Ever try to go on a diet but no one in the house understands and continues to buy cookies and candy, not caring that you’re attempting to stick to your salads and lean meats? Living in a household with more people than just yourself can make dieting kind of hard. When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, of whatever type, multiply that need for support times 10.
A lot of times it’s hard to keep having to explain yourself to other people, especially when you’re learning how your own body needs to improve and function properly to stay healthy. Diabetes is a lifestyle change that many people don’t like to go through, especially Latinos. It bothers me sometimes that many Latinos just want to give up because they think they’re supposed to die from it. I’m Latina and I’m here to tell you it’s not TRUE!
I met someone last year who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes; a Latino. He emailed me to ask what he should do. Get to a doctor, I told him, but firstly, you have to stay away from anything with unnatural or processed sugar. No more pop, no more fast food. Stick to natural and healthy. I gave him a few more pointers since he admitted to me that he never exactly lived a healthy lifestyle and he didn’t know where to begin.
A few months later, he walked into the office where I worked. He had lost about 20 pounds and rejected a sugary drink. “I’m trying to stay away from the sugary stuff now,” he said. I was proud of him for actually taking the initiative to improve his health.
When you have a team of support behind you, you work harder to improve your life. Learning about the consequences if you don’t take care of yourself, like heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness, sores and death, may also scare you into your lifestyle change. Whichever works, do it. I say, find that support system.
When you buy food at the grocery store, you don’t have to completely stay away from sugar, just find a balance and choose wisely. Nutritional Facts on the back of the packages is a good place to start! Finding cereal with whole grain, a lot of fiber and little sugar is better than Frosted Flakes. Now, they sell juice with 50 percent less sugar than regular cartons. When looking for bread, find high fiber, whole wheat bread because fiber actual helps maintain your blood sugar levels. Stay away from consistent red meat and make sure to eat chicken and turkey and fish. Get your family away from high sugar intake. It’s bad for your teeth and just doesn’t make your body feel good. Eat more fresh fruits with natural sugar (which is digested faster) and better for your body. Eat green vegetables. If you grill bell peppers, their sweetness comes out and are delicious. And remember, organic should be your way to go.
As a kid, I didn’t have a choice. I found out I was diabetic when my mom had me checking my blood sugar the required three times a day. “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I asked as she pricked my finger. Yes, she told me. That’s when I knew. A few weeks later they put me in the hospital for four days to monitor my insulin treatment, making sure my body wouldn’t reject the hormone and the dosages were correct.
My mother went through a depression I had never seen before. The fact that her first-born had an illness no one knew anything about was hard for her. How was she going to deal with it? Was it her fault?
I’m not going to lie, I was a fat kid. But at the same time, diabetes starts even before anyone can notice it and by the time any effects are seen, 90 percent of the insulin-making cells have been destroyed. So, it was in my body for long before I was diagnosed.
In order to treat it the best way they knew how (they being the doctors), I had to be on a very strict diet. I had two pieces of toast in the morning with a half cup of orange juice. For lunch I had a sandwich and milk. Everything was accounted for because I was on a consistent dose of insulin and I had to eat or else my sugar would drop. I lost a lot of weight and was attempting to control my diabetes. But I forgot to mention the naturalezas that my grandmother was convinced would cure me! I had concoctions that tasted like grass and plants. I swallowed garlic whole and ate some other things that people would give me. I drank holy water, rubbed holy oil all over my body and they prayed, but nada.
Anyway, at that point, it wasn’t just me that needed support, but my mother did, too. One thing I forgot to mention is that my cousin, who lived three blocks away, was also diagnosed six months before I was. So my aunt was in the same boat as my mother, although she didn’t take it so hard. Both my mom and aunt sought out support groups from the hospital my cousin and I went to. We too, were also in support groups for kids. Some kids would come in and still be healing from the repercussions of diabetes and had to carry along their IV bags and were in robes. Like my cousin, many kids and young adults find out they’re diabetic because they get flu-like symptoms due to hyperglycemia (when your blood sugar is way too high). My cousin was vomiting, peeing every five minutes, his breath smelled of candy (because of the sugar), he slept all the time until finally, they didn’t know what else to do besides check him in. I was lucky enough that I didn’t go through that. They caught it early in me.
Here’s an interesting fact: Back in the day, like 6th Century BC, they tested you for diabetes by seeing if ants were attracted to your urine. Ants are attracted to sugar, therefore, if ants were attracted to the urine, there was sugar in it and hence you had a problem. This technique was used by the ancient Indians who called it the “sweet urine disease.”
So at the support groups we got coloring books and talked about school. “What would you tell someone if they said they didn’t like you because you’re diabetic?” asked the doctor. I answered that assuredly with, “It’s their problem. I can’t get rid of it and if you don’t like me for that reason, that’s not my fault.” Sounds like me, doesn’t it?
My mom and aunt went to parent support groups and learned a lot about what happens within the body. My mom has since become a medical nut. She’s not a nurse or anything but because of taking care of me and my grandmother, she’s seen more than her fair share of doctors.
Then there are people like the rest of my family who have gotten used to me drinking Diet Cokes, not having too much candy or sugar and are always asking if I’m taking care of myself. They support my healthy choices. Since I’m always around them, they know that me checking myself and taking a shot is normal. That’s normal.
And of course, my boyfriend. He’s learning more and more by being with me. He yells at me when my sugar drops and I don’t have any candy, he makes sure I check myself when I have to and I eat when I have to and he goes with me to see nutritional specialists and my endocrinologist because he wants to learn. He wants to know how he can support me to make this easier.
When faced with diabetes diagnosis, don’t go through it alone. Doctor Enrique Caballero, MD, from the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard, told me that most people with diabetes are healthier than “normal” people. Everyone wants to be a little bit healthier now a days. So grab a partner. If it’s your aunt, cousin, sister, best friend or parent, there will always be someone to get in on the fight with you. One thing they do out at Joslin is acknowledge people who have been living with diabetes for 25, 50 and 75 years. So if you could have a gold star for making it that long, which one would be your goal?