“Your meal card says you need to eat one vegetable and one fat. This coleslaw is your vegetable and your fat.” My camp counselor sighed, having been through this routine with me before. “You need to eat it. You can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten it.”

“But I haaaaaaate coleslaw!!!!” I wailed, eight years old and wearing my tie-dyed Clara Barton Camp t-shirt.

When I was small, I went to summer camp. Only my summer camp was specifically for girls who had type 1 diabetes. It was just like everyone else’s summer camp, only at mine, we did drugs before breakfast. (Insulin, mind you. Calm down.) But we also had strict meal plans, suggested by the American Diabetes Association, that needed to be followed to the letter, as our insulin doses (NPH and Regular) and meal plans were planned to be in sync with one another. One step out of turn and blood sugars would bounce all over creation.

As an eight year old, I didn’t have the most daring culinary palette. A yummy meal, to me, meant grilled cheese and sugar-free lemonade, followed closely by strawberries and Cool Whip. When presented with things like hard-boiled eggs and avocado, I’d hide behind the dining room curtains. (My feet stuck out at the bottom, so I was never hidden for long. If you had told me then that, as an adult, I’d love hard-boiled eggs and avocado – together! – I would have laughed myself right out the window.)

Food wasn’t a means to a blood sugar end, or even something to explore and enjoy. Food was something I needed to eat, and fast, before I could go back outside and play. It was very Machiavellian.

But the rules at camp were unbendable. My parents trusted the camp staff to keep me and my complicated disease safe for two weeks in the summer, and the camp staff took that responsibility very seriously. Without insulin that acted faster than Regular (no Humalog back in 1988 and carb counting wasn’t a “thing” yet), I was forced to stick with the meal plan.

“I do NOT like coleslaw! It’s slimey! And gross!!” I crossed my arms over my chest, indignant and frustrated that most of my fellow campers were already up and exiting for Flag (the ceremony where we lowered the flag at night). Most … except for me. And my friend Liz, who also refused to eat that coleslaw.

“The faster you can eat it, the faster we can go out with everyone else and have fun. Can you just take one bite?” (Looking back, I don’t envy the position of the counselors, having to cajole little kids into eating grossly-textured foods.)

“Fine.” I shoveled three bites into my mouth at once, and washed it down with huge gulps of water. “It tastes horrible!”

“Keep going …”

And on we went, laboriously, until the side of coleslaw was eaten and I was released from the dining hall.   Force-feeding (aka “clean your plate!”) was a common occurrence back in the early days of my diabetes, since insulin and food were so acutely dependent upon one another. I am thankful for the treatment progress I’ve seen over the last twenty-six years, from insulin delivery methods to actual insulin.

But I still won’t touch the ‘slaw.

 

(this post was originally published as part my work with Animas)

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