It happened again.
There I was in Phoenix, Arizona at a conference of health writers. We were eating lunch in the lovely sunshine, mostly green salad with a few garbanzos and a little balsamic dressing for me, when my companions began to discuss diets and dieting and the conversation swerved to what I was not eating. I had turned down the rolls and creamed soup and dessert and when asked, mentioned quietly that I had type 2 diabetes.
And then it happened. The inevitable questions. What did I eat every day? How did I live without bread? Couldn’t I eat fruit? How many times a week did I exercise and then, the big Kahuna… How could I possible have type 2 diabetes since I wasn’t fat?
I guess I brought it on myself by mentioning my chronic condition. But it seems by now, with close to 30 million people in the U.S. sharing my disease, people should be a little more educated about type 2. I don’t expect them to know all the answers or fine points. And I know they’re mainly curious. Plus, I was sitting with health reporters. But answering endless questions about my food intake and exercise plan seems a tad invasive to me these days.
After having this condition for about thirty years, I’m plain tired of explaining it.
But being a fairly nice person, I try. Yet even before I begin to answer questions, I realize that describing my diet and exercise plan tends to make others a little defensive.
For example, when my tablemates hear that I’ve given up red meat, pasta, most bread (I have an occasional slice of Ezekiel low-glycemic bread), the insights begin. “I don’t know how you give up sweets. A little ice cream can't hurt.” Or, “Fruit is so good for you. I don’t see why you gave that up.”
I nod my head. But inside, I’m fuming.
“You don’t understand,” I want to say, “Because you don’t have to manage my disease.”
Diabetes is, as anyone who has it knows, a very individual condition. Sugars can rise when you are “good” and fall when you are “bad”. What works for person A doesn’t fly for person B. I could eat fruit, sure, but it makes my sugars peak, and I’d rather trade off an occasional glass of wine for a fructose infusion. And on occasion, when I do eat a small dish of ice cream – I try to double my exercise to cover the certain spike in glucose.
But do I really have to explain this to my lunch partners? Does knowing what I eat really help them?
You may think I’m cranky on this topic, and you’re probably right. Having diabetes is tough, between taking your sugars, monitoring your medications, watching what you eat, and making sure to get your exercise. I don’t remember signing up to be an ambassador for the disease.
“Wow,” my table mates finally say, “That sounds really hard.”
I dig into my lettuce and nod my head. On that point, at least, we can agree.