Growing up, I always had a good relationship with food. Never a picky eater, I happily consumed anything placed in front of me. Whether it was a plate full of vegetables, or a piece of chocolate cake, there were few things I didn’t love and almost nothing I wouldn’t try. I am grateful that my parents exposed both myself, and my brothers, to all sorts of cuisine and adamantly enforced the policy that, “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”. There was no such thing as a separate dinner menu for the kids. We ate what they ate, because my parents refused to have children who survived on merely chicken fingers and french fries. We grew to appreciate the nutritious and hearty, home cooked meals that graced our dinner table each evening. The experience of living in a home with a family who made mealtime a priority, is something that I do not take for granted and will surely try to emulate if I ever have a family of my own.
Nowadays, my life is not as simple as it once was. Being diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager, I suddenly had a lot more on my plate (har har). I was forced to learn more about nutrition and food than I ever would have if my pancreas didn’t decide to cease and desist insulin production. I was actually thinking about this the other day. When the heck did I absorb the ability to know carbohydrate counts so accurately? It’s almost like the experience of learning how to read; I can’t remember not knowing what words said. When did those foreign symbols take on their intended meanings? Similarly, I now can’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to calculate the carb content of what I was going to eat or drink. I know that carbohydrates were NOT on my mind prior to diagnosis and it saddens me slightly that I can’t even remember what the not-knowing felt like anymore. Again, I am thankful that my mother and father instilled in me a solid foundation of what a well-rounded, balanced diet should look like. It made my transition into living life as a person with Type 1 diabetes so much easier since healthy habits had always been a part of my life.
A few years ago, I went through a period of time where I was experiencing a great deal of pain in my abdomen, accompanied by constant and relentless nausea. No one could seem to understand what was wrong with me and finally, after begging and pleading (and several hospital admissions that delivered no solution for my misery), I was given a gastric emptying scan. Most had said I had not lived with diabetes long enough to already have such a serious and severe complication, but I knew that they must be mistaken. I had lost nearly 50 pounds in about 10 weeks (and I wasn’t obese to begin with)! Of course there had to be something wrong me. This continues to be one of the aspects of diabetes advocacy that I am passionate about – you are never TOO YOUNG to have a complication occur and you should never stop demanding the diagnostic testing that you deserve. Low and behold, after the results were reviewed, it was revealed that my damaged vagus nerve was the culprit of my tummy troubles. Due to the fact that I suffer from Gastroparesis (translation: paralyzed stomach), a complication that results from elevated blood glucose levels, I must be very cognizant of the things I am putting into my body. The suggestion for diet is low-fat, low-fiber and small, frequent meals. What is frustrating about this, is that a proper diet for diabetes would encourage high fiber and lots of fresh vegetables. Anything with skins or seeds, anything that is “ruffage” like lettuce or spinach, can spell out disaster. It pains me that eating a salad could potentially put me in hospital, like the time I thought it would be wise to make “rice” out of cauliflower.
I laugh and joke with my friends and family about being a masochist when it comes to the choices I make regarding foods in relation to suffering from gastroparesis. I KNOW that pizza is the devil and yet, I can’t help but steal a bite or two from my boyfriend’s slice. I know that maybe getting chicken wings and onion rings at the bar isn’t wise, but why deny myself a taste, especially if I’m sharing. To be honest, most of my stomach issues result from trying to eat “healthier”. I convince myself that eating those grilled summer squash and zucchini off the grill will be okay today and sometimes, if I navigate the realm of moderation successfully, I actually am okay; the worst that happens is early satiety and being super full for an abnormally extended period of time (oftentimes overnight and into the next day). However, other times I am not so lucky. Uncontrollable vomiting and excruciating abdominal pain begin and we all know how dangerous losing fluids by throwing up can be for someone with diabetes. My relationship with my gastroparesis diagnosis is one of the things I work hardest on. It’s been very difficult to accept and adjust to, as it is unpredictable, relentless, and incurable – just like Type 1. Oh the joys!
Luckily, I have found ways to manage both my diabetes and gastroparesis. I strive to adhere to the small meals often rule and, though usually unsuccessful, try not to eat too late at night. I do plenty of lean proteins, like chicken and fish, and also try to get my vegetables and fruits through puree and liquid shakes. I was even recently inspired by my friend Lara, aka The Picky Gourmet, who shared a post all about Detox Waters. After reading, I went out to the store and stocked up on a variety of ingredients. I loved being able to try out fun and creative ways to jazz up my water and receive the added benefits of the things I was infusing. I am SO thankful to work for a company who provides employees with FREE smoothies and healthy snacks DAILY as part of a wellness initiative. Our in-house nutrition consult and chef prepares the smoothies and snacks each day, as well as a “take home” meal once per week. It’s refreshing to work for an employer who sees the merit in healthy food choices and makes it easier for people to live a better life.
I continue to strive to be more mindful when it comes to meal and snack time. It is my hope that as I continue through life, I will develop an even better relationship with food. As time goes on, I’m sure I will find more things that work for both my diabetes and gastroparesis diagnosis. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy different cuisines and things as best I can! Food is love, but, you should love yourself enough to nourish your body with the things it needs.