Diabetes and Diet: My Own Shelf

My parents rented a house at the beach for the week and invited the entire family, which included ten adults and seven children. Spending a week at the beach was wonderful for many reasons, including watching my youngest learn (and become obsessed with) boogie boarding, reading for hours with my feet in the sand, riding bikes with my husband on the beach, and watching the kids build sand castles. The not so wonderful part was sharing, preparing, and eating food with 16 other people.

As a woman with diabetes, I eat three meals a day (and snacks) on a pretty regular schedule. I follow a low-carb diet, and there are certain foods I like to have on hand, such as natural peanut butter, Siggi’s yogurt, nuts, eggs, and almond milk. So I was apprehensive about sharing a kitchen for the week at the beach. I didn’t want to seem like a control freak to my stepbrothers and their families, but I also wanted to make sure that the food I brought for me and my family wasn’t eaten by anyone else. So my younger sister (who also has Type 1 diabetes) and I came up with a plan. We decided to put our food on specific shelves in the kitchen, and those shelves would be ours for the week. I even wrote my last name on a piece of paper and taped it to “my” shelf. We talked with our mom and decided to divide cooking responsibilities so each family was in charge of dinner one night of the week. I felt confident that these arrangements would ease my anxiety about sharing a kitchen with so many people.


My confidence was quickly deflated, however, when my stepbrother and his wife arrived and filled all the shelves (including mine) with their food. I cringed as my nephews grabbed bags of pretzels from my shelf, and sighed as my other stepbrother unwrapped one of my kids’ popsicles. I hated myself for being so high maintenance. I wanted to be free with food. I wanted to only eat when I was hungry and to share what I had with others. I really didn’t want to say the words “Please don’t eat my food. I need it because of my diabetes.” I thought it sounded like I was using diabetes as a crutch.

During my first year of living with diabetes, the nurse at my boarding school warned me of using diabetes as a crutch. I was 14 years old and wanted to dismiss her advice but couldn’t because the nurse also had Type 1 diabetes. In fact, Lillian was the only other person at my school with diabetes. Her “crutch” lecture came after she discovered I’d been skipping classes and field hockey practices when my blood sugar was low. I resented her advice. Diabetes was hard. I was the only kid at school with this stupid disease, so if I felt like I needed to miss class when my blood sugar was low then why shouldn’t I? And today, 31 years later, if I didn’t want to share my peanut butter with my family, than I shouldn’t have to, right?

Lillian probably would have said wrong. I can picture her in her nurse’s uniform and her tight bun of gray hair telling me that having my own shelf of food is crutch-like behavior. She would have said that I was letting my anxiety about food limit me. As much as I tried to ignore her advice that day, her words have returned to me over the years. I go back and forth about whether I agree with her advice, but in the end, I think she wanted to say, “Don’t let diabetes limit you.” And after 31 years my answer is that I’ve tried really hard to not let diabetes limit me. But the reality is that sometimes it does, and that’s got to be OK too. The reality is that when you’re sharing a house with 16 people and you have diabetes, you might have to find a shelf of your own, and that’s OK. That’s not a crutch, that’s a solution.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by multiple factors. What can you do to lessen their impact? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from nurse David Spero.

  • aam

    Thank you Amy, I read with great interest your article. I am 60 yrs old and 5 months diagnosed T2D. Friends of ours invited us to vacation with them this summer at our friends mother’s home on a beautiful lake and there will be several families there. We normally camp together for a week in the summer. In my own camper, I would have no apprehensions. But it’s as you said, it’s the food pantry, it’s eating on schedule, it’s using the bathroom several times through the night, it’s pricking finger to check blood through out the day, exercise I can take a walk if the bears are not active… I’ve worked hard to bring my diabetes under control (A1c in Jan=11.2 and in June=5.9). Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll figure it out. aam

    • Amy Stockwell Mercer

      Thanks for responding and congratulations on getting your A1C down to a 5.9, that’s fantastic! You must feel so much better.
      I wish I had some additional advice to offer you, but I think the biggest lesson I learned from our week of togetherness was that I need to have a stronger voice when it comes to diabetes. I need to push past my discomfort and do a better job of communicating my needs when it comes to food and exercise. Because in the end, it’s up to us to take care of ourselves and advocate for our health! Good luck to you and enjoy the lake. :)