Your kids are what YOU eat!

January 28, 2014By 3 Comments

untitled77The old saying ‘You are what you eat’, while very true, needs to be looked at a little closer given today’s society.  I believe we need to add a quote, ‘Your KIDS are what YOU eat’.   Growing up with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) meant that my entire family needed to change their way of eating and thinking about food…even if my sisters weren’t happy about it.  My mother’s cooking changed and she always kept my diabetes in mind and made the entire family eat a healthy diabetic diet.

Those were the days when my exchange system menu hung from the fridge and eventually each meal and snack requirement was memorized:  1 fruit, 1 grain, 1 protein and 1 healthy fat at breakfast, etc.  Serving sizes and portion control were a complete way of living for a nine year old and her family.  This was due to the fact that the types of insulin we had in those days had all kinds of peaks and valleys that we had to watch out for in order to avoid a major rollercoaster or highs and lows.  While it was difficult at times, and my teenage sisters made sure that I didn’t find the Oreo’s and Captain Crunch hidden in my mother’s underwear drawer, we all did the best we could to be a healthy family.  My mother removed most of her Italian style meals that involved lots of pasta and fatty oils.  This was our way of living, not just for the greater good of my diabetes management but for our family as a whole.

Unfortunately, anyone diagnosed with T1D today never will learn or understand the meaning of the exchange system and a balanced way of eating.  They will never truly understand the consequences of ‘cheating’ and eating a sugary snack only to pay the price later with high blood sugars and a yucky feeling all over.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is fantastic that today’s teenagers with T1D never have to know what it is like to be deprived of something sweet or to eat a favorite snack endlessly until all filled up.  It is a double edged sword.  It was considered ‘cheating’ whenever I wanted a sweet snack, and that alone gave me a bit of a complex about sweets growing up, causing me to sometimes over-indulge just ‘because’ I felt like being defiant to my diabetes.  On the other hand, in today’s T1D world, being able to eat whatever you want whenever you want (thanks to insulin pumps and rapid acting insulin) adolescents tend to abuse these privileges and go over-board with food.

I am participating in a diabetes camp nutrition project with the Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA).  I feel very privileged to be a part of an elite team of RD’s and RN’s from around the country who either have worked at camps for kids with diabetes over the years and/or are also living with T1D.  We are working to try to create a universal policy and procedures manual for camps to elect to follow in order to aid in some consistency with healthy eating, training of staff, and education of campers on all topics of food and nutrition.

This comes at a time when we are seeing a major epidemic of obesity in T1D teens.  Let me briefly
explain why this is; when a person with diabetes consumes loads of carbohydrates, they also need loads of insulin to break down those carbs to be used as energy.  Insulin actually makes the cells in the body starved for more ‘fuel’ or carbs.  So it’s like a vicious cycle.  Because of the beauty of a press of the button on a pump, if you’re hungry or just feel like snacking, all you do is keep eating and keep pressing buttons.  This causes a never ending chain reaction of endless hunger and endless bolusing….hence weight gain.  We have gotten so far away from teaching the fundamentals of healthy eating to newly diagnosed T1D’s that we are now in a mess of blood sugar control and obesity.

This brings me to the point of this post: I can’t get over how in today’s environment there are only two options when it comes to parenting and healthy eating with our children.  You are either a mother/parent who is so concerned about feeding your children a healthy well-balanced diet that you have completely let your own nutrition and health fall by the way side or you are so concerned with your own body image and eating habits that you end up infusing your eating phobia’s onto your children.  There needs to be a balance somewhere.  If you are putting all of your energy into either just yourself or just your children, you need to find a way to incorporate both.  Young kids, both boys and girls, are highly influenced by the eating habits of their parents.  There are loads of studies out there that show that when children see their parents eating a balanced meal, particularly at a dinner table along with them, they are much more prone to eat a variety of foods themselves and have a much healthier body image.  Kids are no dummies, and they pick up on a hectic household with little time and attention to value of a family meal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that in today’s environment it is extremely difficult to establish a healthy eating pattern and make time to sit together as a family, however there really needs to be more of an effort on everyone’s part.  If you are a parent who is trying to diet yourself, skipping lunch or dinner is not exactly showing your children the best example.  This especially goes for families with T1D.  The old saying used to be that everyone should follow a diabetic diet (this is back when a balanced meal was a priority and skipping meals or just indulging in carbs was out of the question).

Just remember, starting a solid framework now for the way you and your family eat will only benefit your children, diabetic or not, well into the future.  We need to all do our part in getting back to basics, stop over thinking the fad diets, the food phobia’s and the temptations and start reacting to hunger cues, family environment and a stress-free way of eating.  Once you remove all the ‘don’ts’ when it comes to food and nutrition, you can start teaching yourself and your children about balance and health.  Be the best example you can be, especially if diabetes lives under your roof.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Pam says:

    Great advise for all parents.
    Thanks … Pam

  2. Veronica says:

    Great article and so true!

  3. Elizabeth Shapiro says:

    Always like the idea of finding a balance in diet and exercise. I often find myself trying to live by the “everything in moderation” rule.

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