a certain type of food can bring back very specific memories; Cake is no different.
For me, the first cake that springs to memory's mind is lemon drizzle. Those two words will forever be associated with my Grandma Pat, who passed away over ten years ago now.
My memories of her are laden with baking - cherry buns, runny water icing, fruit cake, apple pie - but mainly lemon drizzle. It was never fancy, just a sponge, but she had a name for making a brilliant bake of it. Sure, it's a relatively simple bake, but none can compare to my grandma's! I like to think she'd be very proud of me and my lil' cake business.
The second memory blast I have when thinking about cake is a very festive one. Every year since I've been on this planet my mum has made a showstopping Christmas cake. Sometimes more than one, if a school raffle or church fete needed one. She's even been known to make it for someone's birthday, as it's their favourite. It's all about the cake here, even though the decoration is always perfect; the dark sponge is always absolutely packed with dried fruit and booze. Mum is a complete foodie, and loves a decent fruit cake, and Christmas wouldn't be the same without a big slice of her boozy Christmas cake.
Christmas is one thing, but birthdays are even more about cake in my memory. Christmas dominates with so many other foods, activities, traditions over a longer period of time, whereas a birthday is just one day (or two, if you;'re the Queen and you're reading this). So, in terms of percentage of importance, I would argue birthday cakes are even more important that Christmas cakes, being a central feature to one's big day. After all, 'a party without a cake is just a meeting', or so the famous saying goes. I've been lucky enough to have many cakes baked for me on past birthdays - here was this years! Thank you Max, very much!
And while we're talking birthdays, banana cake may always remind me of my little one's first birthday. Cake was an important part to the celebrations as a nationwide lockdown hugely restricted what we could do. I made Rox two vegan - she had an egg allergy at the time - banana cakes, one for a cake smash (see here) and one for a sandwich tea in the garden with a handful of family members. Even though I say so myself, it was a bit of a corker - fabulous memories.
What kind of cakes bring memories to your mind?
Cake smashes for babies are all the rage, so here are my SIX Top tips for a fun and messy afternoon!
I did my first cake smash last month, for Baby V as she turned a year old. I took weeks planning it, so excited... probably a little more excited than my befuddled baby!
I baked a soft vanilla cake in the shape of a heart - vegan, because she had an egg allergy until recently - and decorated it in a simple but bright design. It had to be iced with buttercream for maximum messiness, and I wanted it to have blue elements to match part of the bunting.
Honestly, I can't exactly say Baby V had the time of her life - she was a little confused and needed some encouragement - but I certainly had fun! She was very elegant, picking at it with her fingers, and a little confused, but it's a great memory as parents.
Would you brave a cake smash with your little one?
If so, here are my top six tips for a successful cake smash!
Let me know how you get on!
Welcome to the 280 Bakes blog! Most posts are by myself, Louise, but if you fancy guest blogging, give me a shout!