The multivariable equation that is running with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

I’ve written in the past about running with type 1 diabetes. I’ve tried running fasted, which works well in one sense because I have no extra insulin on board. I’ve modified my strategy further to run 2 or more hours after breakfast, so I have fuel but don’t have (much) IOB. But as I’ve extended my forays deeper into longer distance ultrarunning, and as I learned I have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), running is getting a little more complicated.

For past thoughts on T1D running, here’s my post on running fasted and thinking about IOB. I also wrote more here last year about marathon and 50k ultramarathon training and how I use small doses of carbs to “correct” for dipping blood sugars. Last year, my body didn’t seem to need or want much additional fuel, so I didn’t force it. Part of that was likely a symptom of my undiscovered EPI. Now, however, that I am taking enzymes for pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy so I can digest what I eat, I have more energy (because my body is actually using what I eat), but I also get hungry and seem to need more fuel while running. But everything I eat needs enzymes to help me digest it, even things that I eat while ultrarunning.

So…it’s complicated to run with type 1 diabetes and micromanage insulin and carbs to manage blood glucose levels; and I’m limited in my fuel choices because I have celiac disease; and now I have to also carry, titrate, and dose enzymes for any fuel that I eat on the run as well.

Oh, and like insulin, the timing of enzymes matters. But there are no studies on enzyme digestion and how that changes during exercise, let along endurance activities like ultrarunning. So I am running in the dark, so to speak, trying to figure out things myself as I go along.

Here is more detail about what I’m doing and why I’m constantly running multivariable equations in my head while training for a 50k, 50 mile, and maybe even 100 mile run later this year:

First and foremost, managing blood sugar levels comes first.

I wear a CGM, so I can see how my blood sugar (BG) is changing during the run. I have a pump, so I can make any changes to insulin dosing. I also have an open source AID system (OpenAPS), so before running I set a higher target which tells the system not to give me as much insulin as it would otherwise. (It also does an awesome job with post-run insulin sensitivity changes! But that’s another post.) As I’ve previously written about, reducing insulin on board (IOB) when I know I’ll be running is the important first step, so I don’t have to start taking carbs and treating a low at the start of my run. Usually, my open source AID and I (by giving it a temporary target) do a good job getting me to my run start without much IOB, and ideally somewhere around 120-130 mg/dL.

From that level area, I can see rises and dips in BGs and dose accordingly. I carry easily dissolving small mint-like candies that are a few carbs (3-4g), or Airhead minis (8g of carbs), and with any dip below 120 or recurring drop that’s not coming up after 15 minutes since my last carb, I take more. These are pretty much straight sugar, and my body seems to do ok with absorbing carbs without enzymes, as long as there is no fat or protein involved.

However, with ultrarunning it’s generally considered to be ideal to proactively be consuming fuel to balance out the energy that you’re burning. Again, this is where I’m less experienced because for the last years, my body never wanted fuel and I did ok. However, now I seem to need fuel, so I’m working on figuring this out because food typically has some fat and protein, and I have to dose enzymes for it.

I carry a baggy with some single-enzyme (lipase) pills and some multi-enzyme (lipase for fat, amylase for carbs, and protease for protein) pills. I carry carefully measured single-serving snacks that I know the fat and protein quantity of. For each snack, I might need 1-2 enzyme pills of various sorts.

Timing matters: I can’t take enzymes and then snack slowly for 30 minutes. To eat slowly, I would need to take enzymes every 10-15 minutes to match the speed of eating so it will ultimately be there to help the food digest.

But, more carbs/food at once has an effect on how I feel while running and also to my BGs. I’ve tried to find things I love to eat running and can eat within 5 minutes – even while running 30 seconds and walking 60 seconds repeatedly – that are also less than 1-2 enzyme pills worth of fat and protein and aren’t too many carbs at once. These may be 15-20g carb snacks which means a bigger impact to my BG levels, and I may need to even do a small bolus (give insulin) for what I am eating. The challenge again is that food can hit BGs in about 15 minutes but it takes ~45 minutes for insulin activity to peak. And, during exercise, I’m more sensitive to insulin than I normally am. There’s no magical calculation to know how much “more” sensitive I am in the midst of a run, so I have to guess and thread the needle between not giving too much insulin that would cause a low BG but giving enough so I don’t spike above 180 mg/dL, which is what makes me feel icky while running.

Preferably, and very personally, I’d like to float up and down between 120-140 mg/dL or 130-150 mg/dL, which is higher than BGs usually hang out for me without exercise (remember: open source AID!), but is high enough that I have buffer against a low, so if I suddenly dip and I haven’t looked at my BGs in 15 minutes, I can usually still carb up and prevent an annoying low. (Lows matter even more on runs because they slow me down physically, which is usually not what I’m going for.)

It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I undershoot the insulin because I’ve miscalculated my effort running, and my BG drifts high and I have to decide whether or not to correct further. Other times, I overshoot (or have increased my run effort and didn’t take that into consideration) and cause BG to dip or dive toward low. Then I have to carb up but hopefully not so much that I cause a high.

My priority list therefore is: manage BGs, take in fuel, try not to over or undershoot on insulin for the fuel or overshoot carb corrections for drifting BGs, plus remember to take enzymes for the fuel and dose the right amount, plus stay on top of my electrolytes. Oh, and keep run-walking.

And along the way, I am also trying to document and learn whether the absorption of enzymes changes during different intensities or lengths of exercise; whether these over the counter enzymes are reliably measured enough for small snacks, and whether my personal ratios for fat and protein are any different during exercise the way my sensitivity to insulin changes during exercise.

It’s a lot of work. Plus, the pre-work that goes in to finding, measuring, and preparing foods that I think I want to eat during the run!

My current short list of single-serving snacks that I can tolerate while doing long runs includes: 8 gluten free peanut butter pretzel nuggets; 1 serving of chili cheese Fritos; 6 gluten free yogurt covered pretzels; and 1 gluten free stroopwaffle. Each of those is 15-20g of carb, 1-2 enzyme pills, and some of them have a bit of sodium. (I’m also fairly sensitive to sodium so I take electrolyte pills every 30-45 minutes while racing, but I’ve realized the extra fueling with a bit of sodium makes it so I don’t have to take the electrolyte pills every 30 minutes like I used to.)

When I build up to my longer (50 mile or maybe 100 mile ultras, if I get there!) runs, I’m also going to need additional “real food” options, as I doubt I will be able to or want to eat stroopwaffle and Fritos for as long as the run will take. This is just a theoretical list, but it includes tomato soup (sodium and warm liquid!), instant mashed potatoes (soft and not much chewing involved), grits and oatmeal (not together, but same reason as mashed potatoes). These all luckily also happen to be lower in fat and protein, which means easier to digest (in theory), and I am less likely to have better error margins against getting the enzyme dosing wrong given the small amounts of fat and protein.

What it comes down to is that running with type 1 diabetes is a giant constant personal science experiment. Celiac makes it more work, but also removes some of the variables by limiting what I can to eat: as at races I can’t eat out of any open bowl or package due to cross contamination concerns, and reading packages takes time, so it’s way safer to just eat what I bring myself. Having EPI on top of that means mastering the art of digesting food with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, which is its own special form of science experiment.

There’s a lot of variables, a lot of science, and a lot of learning going on every time I go for a run. Doesn’t it sound fun?!


(PS – If you’re someone with EPI who has some experience with endurance activity and changes to dosing enzymes..or find that it doesn’t change anything…please reach out! I’d love to chat and take my knowledge base from n=1 to n=2!)

Multivariable Equations: Running with Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Peer pressure during and “after” the COVID-19 pandemic, why it’s similar to living with celiac disease or food allergies, and a reminder that we usually have choices

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What the experience will be like at the venue. What the short-term risks are over the next few days. What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative?

For those of us who are reading this in 2022 or beyond, we may read the above scenario and think primarily about COVID-19 risk factors and mitigations.

But for those of us living with celiac disease (or food allergies or other significant dietary restrictions), the above scenario is one we lived with even prior to 2019 and COVID.

Here’s how this scenario could read specifically for COVID-19, with COVID-specifics bolded:

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Is it indoor or outdoor? What is the ventilation like? Is everyone in your group vaccinated and boosted? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get COVID-19, how will that impact your schedule/life/childcare etc? How at risk are you for hospitalization with COVID-19? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Are you concerned about “long COVID” or associated conditions? What are the risks that a COVID infection would make your personal health situation worse?

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but wear an N95 mask and only take off your mask to quickly eat or drink. Or you could go and mask, but not eat. Or you could bring a CO2 meter to evaluate the ventilation, and use that to decide.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. N95 masking, and/or not eating) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as picking an outdoor venue instead of indoors, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve close proximity and eating or drinking, such as a walk?

Now consider how this scenario could read specifically for someone with celiac disease (or food allergies or food restrictions), with those specifics bolded (in a pre-pandemic life):

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Do they have a gluten free menu? Do they indicate that they have cross-contamination practices in place for making the food gluten free? Does the menu even have food that is worth eating? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get glutened and are someone who is symptomatic, how will the minutes, hours, and days following of not feeling well influence your schedule/life/childcare etc? What will you not be able to do because you won’t feel well enough? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Some people with celiac disease aren’t symptomatic, but are causing damage even if they don’t feel it in the minutes/hours/days following. Eating gluten causes the immune system to attack the body, increasing the risk for cancer and other complications.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but not eat if there’s not food worth eating or if you determine (in advance or at the restaurant) that they doesn’t have safe practices for preventing cross-contamination. You could go, but bring your own food and do your own thing.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. not eating, or bringing your own food) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as recommending a different venue that has safer gluten free options, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve eating, such as a walk?

In both a COVID-19 scenario and a scenario for someone with food allergies, food restrictions, or celiac disease, my point is that you have choices. While other people’s choices can affect you, your choices are the ones that matter most.

With celiac disease, which I’ve had for more than 13 years, I’ve personally chosen many times to not eat at places that weren’t safe for me.

I would eat a meal or snack before I go or while I’m there, or I bring food from elsewhere. Sometimes I’ve felt really awkward, but it was safer and the right choice for me to make. Sometimes it’s because I couldn’t change the venue, and the venue’s safe food was dry lettuce and dry chicken, and it just wasn’t worth eating. (Ever turned your nose up at airplane food? Same idea.) Sometimes I would bring my own food, and it’s gotten a lot easier to use a delivery service to get food from a safer (and often tastier) place. Or sometimes I couldn’t change the venue and there were supposedly safe options, but then the waiter did something that indicated it was likely not safe for me (e.g. saying “oh, just take the bread off your plate, no big deal”). That’s pretty much an automatic “do not eat here, it’s not safe” red flag being waved in my face.

It’s not fun to not get to eat or not get to do what everyone else around you is doing. I get it. Trust me, I do.

But do you know what is even LESS fun than feeling awkward? Getting glutened. Within minutes, feeling your chest tighten and getting abdominal cramps (that are like getting a “stitch in your side”, but all the way across your abdomen, and unrelenting for 30 minutes) that make you think you should go to the ER. Days of fatigue, brain fog and sore abdominal muscles. Knowing that you’ve increased the chances of tears in your small intestines and increased the risk of various types of cancers. All because of a speck of a crumb that found its way into your food.

So I make awkward choices. Sometimes I face teasing, and occasionally outright bullying, although thankfully that has been rare. And I’ve survived these choices.

I’ve gotten better over time, researching venues and making recommendations about safe places for me to eat. 99% of the time, people have zero problem going to the places I recommend. They want me to be safe and happy, they don’t really care what they eat, they’d rather have my (happy) company than to go someplace without me. (And if your  friends/colleagues/family members don’t care that much about you…maybe this will give you some food for thought.) I can’t always find safe GF options, so I also plan ahead and pack tasty snacks or food options, eat in advance, or plan to eat afterward.

And when that’s not possible, I make the choice to do the “awkward” but safe thing for me.

So in a COVID-19 or similar pandemic, I want you to know that you have choices. I’ve read a few stories from folks online who have shared regrets that they felt “peer pressure” to go eat at a conference, inside, because that’s what their friends or colleagues were doing. And they got COVID-19. Which doesn’t sound fun in the short run (being sick, getting stuck in foreign countries or strange cities, having to disrupt the lives of everyone around you, struggling to not infect your loved ones, being stuck without child care), nor the long run (risks of long COVID, or risks of additional conditions that can occur following COVID).

If you need ideas, here are some you can consider:

  • Pick an outside venue.
  • Get takeout food and go eat outside somewhere.
  • If you are inside, ensure good ventilation (sit by windows, open the windows). If you’re unsure the ventilation is good enough, you can bring a CO2 meter* to measure just how stale the air is. If you have a choice, sit somewhere quieter and further away from others, so you don’t have to yell in each other’s faces to be heard.
  • If the ventilation isn’t great, or you’re in a loud and/or crowded venue talking face to face with people who haven’t recently tested, you might want to stay masked except for when you are eating or drinking. Then put your mask back on. Limit the time you are exposed to the indoor air that everyone else’s been breathing.
  • If you are inside a poorly ventilated, loud, and/or crowded space, or otherwise consider the risks to be too high for your comfort, you can leave your N95 mask on the whole time – you don’t have to eat just because everyone else is eating unmasked!

I get it. It’s hard, it’s awkward, and peer pressure is real. But you do have choices you can make, and it gets easier when you think about your choices in advance and mitigate or decide how you’ll handle such a situation.

I hope this has given you food for thought about what choices you could make if you’re worried about such situations, and know that there are many others out there making similar choices, whether it’s because of COVID-19 or because of things like celiac disease, food allergies, or other dietary restrictions for health reasons.


Note: this is the CO2 monitor we bought (amazon affiliate link). It’s pricey, but we’ve definitely put it to use on planes and at meetings and feel like it is a worthwhile tool.