Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Four Generation Diabetes Story

I was going to write a diabetes valentines post for my other blog, veggie trader. I was going to write something pithy about love equaling food, and try to relate that somehow to overloading yourself with love and getting diabetic. I was going to write this in the context of the Let's Move campaign started last week by first Lady Michelle Obama. And then I was going to tie all this together on a blog which is really about gardening... but this is too difficult.  I'm not doing that, I'm writing about my dad instead.

First let me say that the Let's Move website could be A LOT better, the design needs to be more engaging, useful with actionable information. Oh how I wish I could have been consulted to work on that site! A full review of some of these "government sponsored help campaigns" will be coming soon.

Last Saturday I was hanging out with my dad and we started talking about his diabetes. He developed type 2 about 15 years ago around age 60. My dad's mother was diabetic as well as her father. That makes three generations of type two diabetics. (oops! I'm never going to get health coverage now!)

Looking back at my childhood and remembering how he acted about food I asked my dad, "How did you become diabetic?"

My dad had a clear answer, "I think it was a combination of factors. Denial on my part, and deceptive food labeling and marketing. I ate too much, and I ate too much sugar and too many highly refined foods which act like sugar in your body when you eat them." He went on to add, "I just wasn't really aware of what I was eating. There simply wasn't any diet or nutritional information available to anyone in the past. I had no way of knowing that some of the stuff I was eating (like white bread) was hurting me." The past meaning, before 2000. I remember my dad eating normally. He enjoyed sodas and wine and cheese and stuff, but I don't recall anything excessive. He definitely enjoys food though...

Then I asked, "When do you think you started to become diabetic?" and my dad's answer surprised me. "I think it all really started in my twenties." Really? So my next question, "Do you ever think back to your younger self and wish you could eat differently?" "YES! All the time. If I could go back I wouldn't have eaten so much ice cream. Or gone for that 3rd or 4th helping of cake or pie." Ah portion control.

"Also there were the issues with my mother," he added. Now this is the strange part - the mother connection which Michal Pollan alludes to in his book, In Defense of Food. Let's just say my grandmother was also a food lover and I think she passed some of her attitudes and eating issues on to my dad. My dad was what you'd call an 'emotional eater'. He doesn't do this any more but he used to eat to cheer himself up when he was down. This I think it's the root of his diabetes, more than genetics and portion control. We both think the emotional eating habit came from his mom.

The really interesting thing about my dad and his diabetes story is that he grew up on a homestead, a completely self sufficient household that produced it's own food. When he was a kid they had a cow for milk, chickens, gardens, and fruit trees. His grandmother would bake bread fresh almost every day in a wood oven! It's not as if my dad (or my diabetic for bearers) didn't know where good food comes from. Dad'll use his homestead childhood to justify eating well, citing the home-made butter on a fresh slice of warm bread from the wood oven.

So I'm the 4th generation in this story and I certainly don't want to wake up in the future to daily insulin injections. I'm the one who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons bombarding me with sugary cereals which thankfully my mother wouldn't allow in the house.  I also helped my parents in the kitchen - a place where I feel very comfortable today. We always prepared real meals from real foods - a lost art in these times! I'm convinced that kids today need the same hands on learning about food that I had.  You can only truly understand what you're eating when you plan, shop for, and prepare your own meals on a regular basis.  Now with a bit of awareness and a lot of practice (in & out of the kitchen) hopefully this diabetes story wont continue past the 3rd generation.

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