Setting ground rules for a healthy perspective on food.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
March 2008 — It seems to be Parenting 101 that the moment you forbid your child to do something, the more they will want to do it. And the minute your back is turned, they will run to do whatever you have forbidden – everything from the music you say they shouldn't listen to, the guy they shouldn't date, the clothes may not wear, and the food they may not eat. That becomes an especially volatile argument when your child has diabetes and food can be such a hot button issue. Maybe it is because I MARRIED the guy my Mom told me I couldn't date that I am especially hesitant to make food a huge issue in our house, especially for someone with diabetes and for whom food could automatically become an issue. I feel like if I say "you can't have this," it is going to turn into exactly what he wants to eat, and just what he will get his hands on when I am not looking.
My column has never been about giving medical advice. I am not qualified in any way to do so. The choices we each make for our children and how we feel they should live to maximize both their health and enjoyment of life must be left to each of us individually as parents. That being said, we have made the choice not to make sweets the forbidden fruit in our home or for our son with diabetes. Since Joel's diagnosis, I have done my best to try to imagine what it would be like to live with this disease. For me, that has included trying to picture how resentful I would feel of the constant requirements of managing the disease, including testing blood sugar and giving injections or boluses for everything I put into my mouth. The potential limitations imposed on one's lifestyle are enough to make anyone feel as though he or she were a prisoner of diabetes. When our son was diagnosed, I remember very well my husband and I weighing the options of how we could approach it with our son, what kinds of guidelines we would try to follow, and what limits we would impose. There are certainly people who choose to avoid carbs and sweets as much as possible, thinking they are terrible for a person with diabetes and will have long lasting effects on their health. It is not difficult to find a doctor and plenty of parents who subscribe to that theory and adjust their child's diet and lifestyle accordingly.
But again, I go back to how I would feel if someone told me I had to avoid carbs and sweets. Just from my own very limited experience in attempting to watch my weight, I know that when I tell myself I can't have them at all (or at least as much as I would like), it only makes me want them more. We made the decision quite early on that we were not going to make any foods forbidden for Joel. Joel's nurse supported the attitude that just about anything in moderation was just fine for him to eat. By not making any food forbidden, we feel we make food a non-issue for him, and allow him to have a "normal" life, while still maintaining good control over his diabetes and hopefully avoiding diabetes health complications later in his life. For us, it can't always be about his blood sugar and his A1C, it has to be at least in part about his quality of life. From our own perceptions of what it would be like to be forced to eliminate so many foods from his daily life, we feel we would be setting him up to sneak foods or even binge and develop an eating disorder or weight problem because he has been taught that these foods are inherently "bad."
Certainly our dietary choices aren't for everyone, but it seems that no matter what guidelines you set for your child, you have to keep in mind that you may be laying the groundwork for more than just eating habits. We hope to avoid serious issues with food, rebellion, sneaking food, and control issues in general. We also hope that Joel will feel that he controls his diabetes, not that his diabetes controls him.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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