Diabetes and Food: A University perspective

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(Guest article written by Ana Morales.  Ana is my younger sister, diagnosed diabetic at the age of 3.  Ana has always been a source of inspiration to me because she handles her diabetes with grace and even though she struggles like the rest of us, she manages to always stay kind, creative, and oh yes…make A’s at the top university she attends.)

My name is Ana Morales. I’m Sysy’s younger sister, and like Sysy, I have type I diabetes; I was just diagnosed a few months earlier. For me, dealing with diabetes has been a difficult journey, just like I’m sure it has been for any diabetic. When I was younger, I didn’t struggle as much as I do now for various reasons. My family was more involved in my diabetes care, I was more active, I had less stress, etc. When I was 10 years old, I was a Virginia delegate for the annual Juvenile Diabetes Children’s Congress. I spoke with senators, congressmen, and scientists, and met people like Mary Tyler Moore and Jonathan Lipnicki. I was also an ambassador for JDRF where I live.  Over the past few years, my diabetes control has generally become worse than it used to be, but I have faith that I can get back on track soon.

In a few days I will be commencing my second semester of college. As a freshman in college, I have undergone several dramatic changes in my life. Naturally, my diabetes has also been affected. Unlike at home, where my parents would still make sure I was checking my blood sugar, giving insulin, eating well, etc., at college I am pretty much completely independent and have a new sense of responsibility concerning my health. Eating suddenly became a much more difficult process involving walking in whatever weather just to get food, planning how much time I would have to eat while keeping in mind my class schedule and any other things I had to do, and remembering which dining locations were open at the time I planned to eat. In the past few months, I’ve skipped several meals and also resorted to snacking instead of eating a full meal at times. At school, my meal plan consists of 14 “punches”, or meals, a week and 250 dining dollars, which is simply money for food on campus. While it would be nice to have 3 meals a day, this seems almost unrealistic to me right now. 

      This semester, I have class at 8 in the morning everyday. Some of the dining locations open at 7, some at 7:30, but I don’t plan on getting breakfast and making it to class on time. This is because on some days I have to walk almost 30 minutes to get to class, and if I want to get there about 10 minutes early, like I usually do, then I’ll have to leave my room by about 7:20 am. So what does this mean? This means that I either skip breakfast, eat a snack on the way to class, or keep food in my room. This is where another issue arises. The freshman dorms are not made to be kitchens. We are allowed one mini fridge (two in my case, since I’m diabetic and was granted special permission to have my own), a coffee maker, and that’s it. No microwaves, no toaster ovens, none of that. In order to make real food, you have to go to the basement where there is a full kitchen (but no supplies, mind you), or the TV lounge where there is a microwave and vending machines stocked with generally unhealthy snacks. What I did for most of this past semester was to stock up on organic cereal, small bottles of milk that went bad irritatingly quickly, fruit cups, Chex Mix, tuna-to-go, string cheese, juice, and Campbell’s soup-to-go. I constantly had to buy more food for my room, since I couldn’t keep a lot at a time, and this is where the Wal-Mart trips come in. Food in campus convenience stores is ridiculously priced, as if we’re not already paying them enough money.. So when I can, I take the bus to Wal-Mart and buy what I can carry and what I happen to have enough money for. 

       Getting sick also makes eating more difficult. I got sick twice while at school and had no choice but to leave my room to get food for myself. The second time I came down with the flu and went home after realizing that staying on campus was impractical and made being sick even more unpleasant. I cannot always go home when I get sick; however, so my plan is to keep a small supply of food in my room at all times. This way, the most I’ll have to walk is about a minute to the microwave.

      While dealing with diabetes in a new environment is challenging, it is certainly not impossible. I found that I just need to be more observant and cautious of my body and its reactions to the changes I am experiencing. When I go back to school in a few days, I’ll start out my second semester with a goal: to maintain good control of my blood sugar so that I can do well in other aspects of my life at college. After all, college is filled with endless opportunities, and who wants to let diabetes smother any chance of walking through those open doors?

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