By Rachel Garlinghouse
I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 24, and I often say that on that day, my whole family got diabetes.
As I learned to test my blood sugar, work an insulin pump a device that is attached to my body provides me with insulin 24/7 count carbohydrate grams in food, and read nutrition labels, I also was evolving into a new person, one who took nutrition, exercise, and healthy living seriously.
Before my diagnosis, I was thin and ate whatever I wanted when I wanted. (Yep, I was one of those girls that many love to hate could eat whatever and not gain an ounce). I did exercise a few times a week, but I hardly put forth any sort of grand effort. My diagnosis not only led me to adopting two babies, both of whom happen to be brown, but it whipped off my rose colored glasses, forcing me to see the dangers that lurk in mindless choices.
Diabetes is a serious, life-altering disease for which there is no cure. Type I diabetes is sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes, meaning, without injecting or pumping in insulin, I will die. Type 2 diabetes, the kind that is most prevalent in our society, is when a person is resistant to his or her own insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin. While it can be hereditary, people who have poor diets, lack of adequate exercise and are overweight or obese put themselves at high risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes comes with a slew of horrific potential side effects: kidney failure, amputations, blindness and other eye issues, numbness in the feet, dental issues, complicated pregnancies (miscarriage, birth defects, damage to the mother, etc.), and many more.
Trust me on this one true thing: diabetes is a full time job. A typical day for me includes testing my blood sugar eight to 10 times, exercising for thirty minutes, calculating the grams of carbohydrate in every meal and snack I consume, adjusting the rates of insulin programmed in my insulin pump, changing my pump set every three days, calling doctors’ offices and my insurance company, paying medical bills, and preparing healthy meals. I can easily have a high blood sugar, which mimics the symptoms of a very bad case of the stomach flu, or I can have a low blood sugar, which means I sweat, my heart races, and I shake. Every single thing I do is affected by my disease.
The CDC states that 50% of Hispanic and African American kids born after the year 2000 will get Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. So when my husband and I adopted brown babies, their health was one of my most immediate concerns. Dealing with my disease every day is stressful, time-consuming, expensive, and daunting. Why would I do anything to push my child toward such a tough life? I once heard a talk show host say, if your child is running toward something very dangerous, like an open fire, for example, what would you do? The answer is obvious you would step in and grab them before they got burned. Diabetes is that open fire, and you, the parent, can do something before it’s too late.
Here, 10 practical tips for keeping your kids out of the Diabetes danger zone:
- Clean up your act. You cannot fill your home with junk foods and electronic entertainment (which you yourself enjoy) and then grow frustrated when your kids won’t head outdoors to play or insist on cheesy chips and chicken nuggets for dinner. It starts with the parents, those who make the money and choose what to bring into the household.
- Learn to read nutrition and ingredients labels and then teach your kids. Once you know what is in the foods you often buy, you can make informed choices as to whether or not you will continue to purchase that food. The healthiest foods don’t come in packages, by the way.
- Bargain shop. Healthy foods can be expensive, but you can do several things to help ease the cost. First, cut out something unhealthy that promotes a sedentary lifestyle, like an expensive cable TV package, and use the money to buy better foods instead. Second, start clipping coupons and printing them off the internet, and join sites like Penny Pinching Diva, Coupon Sista and Southern Savers, which do a great job of showing you how and where to find the bargains and discounts. Third, when you shop, write down how much a food item is per ounce (it’s usually on the price sticker), and then compare it to other stores. Shop where foods are the least expensive.
- Make family activities active. Go for a walk, grow a garden with your kids, rake leaves, have a dance party in the kitchen. If you want to incorporate education into your activities, visit a Farmer’s Market and ask the sellers about their products, for example. Take your kids to places that are entertaining and require activity: a walk around a local zoo or a trip to the local park.
- Buy gifts that encourage movement. Bicycles, a backyard playground set, a small wading pool, hula hoops, jump ropes, a Sit-N-Spin, basketball goals the possibilities are endless! For parents, purchase bike trailers or jogging strollers so you can incorporate your little ones into your fitness routines. Many of these items can be found on bargain websites, at yard sales, or even free from families who have outgrown certain equipment.
- Cook with your kids. Following a recipe can teach children all sorts of skills. Young children can learn about colors, textures, and following simple instructions. Older children will enjoy using the mixer, reading the recipe, measuring ingredients, and adding in spices. Put on your favorite music and enjoy bonding and creating as a family.
- Read about good health. I found several board books on fruits and veggies for my infant, and my toddler enjoys books about how food grows in a garden. Kids will love the Cat In the Hat book, “Oh the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You!: All About Staying Healthy,” a fun read that teaches good health habits. Reading is a way to bond with your children, teach them how to recognize letters and words, explore imagination, and learn about subjects that are important to your family.
- Limit electronic entertainment. My toddler loves to watch Thomas the Tank Engine, and I, like many busy parents, can get a few tasks accomplished while she watches an episode. However, I limit her to one television show a day, with the exception of Friday nights, when we watch a movie as a family. I have found that the more television she watches, the crankier and more disobedient she becomes. Kids were born to be active! If you have older children, sit down with them and negotiate a fair time limit on electronic entertainment time.
- Make positive changes. When my church needed a snack coordinator for Bible School, I volunteered. I purchased healthier alternatives than what had been served in the past: homemade trail mix and cheese and crackers, for example. I served water instead of juice (which saved money and hydrated the kids). The kids loved the options and often asked for seconds and thirds. If you find a place, whether it be at one of your children’s sporting events, at your place of worship, or at your child’s school, where parents can volunteer, do so and promote healthy lifestyle choices.
- Lead by example. As parents, we are the most powerful role models in our children’s lives. When they see us eating veggies or enjoying a walk, they are watching and learning.
Rachel Garlinghouse is the proud mother of two brown babies. She is a freelance writer and college writing teacher. Read more about her family at White Sugar, Brown Sugar.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.