We live in one of the most fun cities in the world with tons of restaurants and bars to pick from. There’s always a place to go to for a social Latina like me. However, being diabetic can throw in a wrench into this happy socializing. What to eat and drink without raising my sugar? Do I need to tell my friends that I’m diabetic? How do I not let diabetes take the fun out of my life?
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2008. Diabetes runs in my family. However, we never discussed it, and how it would affect us until it was very late for me. My Salvadorean diet while growing up consisted of a ton of carbohydrates. We ate tortillas with all of our meals. Sometimes our dinners mixed rice, beans and pasta. Yes, we ate loads of vegetables and fruits, but we also drank liters of soda and sugary drinks every day. I carried all of those bad eating habits into my adult life.
I developed this disease due to my genes, bad eating habits, lack of inactivity, and severe stress. My work life balance was non-existent. I was working over 12 hours a day doing things that I loved, but that kept me tied to my chair all day long. I didn’t make time for the gym. I had stopped belly dancing, and all of the physical activities to get everything done at work. I never had breakfast, and ate lunch at different times of the day. Sometimes I even skipped it, ran to the vending machine, or had heavy dinners because I was starving. The demands at my job were high. Employees were getting laid off left and right. Those of us who stayed late would order Chinese food or anything that was heavy and comforting every night. I would go home and go to bed, and do the same unhealthy patterns the next day, until my body just gave in.
I never went to doctors, but I would always keep my annual OBGYN appointments. That year, my routine test came back with high glucose in my urine. I received an urgent call from my OBGYN who actually did the A1C test to determine whether I was diabetic. She was not supposed to run that test, but she was an excellent doctor. My AC1 result was a 10, and I was sent to a doctor for treatment immediately.
Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to learning about food, and how to live a healthier life. I spent time with a nutritionist who specialized in diabetes. I learned that not all eating plans or diets are for diabetics. We are required to eat some type of healthy carbs – 3 servings a meal (about 45gms), because the opposite of a sugar high is a low, which is equally harmful. My goal is to keep even numbers all day. I kept a food diary, and I learned to test my blood sugar level before and after meals to learn what to eat and drink. I stopped eating sweets, and I changed the contents of my fridge. Breakfast was incorporated back into my life. Lunch and dinners were eaten at normal times. I also got a new job that allowed me to have a life again after 5 PM.
I’m not always perfect, and I have a lot of bad days. Stress also affects my sugar levels. This is the hardest to battle, because we can’t control everything in our lives. However, I’ve managed to keep my numbers consistent and normal with AC1s of 6.1 to 6.3 for the last five years. It was important for me to not allow diabetes to affect my social life, because it’s one of the things that helps with stress and keeps me happy.
I learned along the way how to maintain a social and sugar free life (at least most of the time).
No to the bread
Restaurants serve bread while you wait for your meal. I tend to order an appetizer to not eat the bread. I say no to toast when I’m out for breakfast. If I do have the bread, I ask for whole grain, and I use butter, a low fat spread or peanut butter. Adding (a healthy) fat to a meal will slow down the digestion/absorption of carbohydrates.
Is alcohol allowed?
My nutritionist, my doctor, and I had an honest conversation about drinking. Being honest helps with the type of medication they prescribe, and to also count it in your plan. I replaced all sugary drinks, and mixes with diet soda, club soda, diet tonic water, or water. I order red wine instead of sweeter wines. No mixed drinks. I often order drinks without the sugar, like mojitos. Trust me if I over do it, my doctor will always know when I go for my check up.
(Discuss with your doctor. Read on diabetes and alcohol in The American Diabetes Association site http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/alcohol.html )
To order desert or not?
I found that for me, it helps to share deserts or even meals. Sharing is more fun, and I don’t feel deprived. I also order fruit salads or frozen yogurt, which tend to be less sugary. Once I lessened my sugar intake, my palate changed and everything tastes like syrup.
What I watch out for on the menu
I skip the pasta section, and go straight to proteins and salads. I’ve told restaurants to replace potatoes or rice with salad or grilled vegetables. If I order ice tea or juices, I ask if it’s already sweetened. I watch out for BBQ, and creamy sauces as most of them have added sugar. I found that Asian food restaurants serve sauces that have added sugar as well.
Do my friends need to know that I’m diabetic?
Yes. At first this was hard for me, because I felt like I was going to be judged or worse, lectured on what not to eat or drink. However, I began to tell those who were always around me, and they in turn became very supportive. They thought twice about the places we picked, and even what they ordered in case we were sharing. I’ve also had some low sugar incidents, and they’ve helped me by ordering juice or something to bring it back up. Some friends carry snacks for me when we go out, and make sure they have options for me when I’m invited over their homes for meals.
Being diabetic doesn’t mean that you have to isolate yourself from the world. You can enjoy going out, and learn to make better choices. If I know that I’m going out to dinner, I make really good choices during the day to make up if I “mess” up and eat a little more desert than I should.
Small changes do make a big difference. I love to dance, and so I incorporate it into my social outings. I’ve gone back to the gym, and signed up to do the 39.3 mile Avon Walk for breast cancer once again, which forces me to walk every week. I am down to one pill a day from three when I first got diagnosed. I’m working even harder on keeping normal A1Cs with food and exercise, and decrease my dosage even more.
I want to live as long as my 95 year old grandmother who also has diabetes. Having a healthy social life is important to me, and I’m not allowing this disease to take the fun out of it (just the sugar).
Yexenia Gomez is a Partnership Manager for Bonnier Corporation. She also runs a foodie group called “Yexenia’s Food Lovers Group SABOR,” and is the author of the blog riodesoul.com.