People used to ask me what I would do if I was cured of diabetes, and I used to answer, “Go on a diet.” I became a Type 1 diabetic at age eleven, and I’m afraid onset pretty much coincided with that growing girl concern of the time—that concern over looks and weight. I do want to quickly insert that not all Type 1 diabetics are chunky like the self I have always been. Indeed, this is a difference between Type 1 and 2—Type 1s can have a different overall body type, be thin or wiry, have a very high metabolism. They don’t fit the profile. Unfortunately, I have been more true to the norm, and as far as I know, I have no metabolism.
As long as I can remember, I have always been concerned about my weight. Growing up, the subject of the weekly menu at school became embarrassing as my mother insisted on asking me about all food being offered to me. Eating, itself, became an ordeal. In the diabetic regime of old, growing children like me were given a certain number of calories a day to consume. In the morning, I had to eat eggs in the morning for protein and buttered toast, whether I wanted them or not. Very often, there was also oatmeal with milk and juice or half of a grapefruit. Lunch was another ordeal of huge sandwiches, potatoes and a vegetable, plus a fruit for dessert. And, oh yes, more milk.
Dinner was definitely again too much food—I sat down to ample slices of meat, vegetables, potatoes, plus bread and butter. Then again, there was fruit for dessert. Before bed, I had milk again, most often with crackers and cheese. So much food to me, and I honestly felt as if I was being forced to eat every bite of it. The daily regime was preached over and over to me: take a certain amount of medication, then eat what seemed like way too much, and absolutely eat every single bit of every single meal. More importantly, never skip a meal.
Meanwhile as a teenage girl, I worried constantly about my weight, and yet felt helpless to do anything much about it. Short-acting insulin was not available to the patient in those days, and I know that my blood sugar must have been going up, up, up after any of these heavy meals. I became one college student who didn’t indulge in pizza often—and to this day, I’m often teased as I have a tendency to scrape off the topping, eating it without the crust. Hardly good social etiquette. Also, could I just eat my cheeseburger and forget the bun, please? I suppose I was discovering certain “weight watcher approaches” long before today’s popular diets. Still, I was not learning, at the time, to eat more healthy raw vegetables.
I have a picture of me as a young woman, and although there is not a time when I didn’t think I was too fat, I actually look pretty good to myself now. Still, one photo of me at my lowest adult weight, I do have to admit, now looks skeletal. Though I was more slim and trying to feel good about myself, I remember now what must have been really true—I did not feel well, And still, no really flat stomach for me! Of course, I did sit-ups growing up, long into adulthood, I’m afraid nothing ever made much of a difference in the way my weight apportioned itself. At least we finally learned that some diabetics are more naturally apples than pears, so I could stop beating myself up. Meanwhile, save me to this day from business lunches, which so often include huge croissant sandwiches or pasta dripping in cheese. I spent my twenties seeking out dieticians who handed me 1,000 calorie a day diets—the only diet I could lose weight on. You see, malnutrition was not much of an issue to the women of my time?
I wish I could say that exercise was of interest and pleasant to me. Unfortunately, I’m more the “thinker type” of person. No, it did not help that exercise was often forced on me as a child, though I always liked swimming and biking. (I think I’m simply not the competitive type.)
I’m afraid use of the insulin pump has meant less swimming for me. Yes, it can be detached, but often that detachment is worrisome and bothersome and attempts to make the pump waterproof have improved the models, but not been totally successful. Walking is always what has saved me, but then unfortunately, I broke a kneecap, so that exercise is not totally worry free now, though I do try to persist. I walked everywhere when I was young, as I so often did not have a car, and yes, I do believe that helped my blood sugars and perhaps my weight. I even jogged for quite a few years in my life. I’ve heard nothing beats walking as far as your health goes though. Not to mention, I still enjoy this form of exercise.
Exercise aside, and the insulin management needed with it, I have felt from the time of middle-age on, that if I was in the room with food, I would gain weight. I should perhaps make clear that I am not “obese,” but with every decade, I seem to put on a few steady pounds. I’ve tried many remedies—however, none seem to work. I honestly don’t think my doctors like it that I have an old-fashioned tendency to avoid carbs when I can. I try to keep that regime of injecting insulin down, as insulin retains the weight. My body may not have been able to use all food effectively in the past, but with the advent of the pump, that tendency had been pretty well eliminated!
I guess I’m thankful for age and the women’s movement that encourage me to accept the woman I’ve become. I thank those who talked me into wearing bright colors and to no longer be ashamed of my body image. Although I’m still more comfortable in casual wear, I love dressing with an artist’s flair! Both actually suit. So if you have a diabetic child, as all so often preach now, go for the individual. I’ve heard some diabetic youth actually skip that insulin shot in order to lose weight! That is, possible hospitalization and death in order to be a stick figure! So, so, so not right. Still, that’s how much weight still matters to many. All flair aside, I have to agree, be healthy! Life is always a struggle, but moments of normalcy and happiness are to be had. Having had Type 1 for 54 years this month, I’m living proof. For the sake of yourself and all of us, hang in there!