Ellon councillor Gillian Owen has had to get used to a lot since she was diagnosed with diabetes in October.
There’s the chronic pain in her fingers now she can no longer take anti-inflammatories for her osteoarthritis.
Then there’s controlling the spiking blood pressure she says could have killed her if gone untreated.
The biggest change, however, is that she now has to practise portion control.
“Portion control?” she says with disdain. “I always thought portion control was what my mum and dad did at the seaside holiday hotel in Margate – three potatoes for each brussels sprout and two slices of meat.”
A change that will make a different to diabetics like Gillian
Since October, Gillian — who is also Aberdeenshire council leader — has had to completely overhaul how she eats, swapping honey for Canderel, and Corona beer for the non-alcoholic alternative.
She’s lost weight, she says, but having to think about what she eats for the first time in 58 years has been “daunting”, especially when she’s eating out.
So, she is calling for a change she believes will make a significant difference to diabetics like herself.
Restaurants, she says, need to take a leaf out of the gluten-free and vegan playbooks and start having diabetes-friendly menus.
“I’m not a trained chef,” says Gillian. “I don’t know how many grams of fat I need, or how many grams of salt or whatever is in food.
“I just want to have a standard meal that you can eat while not thinking, oh my God, what’s this doing to my blood sugar?”
Stay away from the children’s menu
Gillian says a diabetes menu would help simplify matters for diabetics like her suddenly made aware of the consequences of eating too much.
“I know I can’t eat as much as I have done. I know I have to be picky and choosey,” she says.
And, she makes clear, it’s not just a matter of choosing the smaller meals from the children’s menu, which is full of things like mac and cheese and chicken nuggets – all of which are on her diabetic do-not-eat list.
She also shakes off suggestions that portion control is down to the customer rather than the kitchen.
“I get that,” she says. “But if you ask for a small portion, they invariably say no. But if you could say to the waitress that you are diabetic then they’d instantly know you’d need a small portion.
Gillian continues: “I’d pay the full price just to have a small portion. Because, firstly, it’s really off-putting to have a whole mound of food that you know you can’t eat. And secondly, there are the unintended consequences of what it does to your blood sugar.”
Family to the rescue as Gillian grapples with diabetes
Speaking of unintended consequences, Gillian’s family have so far been the main beneficiaries of her dietary changes.
Husband Steve was able to polish off her leftover steak a few nights previously while her son Alex came to the rescue in a Turkish restaurant in Rosemount, courageously offering to finish the mezze plates she couldn’t eat.
Gillian, on the other hand, has been through a lot since a blood pressure check in September revealed dangerously high levels.
“It was 180 over 88,” says Gillian who was in hospital for a pre-op for two hand operations she’s getting to help fix the osteoarthritis that has bent her fingers out of shape.
“I said, no it’s not because my son has one of those smart watches and it said it was only 139 over 80. And she said: ‘Lose the watch. They’re not truthful.’”
The blood pressure check that may have saved her life
About a month later — not long after she accompanied King Charles as he opened the new Gairnshiel Jubilee Bridge in Gillian’s home town of Ellon – she was diagnosed with diabetes. She’s still waiting for confirmation on whether it is type one or type two.
She was also told she has chronic kidney disease, a result of the anti-inflammatories she’d been taking for her arthritis pain.
She’d already stopped taking the anti-inflammatories ahead of the hand operations she’s in line for. However, she’s annoyed no one warned her of their effect on her kidneys.
It’s the damage to her kidneys that has led to the high blood pressure and diabetes, she says.
“If I hadn’t gone for that pre-op blood pressure test,” she says, “I could have had a heart attack, I could have had a stroke.”
Meanwhile, she’s working hard at keeping those portion sizes down. But it hasn’t been easy.
“You know, everything in moderation, right?” she says. “But that does mean small portions. It doesn’t mean pile you’re plate up with chips.
“As much as I’d like to eat them.”