People need food to survive. People thrive when they have healthy food and their bodies have the capacity to process that food. Food contains important stuff in it, like calories, minerals, vitamins (do I sound like a cereal commercial yet?), proteins and carbohydrates. Yes, carbohydrates are important, just like calories are. We’re so used to the verbiage of “counting calories” or “low-carb diets” that we have negative associations around those terms.
However, for a person to function, they need calories, and they need carbs. When they don’t get enough, their body slowly begins to shut down, even consume every last thing it had stored away.
People with Type 1 Diabetes don’t produce the magical substance needed to access the carbs in their food. The carbs turn to sugars in their blood and just sit there accumulating. Meanwhile, the person with T1D isn’t getting what they need to be healthy. Prolonged high blood sugars are really really bad for you, like put you in a coma bad. The body doesn’t have a way to get rid of the excess sugars except to try and flush them out (pardon the pun) through giving the person a powerful thirst and hoping to get rid of the sugars by urinating them out.
The only thing that can get rid of the excess sugar in the blood, and allow the person to use those carbs for energy?
Every carb, every time.
It’s not that carb-rich foods are bad. At our house, we try to use the term “free” foods vs. a food that has carbs, rather than a “good” food or a “bad” food. There really aren’t any “bad” foods, it’s just that for someone with T1D, any food that has carbs requires them to receive insulin. There are definitely foods that are “extra” foods, ones that are not required for healthy living, but we were using that term even before our diagnosis.
Type 1 Diabetes doesn’t happen because a person ate too many carbs. Early in our diagnosis, our daughter was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. I had to explain that I’d have to come along because with her having T1D, she’d need a shot before she ate. The gentleman hosting the party joked, “Too many hamburgers, huh?”
No. Not too many hamburgers, sir.
It was so surprising, I didn’t have time to be offended…until later.
No, she didn’t develop T1D because she ate too many hamburgers, or ate too many anything-elses. She just developed it. The medical community doesn’t even know exactly why it happens.
Another comment was made recently about how our daughter “didn’t do anything bad, like eating too many cupcakes.” This type of comment was mentioned more than once by this person. While I understand they were trying to affirm that my daughter did not play an active role in promoting the onset of the diabetes, I feel uncomfortable with that verbage. Eating too many cupcakes isn’t “bad” and it doesn’t make you a bad person. I think we need to be careful how we stigmatize people who develop any kind of diabetes, whether that’s a result of less-than-optimum diet and lack of exercise, heredity, being pregnant, or because their pancreas quit doing its job.
While there are differences in the control some people might have in the onset of diabetes, there are also a lot of factors at play, and one of those factors is privilege. Some communities have better access to healthy food options, and some have fewer realistic options.
- I have a car and easy access to at least three different grocery stores with a wide variety of foods available to me.
- I also get to decide what I spend my money on when I’m at the grocery store.
- Time is also not an issue for us, because if we need to run out for something at the grocery store, my husband or I can stay with the kids while the other one does that run.
- My husband and I each work one job.
Not everyone has these privileges. People are working multiple jobs, spending a long time on a bus or train, having to stretch their dollars, having little time to cook homemade meals, or not even having good grocery options available. So let’s not stigmatize anyone. Diabetes is not an easy road. *end soapbox moment*
Food doesn’t cause diabetes. Food in and of itself is neutral. We anthromophoricize (<– spelling nightmare) food, giving it feelings or motives. Food’s just food. It’s not out to get us. Those with T1D can eat anything they want, they just have to know how many carbs are in it so they can give themselves the right dose of insulin to process the carbs contained in that food.
There are few other factors at work when deciding how much insulin is needed, but we’ll talk about those another time.
Next week we’ll hear more about what it looks like to be an elementary-age child with T1D. Hope to see you back here!
Do you know anyone with any form of diabetes? What impressions have you had of their diabetes? Have you silently had some ideas about how they manage their diabetes? How can you be a support to them?