Editor’s Note: The holidays are upon us, but it may be hard for some kiddies to get in the spirit of upcoming festivities. For families dealing with the lifelong struggle against diabetes or celiac disease, we’re bringing back this helpful piece from one of our founding writers.
By Thery McKinnney
November and December contain many of our most celebrated holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, just to name a few. The holiday season offers so many opportunities to feast and overindulge, so many temptations that make us forget diet restrictions, so many chances for thinking that a little “cheating” on eating habits will be OK. It’s the worse time of the year if you are a fellow sufferer of the life changing, lifelong diseases of Diabetes (sugar intolerance) or Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance), or both.
It’s terrible as an adult to have to say “No” to foods that will produce health problems, but imagine what this means to a child. They are not allowed to have pizza, ice cream or pasta, fried chicken or even popular breakfast cereals. They have to watch others eat birthday cake, cookies, or drink sugary soft drinks. Try to explain to young children that, through no fault of their own, their body is not able to process certain foods; these foods make them sick.
Children really don’t care to hear that nearly 26 million Americans, both children and adults, have diabetes. Or that another 79 million have pre-diabetes and are at the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, diabetes in its most common form. Another devastating disease is celiac disease; three million adults and children have celiac disease, but 95% of these people have not been diagnosed—or worse, they have been misdiagnosed and therefore have not been made aware of the potential irreversible damage to their bodies. You can explain that diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined, according to the American Diabetes Organization. What a child hears is that he/she is not “normal” and that they can’t eat what everyone else is eating. Food is their enemy and will be for their entire lives.
Diabetes can be found in all ethnic groups.
With diabetes, the body suffers from not enough insulin being correctly utilized. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar starches and other foods into energy. Each year more than 13,000 young people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Gluten is what binds starches together. Eating gluten leads to a toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. Be aware that gluten shows up in the most innocent sounding food items—hot dogs and processed meats like salami, ketchup and root beer. Gluten is often used as an inexpensive filler or thickening agent in many food products. Read the food labels on everything!
The exact causes of these two diseases are still not clear, but continuing research indicates that genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to their development. Celiac disease is especially difficult to diagnose because it can mimic other health issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, intestinal infections, and lactose intolerance. It can lead to the development of osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and cancer.
Management and control are possible.
Diabetes can be controlled through medication and a sugar restricted diet. Gluten-free diets are manageable because potatoes, rice, soy, beans, quinoa, buckwheat, and lentils are readily available to replace gluten products. There is a connection between these two diseases and evidence that a gluten-free diet will help with diabetes control.
Helpful diet suggestions can be found at www.glutenfreerecipebox.com.
The most difficult part of managing these diseases for the parents of a child with these diseases has to be handling the child’s attitude. How can parents help the child overcome feelings of isolation and hopelessness? How can they convince their children that they aren’t “weird” or “abnormal,” just different? Help them and encourage them. Guide them to live “normally” amongst their peers and friends. Both the parents and the children need to accept their conditions as a way of life.
www.diabetes.org has several sections discussing everyday life management, family communication, and safety at school. It has a Planet D section devoted to kids and teens. www.childrenwithdiabetes.com is an online community for kids, families, and adults with diabetes. These sites can offer information that can convince a parent not to treat your child as an outcast; but it is important that the entire family participate and support all aspects of the young person’s life.
These diseases should not keep your child from achieving their highest goals.
There are many athletes, actors, professionals in all walks of life that lead successful, productive lives. For children, there are suggestions for social events, such as summer camps, that are designed to accommodate their needs and let them socialize with others that share their concerns.
As a parent, you can emphasize the positive; focus on what they can have and can do—not what they cannot have and cannot do. It is also important not to treat your child like a miniature adult; their needs are different, and such items as medications will be changing as they grow. Try not to be overprotective; try not to obsess on their difficulties.
No threats. No guilt. No fear.
What parents can do is make their lives more “normal.” How about providing suitable foods for visits with friends and relatives and avoiding the awkward excuses and explanations? Talk to the school nurses, and get their advice for handling school situations like lunch in the cafeteria to help the children learn to make wise and suitable choices. Even restaurants are now participating with gluten-free and sugar-free menus. Try taking along pre-made menu cards when visiting favorite restaurants; this can make choosing a meal less frustrating for everyone involved.
Growing up with these diseases makes “growing up” that more difficult, but informed parents can reduce some of the childhood anxieties about being “normal.” Learning and living with these diseases is something that can be done as a family. So, with a little knowledge, understanding, and precaution, everyone can “Eat and Be Merry” this holiday season.