Friday, May 16, 2014

Diabetes Lifehacks

Note: The theme for today's Diabetes Blog Week is lifehacks—the little, creative things we all do each day to make managing diabetes easier.

Ah, I love lifehacks. I used to just do everything status quo with diabetes, but in the past few years I've begun to get creative with my diabetes equipment and routines so that it makes things as easy for me as possible. Here is some of what I do.

Weights and Measures
I weigh almost everything I eat. I used to use measuring cups, but then I discovered carbohydrate factors (a la Pumping Insulin)—basically the percentage of food that is made up of carbohydrates. This way I only have to remember one number, and I can serve food normally rather than having to use measuring cups (and then wash them afterward). So, when I want to eat fruit and yogurt, I can easily remember that the carbohydrate factor for my fruit is 0.10, and for my coconut yogurt (I'm allergic to dairy) is 0.15. I put my bowl on top of my scale, tare to zero (to get rid of the weight of the bowl), serve the yogurt, tare again, serve the fruit, and then multiply the weigh of the yogurt by 0.15 and the weight of the fruit by 0.10, and get a carbohydrate count by adding the two together.

It sounds more complicated than it is, especially once you get used to it. And, for foods I eat less often, I simply write the carbohydrate factor on the package so that I can instantly get to it. You can learn more about carbohydrate factors in Pumping Insulin by John Walsh or from this article in Diabetes Self-Management. The other advantage is that this is a very exact method of measuring carbohydrates (since there is no air between bits of food as can happen with a measuring cup) and takes very little extra time (and trust me, I'm not a math person!).

For travel I also have a pocket-sized scale that I bought several years ago. It's smaller than a cell phone and allows me to weigh foods that I haven't pre-measured, such as fruit I purchase or other items not in a package. I keep this in my purse, as well as bringing it on longer out-of-town trips.

Out and About
Since I live with food allergies in addition to diabetes, I pack virtually all my own meals. (When I do eat out, it's almost always limited to chicken salad with vinegarette dressing.) This includes packing all meals for extended trips. For work lunches and other meals I use an insulated lunch kit that has a mesh pocket on the lid where I place an ice pack. For business trips and vacations, I have a larger insulated cooler which I put inside a hard-shell suitcase to minimize squashing of food (for Canada only, since you can't take produce or meat across the border).

To make things as easy as possible, I measure as many foods as I can as I'm packing. I put them into individual servings in various sizes of Ziploc bags (which I try to reuse as much as possible if the foods are dry) and then write the carbohydrate count on a piece of masking tape with a felt tip pen, which I then stick to the bag. Due to my low vision, I can't read the writing if I write directly on the clear bag, and even though I've seen special labels that you can buy to write carbohydrate counts on, masking tape is super cheap and I've never had a piece fall off.

Cases and Bags
When I first got my Animas pump I immediately hated the case. It was enormous and bulky and, because it had hard plastic casings for the meter and strips, it couldn't be used for anything other than holding meter kit. I happened to find a case for an Accu-Chek Aviva somewhere and found that it fit my meter and lacing device perfectly. Speaking of lacing devices: I never use the one that comes with the meter. I use the Accu-Chek Multiclix, which is particularly nice since it doesn't have any sharps to worry about and makes changing lancets really easy (I've never changed lancets so often!).

In my purse I always carry backup supplies in case of pump issues. I keep an infusion set, cartridge, and alcohol swabs in a portable hard drive case, which fits these supplies almost perfectly. I have a tiny case from Case Logic (which I think is meant for SD cards) where I keep quarters, extra pump and meter batteries, pen needles, and some pills like antihistamines and painkillers. I keep both these cases, as well as an insulin pen (with insulin) and an EpiPen in a pocket in my purse or whatever type of bag I'm carrying, so that it's all easily accessible in one place.

Sharps Disposal
I've put an individual key ring on the zipper in my meter case, which makes the mesh pocket (which I use for temporary test strip disposal) extremely easy to find and open by hooking a finger through and pulling; this is especially helpful when low!

When I travel on extended trips, I use a large Tic Tac container as a temporary sharps disposal container until I can get home and put the sharps in my "official" sharps container I get from the pharmacy. I have tried the needle clippers but found that it could not clip through infusion set needles.

Business Trips and Vacations
For extended trips, I have both the Dia-Pak Deluxe and the Dia-Pak Classic. I use the Dia-Pak Deluxe to hold about a week of diabetes supplies when I travel out of town. I use the Dia-Pak Classic to hold all of my allergy medications (yeah, I really do need a whole separate case). I bought these two cases specifically because they come in bright blue. After an experience of having an airport security agent remove pump supplies from my pack and not repacking them, I wanted something that would be visible not only to airport security but also to me if it was left on the conveyor.

I recently bought a Double-Pocket SPIbelt for going for walks or to other forms of exercise where I don't want to carry a bag. It has two pockets, one where I can put glucose tablets and an inhaler, and one where I can put my cell phone, keys, earbuds, and a small glucose meter (like the Accu-Chek Nano). When I go to the gym, I use a MEC Sling Pack to pack a towel, folding cane, and anything else i want to keep nearby (I don't wear the pack, I just hang it off the equipment I'm using).

One form of exercise I greatly enjoy is swimming. I haven't yet found a great solution for keeping supplies nearby (and dry) on the pool deck. At the moment I tend to just put my white cane, glucose tablets, and inhaler on a bench on the pool deck, but I'd like a case I could put them in (ideally that would also fit a swimming-friendly glucose meter like the Accu-Chek Active) that doesn't look like a wallet or digital camera that might get stolen. I am open to suggestions!

I am sure there are countless other little things I have done to make daily life with this time-consuming disease easier. The above are the things that I've implemented recently enough that they pop out at me.


  1. Great idea about the scale! Would never have thought of using one of those jewellery ones

    1. The one I liked to only weighs up to 100g, but the one I own weighs more (I think up to 500g), which is probably better to get since most apples and other fruit may weigh more than 100g.

  2. Love the dia-pak info (we've been looking at these online) and the small scale too. Thanks. Super helpful.

  3. Great list! I weigh my food at home but I don't when traveling; I should get a small scale too!