No Deep-Fried Suicide Here

by Leighann on February 22, 2010

On the heels of the disappointing Oprah episode, where she, Dr. Oz, Bob Green, and others failed to adequately differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, managing to disseminate misinformation to the masses and promote common misconceptions, we find that even smaller scale media makes the same mistakes. (Read my post On Oprah: A Diabetes Song and Dance.)

Brian Bullock, staff writer for the Santa Maria Times, authored an article titled “Fourth-grader challenges classmates” published on February 22, 2010 which describes a challenge that a diabetic fourth grader made to fellow classmates: eat like a diabetic for one week.

I take issue with several ideas put forth in the article. This child seems to be on a pretty restrictive diet, one that unless he has other underlying health issues, is extreme and unnecessary.

Some foods considered healthy for most people can be deadly to diabetics.

I don’t know that any food is “deadly to diabetics.” If you eat something, you need to cover it with insulin.

Fruit juices, watermelon, white bread, biscuits, bagels, pancakes, beans, tortillas and whole milk are not on Gregory’s diet. Neither are ice cream, popcorn, candy and sausage.

My daughter eats every single item on this list of forbidden foods. (Except the sausage because we are mostly vegetarian.) Sure, a particular food might trigger highs for a certain person, but none of these foods has to be forbidden as long as the appropriate amount of insulin is given.

We didn’t serve our children juice before my daughter was diagnosed, but she does have the occasional juice to treat lows or if it is served at school lunch.

We eat burritos made with black beans, refried beans, and tortillas about twice a month.

Children should drink whole milk after weaning until the age of two at which time they should switch to milk with a lower fat content. This has nothing to do with whether or not a child is diabetic, rather these are the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She eats ice cream occasionally. Popsicles are a regular dessert. We freeze yogurt and the kids eat that for dessert quite often.

Popcorn is a regular snack, which I consider to be quite healthy. And for my daughter, rather than raising blood sugar quickly, the high fiber content actually makes blood sugar levels rise much more slowly than other foods with the same carb content.

Candy? Yes, she can have candy once in a while. We never let our kids gorge themselves on candy before diagnosis and they eat about the same amount of candy now as before.

A diet without pizza seemed to be the biggest obstacle for many of the students in Tracy Urbano’s classroom.

We have pizza once a week. In fact we made pizza tonight for dinner.

Others struggled with breakfast when a big bowl of cereal and milk is a favorite food of choice.

Cereal with milk is a regular breakfast in our home.

“In the morning, I’ve been having Cheerios and soy milk, and I don’t really like Cheerios or soy milk,” said Jazlyn Zepeda.

No reason to serve soy milk over cow’s milk (unless the child has a milk allergy, which has nothing to do with diabetes). I personally drink soy milk. My kids drink antibiotic- and rBGH-free cow’s milk.

Diabetics can drink nonfat or soy milk and have cereals low in sugar such as Cheerios and Kix, but no Lucky Charms, Cocoa Krispies or Captain Crunch.

My children have never had Lucky Charms, Cocoa Krispies or Captain Crunch because I don’t serve higher sugar cereals. I never have. That is a parenting choice I made before my kids were born and has nothing to do with diabetes.

Now, he jokes that doughnuts are “deep-fried suicide.”

We don’t consume a lot of donuts, but they could still be eaten occasionally,

“We had tons of Valentine’s candy, but Gregory’s not allowed to eat it,” said Patrick Rigali.

My daughter has never been allowed to eat mass quantities of candy. But she was allowed to eat small pieces of candy at dinner in the week following Valentine’s Day. (Read my post Heart-Shaped Sugar, Sugar, Sugar.)

Gregory’s also not allowed to have the traditional birthday cupcakes that are often brought into class.

Since this child is on an insulin pump, if there was someone at the school who could dose him for the extra carbs, I see no reason why he couldn’t have a cupcake.

In our school we don’t have a full-time nurse who can dose at times other than at lunch. Therefore we provide a box of fun snacks that are within her normal snacking guidelines that she may choose when they celebrate birthdays.

And if she is invited to a birthday party outside of school, you had better believe she gets to have cake and ice cream!

My points are these:

  • No food has to be 100% on the off-limits list. “Sometimes” foods can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle.
  • Kids need to be kids. This means enjoying celebrations and not making life such a boring, restrictive chore.
  • Diabetic children have enough to deal with without their parents doing more to alienate them from their peers. Instead of making him feel different, maybe these parents should find ways to make him feel more alike.
  • It almost seems to me that these parents, whether they mean to or not, are punishing this child rather than take the time to figure out how to properly bolus for foods that they have decided to place on an off-limits list.

Perhaps these parents need to seek the advice of a different CDE or dietician because unless this child has another underlying health issue, there is no reason for a diabetic child to be restricted from eating these foods.

It is my opinion that these parents are setting this child up for a lifetime of falling short of expectations, craving forbidden fruit (and possibly eating and hiding it without bolusing), and the potential for developing food issues.

Let him live a little!

Update: Here is a portion of the letter I sent to the journalist.

Dear Mr. Bullock,

I was a  little dismayed by the article that appeared in your paper yesterday titled “Fourth-grader challenges classmates.” I can assure you that this incredibly restrictive diet is not typical for children with diabetes. Yes, we need to pay particular attention to what our children eat, but given the correct amount of insulin, children can enjoy these foods that this family has decided are off limits.

I am sad for this boy who may be needlessly restricted (unless he has another underlying health condition such as Celiac Disease) and I wish that you had consulted a certified diabetes educator (CDE) or dietician to confirm that such a restrictive diet is in fact necessary for the majority of children with diabetes (it is not).

While I appreciate media coverage that spotlights Type 1 diabetes and the difficulty children face, popular media tends to blur the line between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately the two are usually lumped together though they are completely different in nature. Life can be very difficult for children with Type 1 diabetes and their parents, but imposing a restrictive diet, like the one described in your article, is not the major hurdle because these foods can be enjoyed occasionally given the appropriate insulin bolus. The challenges we face are a shortage of nursing staff in the schools, lack of knowledge by the public, and health insurance that makes getting the proper care prohibitive for some.

Thank you,

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cara February 23, 2010 at 9:06 am

I was disturbed by this article myself. I was diagnosed at age 4 in 1986. This was before we understood carb counting, before insulin pumps were popular, and when sugar was pretty much a no-no. But I ate relatively normal outside of the sugar thing. And I am fine 24 years later. I hope that this child doesn’t totally rebel and end up hurting his health.


2 Wendy February 23, 2010 at 9:46 am

Uh Oh…


Addy has T1 AND Celiac.

She loves fruit.
And milk.
And GF pizza.
And GF doughnuts.
And Chocolate Chex.
And GF pancakes.
And corn tortillas.
And popcorn.
And ice cream.

Oh, dear…by these parent’s expectations, I’M FAILING!!!!!!


3 Jennifer February 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

I truly feel bad for this family. IMHO they are putting an extra strain on an already stressful disease. One of my priorities is to make sure that AJ feels like a “normal” kid as much as possible. With today’s faster acting insulin I don’t see why you would need to restrict a child’s diet like this. It should be about moderation… and that’s true for my non-d child as well. I hate to see what is going to happen to this child when he is a teenager. My guess is that he will be sneaking an unhealthy amount of “off limit” foods.


4 Emily February 23, 2010 at 9:51 pm

My son also has type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. He also gets gluten free versions of almost all of those foods on a regular basis. I wonder what the real story is that was going on.
Thanks for sharing your letter


5 Donna February 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

Thank you so much for your response to that article! I think its important that we respond to such mis-information whenever we see it….

I saw this article today in the Wall Street Journal, and wanted to share: Its one of the rare cases where T1D is profiled correctly, and it was very refreshing to read! =)


6 Hallie February 24, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Thank you so much for responding to this artice!

I read it and thought, “WHAT?” And then I thought, “Gee, we are in trouble at our house.” Because MY T1 diabetic child ate pancakes and mashed potatoes, fruit, veggies, and milk for dinner. Interesting combination? Yes. Off limits? No way.

The LAST thing I want is for diabetes to take away anything from her life. Even little things like what she eats – which is actually a BIG thing.

Moderation is best. But that’s true for ANY person – child, adult, diabetic, or not.

It’s a lot of work – but it’s doable. It takes time, planning, trial and error – but with the pump, a correct carb ratio, the carb count for the food, and the right ratio for a combo bolus, good control can be achieved even when eating things like pancakes!


7 Elisabeth May 6, 2013 at 3:40 pm

That is just ANNOYING! Diabetics can have any of that stuff, just as long as they count carbs and take the necessary amount of insulin. I have had type 1 diabetes since I was 11 and I have eaten all of the things on that list at least once. GRRRRR. That makes me so mad, giving the public the wrong idea about what type 1 is all about.


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