I can easily remember the foods that would ignite nostalgia within me with just one whiff or the foods that remind me of family vacations and birthday dinners. I have a memory of being nine years old and craving a thick cut of steak and a cloud of mashed potatoes during the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. But there was a turning point in my adolescence when these food memories were being made, that has become its own memory and influenced others. This memory has caused me not to think of food as being full of flavors and tastes, but as numbers.
With sleepy eyes in the morning before going to school, I would look into my bowl of Lucky Charms and be mesmerized by the marshmallows that I couldn’t wait to pick apart from the rest of the cereal. But at the age of seven, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes and the marshmallow rainbows and leprechaun hats turned into carbohydrates and insulin shots. My memory of food is of being a sort of chore, an action that required thoughts and calculations before it could be the spicy, salty, or sweet that we all crave.
Don’t get me wrong; food makes my mouth water and pupils expand but there is a stigma surrounding my relationship with food as a type 1 diabetic that acts as a grey cloud over my dietary choices. Because I had to grow up with this disease attached to my hip through an insulin pump, estimating my carbs became my lifestyle and something I was good at. My memory of food was not always on dinner plates but on flashcards that my nutritionist would practice with me. An apple the size of my fist? 20 carbs. An apple the size of my dads fists? 30 carbs.
Though counting carbs is a tedious task, it cannot be ignored. A type 1 diabetic’s health depends on estimating the carbohydrates of their meals and puts pressure on us to get that number as close to the real thing as possible. If we are five grams of carbs over, that extra unit or so can slip us into a hypoglycemic episode. A problem will also occur if we are five grams under the actual amount because this lack of insulin will cause blood glucose levels to increase. Both of these incidents can effect not only our physical health by causing dizziness, confusion, thirst etc. but also our mental health. Blood glucose levels resembling a roller coaster, going up and down and all around, can lead to severe mood swings because of the imbalance of insulin in our body. This is where the pressure comes from to correctly add up the carbs of our meals. It seems like in an instant I went from a sugar cereal eating, corner piece of the caking loving child to a cautious carb counting twenty-something machine.
My diagnosis is a memory I retain of when the meaning of food changed for me. I was trained to count my carbs, translate those carbs into units of insulin and then proceed to inject myself with that dosage. Of course at this young age, my parents were heavily involved but when it came to those grueling seven hours of elementary school, I had to grow up. Adding up my units of insulin requires being able to add 0.7 and 0.4 and come up with 1.1, this was fifth grade math but I was an expert by second grade. In order to ensure I could calculate these insulin dosages correctly to prevent illness through hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, I had to be prepared for whatever food would come my way. I had to know the carbohydrates of a slice of white bread, one cup of cereal and a quarter cup of milk, or the exact weight of a bowl of grapes that would equal 10 carbs. My life had come to revolve around food in a way different than a chef or a nutritionist, it was now my lifestyle.
Also see this article featured at Beyond Type One