“Because I have type 1 diabetes, I have to be conscious of what I am eating. Because I am a vegan, I am “picky” about what I am consciously eating.”
From few times I have been asked to elaborate upon the overlap between my medical condition and my lifestyle decision, I have found that this statement is a simplified way to cover everything — while usually, and perhaps more importantly, being met with a chuckle.
Having type 1 diabetes (T1D) for over 11 years means that I have involuntarily been committed to a relationship for half of my life. Needless to say, a bond that long is bound to imply a level of insight, even if just an entirely subjective one due to personal experience. It can therefore be difficult not to feel compelled to want to answer to every misunderstanding articulated around you about diabetes all at once.
A simple answer sometimes says the most.
Of course, if you’re interested in my simple answer being explained further, allow me to do so. (I mean, c’mon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a situation I wouldn’t end up complicating. Ask anyone close to me.)
- Type 1 diabetes has a lot more to do with conscious food consumption than restriction of sugars.
That alone is something of a surprise to many people, as the condition is so often correlated with pancreas exhaustion through the means of a Standard American Diet — i.e., one main contributor to Type 2 diabetes.
Even once someone understands the differences in causes between T1D and T2D, it doesn’t always seem apparent that those with diabetes don’t have a diet limited to sugar-free and low-carbohydrate foods.
While the incorporation of items with lower carbs, diets with higher amounts of fiber, and reduction of adding sugar to food makes life with diabetes a lot easier to work with, don’t be surprised when you learn that someone with the disease is able to eat a slice of pizza.
When the amount of carbohydrates in food is known or estimated, an appropriate amount of insulin can be taken — via injection, pen, pump, wishful thinking — to metabolize it. Insulin is the (main) hormone that is not being secreted by the diabetic pancreas.
Long story short, I think the dialogue between the nondiabetic world and those with diabetes would benefit if there was a better understanding that portion size and nutritional content awareness are more definitive to the management of the disease than restriction or substitution with Equal or Splenda alone.
In fact, I don’t think that such a concept is limited to diabetes management; it could be enlightening to the general population’s understanding of how food is approached. …but, then again, I’ve been known to have the occasional flare up of optimism.
- Veganism is not a requisite to diabetes management, but is something that I have chosen to adopt. It has been able to build upon my familiarity with nutrition which T1D has introduced into my life.
Ultimately, I find veganism and my diabetes management to be complimentary colors. They blend well and make something really lovely together.
As I was already well versed in the nutritional information panel side of food packaging thanks to my need to give myself insulin based on carbohydrate (and fiber, if we’re getting fancy) count, scanning my eyes lower to the ingredient list to detect animal-based components was comfortable to me.
In fact, as I began to look deeper into the ingredient lists and determine what products where made from, I grew more aware of the differences between carb sources. Not every sugar is created equal. Some foods will affect my blood sugar for a long time after eating them; whereas, others will spike me up and let me crash in a couple of hours (trust that I will elaborate on the Glycemic Index further in the future).
Basically, I found that being aware of food through one filter only seemed to aid the other. And, hell, a lot of diabetes-friendly alternative foods where featured in new age-y vegetarian grocery stores.
Veganism is clearly about more than being selective about what food you like based on personal preference — that is to say the “picky” part is a joke. It was a decision based on health concerns, environmental impact consideration, and animal rights support. Nevertheless, it does mean that I am not only looking for what I can eat at dinner through a carbohydrate-considering mindset, but also one that is avoiding meat, dairy, eggs, et al.
I can see how to many people, e.g. my extended Italian family, this seems like a wild consideration — a self-imposed burden on top of a health-forced burden.
But when looking at the facts, I can only see veganism as a vehicle to achieve my goals for health personally and globally. My objectives are enhanced, sharpened even, by a plant-based diet and lessened dependency on animal goods.
So, simply put: I guess I am a vegabetic.