‘I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 10 years old.’ – Kate
‘Having lived with type 1 diabetes since I was 10, and coeliac disease for the past few years, I have experienced first hand the difficulties of following a restricted diet ... which I suppose makes me rather different from most dietitians. In fact, being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was the inspiration to study dietetics and then diabetes education, which has allowed me to have a career I love, helping others with diabetes. Having a real understanding of what they are going through is a huge benefit.
I don’t remember feeling sick at all. I mainly remember feeling thirsty all the time. I was on holidays with my Dad and my strongest recollections of the holiday were struggling to walk back up the hill from the beach and running to the toilet all the time. My Mom took one look at me the moment I arrived home and took me straight to the doctor, and within hours I had been whizzed off to hospital and told that I had type 1 diabetes. A lot of people comment it must have been difficult to be diagnosed so young, but I think it is much harder on your parents when you are diagnosed as a child, as they can understand the long term implications.
Like most kids growing up with diabetes, food and birthday parties, especially the cake, seem to be what we remember most! One year my Mom created a sugar-free pavlova with liquid sugarine – it turned out like polystyrene! But at least it was a cake.
These days I basically eat a lot of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and use quinoa and brown rice as my main grain foods. I had been vegetarian since my teenage years and a few years ago I adopted a vegan diet, for a number of reasons, but particularly health and environmental reasons. I really enjoy vegetarian foods and never really liked much meat so this isn’t difficult but combining it with a gluten-free diet that is also suited to my diabetes can be a challenge at times, particularly if eating out, which I don’t do a lot of. I don’t make a good dinner guest!
Unfortunately most gluten-free foods tend to be high GI which makes managing blood glucose levels more difficult but there are also plenty of lower GI options and building my diet around these has really helped. This is one of the reasons I was so keen to write Low GI Gluten-free Living – to help other people with coeliac disease understand the benefits of choosing low GI foods (whether or not they have diabetes) and to give them some practical ideas of how to do this.
When people hear that I have type 1 diabetes, the first comment is usually “so you have to give yourself injections – that must be hard”. But anyone with type 1 diabetes will tell you this is the easy bit! For us, insulin is the difference between life and death, but it doesn’t “cure” the disease and alone it doesn’t control our blood glucose levels. Living with type 1 diabetes means constantly juggling insulin, food, exercise and other factors such as stress and illness, all of which affect blood glucose levels. For me, understanding GI and how carbs really do affect blood glucose levels has been a great help in managing my diabetes.’
Kate Marsh is an Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Credentialled Diabetes Educator. She has just completed her PhD at the University of Sydney.
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