Thoughtful Consumption: People with Diabetes Have Been Leading the Pack All Along

Never underestimate the power of people with diabetes and their families. When we as a consumer group purchase more fruits and vegetables, walk or bicycle instead of taking the car, and educate ourselves about a healthy lifestyle, we are addressing global issues as well as personal ones and can have a strong, positive effect on the future.

As the mother of a teen with type 1, I see the effects of my choices every day. I can work until 6 p.m., realize that I haven’t given a thought to what we are going to eat, tell everyone to fend for themselves, grab something, and then go back to work. The result is that no one in the family eats well, and invariably Danny’s blood sugar numbers are high. Instead of taking a family walk together after dinner, the kids end up on the couch in front of the TV or sitting at the computer.

If I or my husband shop for food, make sure everyone is home for dinner, prepare a well-balanced meal, ask the kids to set the table, remind my son to give himself insulin in advance, and then insist that we all sit down together, the rewards are staring us in the face. There is laughter, healthy food, a meaningful family connection, and the chance to relax and be with one another. Over time, these daily choices make a pattern that not only supports our family’s well-being, but also supports the produce section of the grocery store instead of the fast food restaurant.

As our culture speeds up, people with diabetes face the same temptations as everyone else. Rushing through the day with no time for reflection can lead to pizza nights or fast food. Too many plans crammed into a day can mean too much time in the car or bus and no time to walk to school or bike to do errands. The constant distractions of email, voicemail, iPods, video games, texting, and television squeeze out time for planning and preparing meals, getting outdoors, or socializing with friends.

Diabetes demands that we exercise more and eat healthier foods. Even as mainstream culture moves faster, the significance of blood sugar levels reminds us to plan ahead, to listen to our bodies, and to put our health first. People with diabetes in their families have had their wake-up call. The goal of maintaining good blood sugar control reminds us that each day is a new opportunity to reduce stress, avoid overly processed and fatty foods, and get moving. Facing our challenges gives each moment we live added intensity, meaning, and depth.

Looking back, I see now that I had fallen into a pattern of caring for my children and myself that took only part of my attention and lacked the rewards of full-on concentration. I used my free moments to surf the Internet, check emails, or chat on the phone with a friend because they were all easier than parenting. These activities let part of my brain rest. There was little emotion involved, and I could forget my responsibilities.

Last-minute meals, however, led to uncontrollable blood sugars. Rushing from one activity to the next without planning or thinking of the consequences was leading to too many meltdowns. After Danny’s diagnosis, the truth was that my children needed more of me, and I needed more focus on our family’s well-being. I needed to plan meals, educate myself, shop wisely, get us to exercise, and leave time to enjoy each other’s company. Now, truly, the world needs us to do these things too.

When diabetes is mentioned in the media, it is often negatively linked with the rising cost of healthcare and used as a marker for the rise in chronic illnesses. As an increasingly educated group, however, we already know what it will take to help the planet and ourselves: buy and grow healthy food, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels while building exercise into our daily routines, and reduce our stress by spending more time with the people we love. There are already glimmers of hope amid the bad news. A vegetable garden has been planted at the White House, towns are creating linked bicycle and walking trails, farmers’ markets are spreading, and volunteerism is at an all-time high. Now, by moving steadily in the direction of our own health, we can be part of the solution.