Her desk was anchored on either side by tall bookshelves crammed with pretend food. Plastic fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, kiwis that looked like fuzzy dumplings – and the cardboard shell of cereal boxes. Plastic slabs of steak with edging to make it look like it had a pat of butter melting on top, and the entire plastic carcass of a chicken, woefully untrue to size, making it the same size as one of the kiwi dumplings. Measuring cups and food scales, lists and charts, meal plans and index cards covered with suggested serving sizes.
It always felt embarrassing, seeing the nutritionist and the dieticians, especially when I was in my teens. I struggled with my weight as a kid but didn’t ever dip into “overweight,” just more settled on the heavier end of the approved spectrum. I hated meal plans and the emotional influence of food on my life. Visiting the plastic food lady as part of the flow every few endocrinologist appointments felt shameful, and I wondered what my classmates would think if they knew I was lectured about eating and food every few months. Would they know how complicated my relationship with food really was? Dietician appointments felt like mini-fat camps, and even though I did feel better-informed leaving the appointments, I still felt stupid and ashamed that there were required in the first place.
Moving forward a few decades, diabetes is still very much in play. I don’t see a dietician as often now as I did when I was growing up, but I do attend a lot of diabetes conferences where registered nurses, dieticians, and nurse educators present, giving me access to refresher courses on food, eating well, and the latest in food and diabetes research. The plastic food is still in play, only the plastics aren’t relegated to my CDE’s bookcases anymore. Now, the plastics are invading my home. My daughter’s room is awash with kitchen playthings and miniature versions of what my dietician used as visual aids back in the day. We talk quite a bit about food and why we eat the things we do. I try not to let my food-through-the-lens-of-diabetes mindset invade how she sees her plate, even though it’s hard, since we spend so much time together and she sees so much of my diabetes day-to-day management (attempts).
“We need to eat healthy foods so we can grow to be strong and smart and healthy,” I tell her. “Yeah, and we always need to eat something green with our meals,” she adds, knowingly. “And sometimes we have juice in the fridge, but it’s for your low blood sugars.”
I don’t want my daughter to think that there are so many food “rules.” I want her to eat things that make her feel good and that taste good, without looking at her plate and thinking her value as a person rests there.
In her room, she ‘cooks’ up a storm, throwing random items into the plastic stock pot on her pretend stove. “We need an eggplant, and a hard boiled eggie, and some ash … ash … ASHparagust, and Wonder Woman,” with all of the aforementioned tossed into the “boiling” water.
“What are you cooking, Birdzone?”
“I’m making soup. It will be so delicious. When I’m done, you can have a bowl.”
“What’s in it?”
“Don’t worry, Mommy. There’s something green in there. There’s ashparagust.”
March is National Nutrition Month (more about that on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website), and this year’s campaign encourages people to “Enjoy the taste of eating right.” The phrasing of that message is so hopeful, and without residual shame: enjoy. Enjoy the taste of eating right, whatever “right” might be for you.Yes! I’d like to! I’ll do that!
My hope is to eventually shake the preposition off “eating with diabetes” and just focus on “eating.”