Almaz, 20, lives in London and is studying for a degree in Commercial Music. Almaz has Type 1 diabetes. She and her mum, Sonia, talk about how the condition has affected how the family enjoy food.
"I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 14 years old”, explains Almaz. “Before that my diet was not bad because my Mum and Dad both cooked fresh meals at home.
"But, like any teenager I liked fizzy drinks and sweet things. I remember that I really started to crave sweet things just before I was diagnosed – I would buy sweets and muesli bars and hide them under my bed.
Dealing with diagnosis
“When the nurse confirmed that my blood sugar levels were high and I had Type 1 diabetes I felt quite numb. I knew very little about diabetes and did not know there were two different types. I thought it was only something which affected old people so I was upset and thought that there was something seriously wrong with me. Yes, numbness and then panic were my first reactions.”
A new approach to cooking – for the whole family
Sonia also worried when Almaz was diagnosed – particularly about the food her family were eating. She explains: “Even though our family meals were healthy, at first I did question myself about what I had done wrong. I spent a lot of money on special foods from health food shops and on buying different foods, but then I realised that our diet was healthy, and instead I looked at how I was cooking food and the portion sizes. I have always used olive oil, but I’ve cut back on frying foods and now steam or grill fish instead.
"You can still enjoy your favourite foods"
“When Almaz was diagnosed she was just 14 years old, and of course it was difficult at first and she would get angry sometimes. Of course, she enjoyed fizzy drinks. Now I buy sugar-free drinks and do not buy apple juice or orange juice any more. Almaz will have low-sugar versions of drinks or fizzy water. Almaz has never been into puddings and cakes, but she does love a slice of cheesecake! She can still enjoy a small slice now and then because she knows how to manage her diabetes well. It’s important not to stress yourself out; if you know how to manage your diabetes you can still enjoy your favourite foods – just in smaller portions.”
Simple changes for healthier eating
Since her diagnosis, Almaz has been able to make her diet healthier with some simple changes to her favourite meals. “One of my other favourite foods is oxtail with rice and peas,” she says. “Traditionally this will be accompanied with yam, potatoes and maybe green banana – all carbohydrates! I still enjoy rice and peas but I don’t have potatoes and green banana alongside it. I do love yam so may have a very small piece. If I’m cooking rice and peas myself, I will use brown rice and no coconut cream, or maybe just a tablespoonful.”
Adapting to life at uni
“Now that I’m living away from home at uni, I cook smaller meals for myself. Most mornings I’ll have porridge oats made with almond milk, which is naturally sweet, or an omelette with wholemeal toast. For lunch, I find smoked fish, such as salmon or mackerel, with salad is really quick but also healthy and tasty!
“I have recently discovered that peanut butter is a healthy snack too. For years, I thought it was something I should avoid, but my dietitian told me that, spread on wholemeal bread, it’s a good, balanced snack and I now enjoy that, sometimes with a few slices of banana on top.
“Of course university life has a big culture of drinking alcohol but I’m quite a strong-minded person so I stand up to peer group pressure and just stick to a couple of drinks like rum with diet cola in an evening, then have diet cola, juice or water.”
Don't panic – it does get easier
Sonia and Almaz both give the same advice to children and young people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and their parents: don’t panic. “Don’t throw out all the food in your fridge or spend a lot of money on health foods,” Sonia says. “Learning about portion control, counting carbs and reducing the amount of oil and fat you use in cooking are all important, so that the whole family can continue to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet. You don’t need to cook different meals for a child with diabetes.
“I always say that Almaz has been diagnosed with diabetes but the whole family is living with it. I would recommend getting in touch with other parents in the same position, take control and know that you are not alone.”
Almaz acknowledges that the condition can be tough to deal with at first, but says that it does get easier: “Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes does feel like being dropped off on Mars, but take things step-by-step and you can manage the condition and live a normal life. Also it’s important to talk to your nurses and your parents – initially, I tried to cope by myself and that did not work at all! My parents and friends have been very supportive and it really helps to have people around you who understand and can help you.”
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