I am that mom. The one who buys organic foods, bakes her own bread, bans high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and always totes around healthy snacks. I don’t drink soda, my toddler has never consumed fish sticks, and not once since her birth have we visited McDonalds for a “value” or Happy Meal.
Now before you whisper behind my back or daringly feed me a line about being over-the-top, consider where I am coming from. Two major factors contribute to my decision to make healthy eating a top priority in my home.
First, I have type 1 diabetes. Yep, it’s the kind where every gram of carbohydrate I eat must be counted, calculated, and programmed into my insulin pump so that I don’t either bottom out from too much insulin or get too high from not enough. With my diagnosis came a continually growing drive to learn all I can about nutrition. The more I learn about food, the more I am convinced that being that mom is a good thing.
Second, I have a daughter who is at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Two-and-a-half years after my diagnosis, my husband and I adopted a baby girl. Because she is African American and because she was born after the year 2000, she statistically has a one in two (yep, that’s fifty percent) risk of developing type 2 diabetes in her lifetime. In this same fifty percent risk category are Hispanic and American Indian children. Caucasian children have a one in three risk. These statistics scare me. A lot.
I take diabetes quite seriously, and I have been critiqued by some as taking it too seriously. Interestingly, these are often individuals who do not have diabetes. Keep in mind, however, that the American Diabetes Association estimates that six million Americans have diabetes and do not even know it. Americans are walking time bombs.
It saddens me that despite that the ever-growing prevalence of diabetes education in our country, our diabetes rates continues to climb. Now, I could rant and rave about the clever marketing of fast food chains, the lack of quality foods in our school cafeterias, or the fact that the elevator is always full while the stairways are clear. The truth is, however, that these issues have been around for years and are unlikely to change quickly.
I believe it truly comes down to personal and parental choice. We cannot wait for society to help our children. First, I believe, we have to choose to change our own eating and exercise habits so that we can be our healthiest. I want to be active and energetic for my entire life, and in order to do that, I have to choose healthy behaviors. As parents, we cannot give that which we do not have. If we don’t respect our own bodies, how can we demand that our children respect theirs?
Second, when we choose to be our healthiest, we are molding our child’s beliefs. If my daughter grows up knowing that exercise is fun, that healthy foods are energizing, and that a good night’s sleep is priceless, she will hopefully project those convictions onto others. Create new traditions that reflect good health. Take walks, swim, or bike together. Create homemade, wholesome meals in your kitchen. Grocery shop as a family. Shut the television off and institute a reading or game night. You are not only fostering healthy attitudes, but also building positive relationships with your family members.
And finally, we have to educate our family members, so that they realize that their lifestyle and diet choices are life and death decisions. It is that serious. To sugarcoat the diabetes epidemic, as we have been doing in this country, is killing us. I’m not talking about launching into a twenty-minute lecture when my daughter picks up a cookie. But I am talking about resisting the urge to give up and give in to what society tells is acceptable, when we know, truly, that what is considered acceptable is deadly.
Making changes is no easy task. Several months ago my husband, my daughter, and I went to a Mexican restaurant with a group of family and friends. We were a loud, large group, enjoying a meal together. As my daughter sat on my lap nibbling her organic cheese crackers and sipping water from her cup, one of our friends smiled and said that my daughter should come sit by him so he could give her chips and soda. Though the comment was only meant to tease me, I found a disturbing attitude in his comment that resonates with many people: It’s easier to join in than to do the right, healthy thing. And the truth is, that attitude is crippling and killing us.
To join in means choosing diabetes and the side effects of this prevalent disease: blindness, dental problems, amputation, heart issues, nerve damage, sexual dysfunction, depression….the list goes on and on and on. It means long hospital stays and large medical bills. It means pills and injections, doctor’s visits, and sick days. It might mean a poor quality of life, or even death.
You see, I can’t look at a chip as just a chip. It’s a symbol of a larger issue, one that affects every aspect of life. It’s a beast called diabetes.
I am no saint. I indulge in the occasional take-out pizza and enjoy ice cream every night. On a daily basis, however, I choose to eat in a manner that respects my body. By doing this, I demonstrate to my family that my health matters, and so does theirs. I teach my daughter that eating an apple can be delicious and fulfilling. We will cook together, grocery shop together, and dine together, over a variety of delicious, wholesome, body-fueling foods. We play outside instead of watching hours of television. Would it be easier to just sit on the couch and eat from a bag of chips? Sure. But I know the consequences of that choice, and I choose better for my family. Because they deserve the best.
I once heard a television host describe a situation that applies to today’s diabetes health crisis. Suppose you see your child running at full speed toward a blazing fire. Do you pause and think, Should I save my child from falling onto the fire? Of course not! You immediately do what you must to save the child from harm.
I hope and pray that the statistics change for the better. May all people, with diabetes or not, find it within themselves to make healthier choices for their family’s greater good, including their precious children.
Like me, you too can be that parent, and though your choices may not be the norm, they will be the salvation, one choice at a time.