Hey Baby, What’s Your Type? Life Married to a Type 1 Diabetic


As celebrity personalities and bloggers go, I think The Pioneer Woman is my favorite. Along with Lysa Terkuest. And Joanna Gaines. There are so many inspirational women out there who help us think, pray, decorate and even cook with a new joie de vivre. I will turn on Pioneer Woman for inspiration while I am cooking regardless of whether or not we are cooking the same thing. She could be making Cowboy Quiche and I could be making chicken salad (or even microwaving a plastic container of frozen macaroni and cheese) but we are somehow in this together.

I really do love cooking new things. Truth is, it seems like nobody in my house ever wants (or for health reasons cannot have) the things that seem the most fun to fix. You see, my kids are, well, kids who are still gun shy of eating things that are touching each other (or heaven forbid mixed together in casserole form) and my husband, as a Type 1 diabetic, eats mostly low carb (yes, we call him Low Carb Barb).

Barb gets calls frequently from parents of newly-diagnosed Type 1 diabetic children and even young adults who are seeking guidance and advice from someone living with this autoimmune disease. He’s always willing to oblige. Not only is he living with Type 1, but he also sells insulin for a living for Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest manufacturer of insulin. He jokes that he is kind of the Type 1 Diabetes equivalent to the Hair Club for Men spokesperson. Not only that, he’s in his second term volunteering as president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Palmetto Chapter. Yeah, he’s kind of an expert, and he more than walks the talk.

He was diagnosed in his early 20s, when we were dating, which is actually late for Type 1 (also called Juvenile Diabetes). There were things I learned then, and things that I am learning every day, about living with someone with Type 1. I can’t tell you what it’s like to have Type 1 (I will let him do that). I’m not a doctor or dietitian (both of whom you will lean on heavily through this process). Nor do I have a child with Type 1 (I hold my breath at every check up) which I can imagine is extremely intense when 100 percent of the sugar-checking, insulin-dosing and diet-monitoring is on you. What I can do, limited as it may be, is provide you with a few basic tips to help with your day-to-day living with an adult who happens to be Type 1.

1. Snack Dinner is Your Friend: You will need to develop a list of meal options that will work for everyone in your house. This is no easy task. My repertoire consists of Mexican night (taco salad adaptation for some, and standard tacos for others), Burger night (hamburger steak with grilled onions for some, regular old burgers on buns for others), and Greek salad with grilled chicken (blessedly, everyone seems to like this), and a few other Houdini-esque meals that can morph from low carb to kid-friendly with minor fanfare. Other times we have what is affectionately known as “snack dinner” which consists of me prepping a variety of things (cut up fruit, cheese, cucumbers) and laying it out with crackers, hummus, deli turkey — you get the picture.  I also keep my ear to Food Network for any of my favorite super stars’ recipes that may work for our lifestyle. I take recommendations. Anyone? Bueller?

2. Pasta is Kryptonite. I have tried serving the whole wheat noodles. I’ve tried portion control on the noodles with a large side of salad. But somehow any amount and any variety of pasta turns my fun-loving husband into a sluggish and irritable version of Mr. Hyde, since Type 1 diabetics don’t produce any insulin and therefore (even with synthetic insulin from shots or an insulin pump) cannot adequately metabolize this type of carbohydrate. There seem to be good carbs and bad carbs for a Type 1, and somehow pasta goes into the “bad” category every time. In the good category? Tortillas and wraps seem to leave us unscathed, as does a small portion of light (not dense) whole wheat bread.

3. Pizza is a Close Second: The only thing I’ve found that is typically as bad as pasta is pizza. What doesn’t work? Thick crust pizza with sweet tomato sauce. What works better? One slice of very thin crust pizza, light on the sauce, heaped with meat and veggies and a large side salad. This is probably how we should all be enjoying pizza, anyway.

4. Type 1 Does Not Mean You Can No Longer Drink Alcohol You Just Have to Be Smart About It: Obviously, this category applies to adults with Type 1 only, but I will say this question is one of Barb’s most frequently asked by adults who are newly diagnosed. What’s a no? Daquaris, dark, thick beer, and (I’m so sorry) standard restaruant margaritas. These just have too much sugar for your Type 1 hon. What works? Low carbohydrate beer, vodka with water or club soda and a twist of lime, or a glass of pino noir.

5. They’re Probably Not Mad at You: At least not most of the time. Unless, for example, you run over their deluxe backpack leaf blower after they warned you that it was in the driveway. I learned this early in our dating relationship. I would wake up certain that today was the day we were going to break up but could not put my finger on why. As the day would go on I would realize that it was “just a blood sugar thing” and we’d be back to our version of normal. I still have to remind myself of this. Daily.

6. Have Snacks, Will Travel: Whether you are going to China or just down the street, you will want to have snacks or beverages on hand in the event of a low blood sugar attack. Peanut M&Ms seem to work well (and fast) as does orange juice and regular Coke. I will say that Barb has been known to “never waste a good low” and uses these opportunities to indulge in the cookies that he has to muster the willpower to avoid 99 percent of the time. The lows will be scary, especially in the middle of the night, but if you have the right things on hand you will learn to ride them out (and hopefully prevent them as well, by maintaining and monitoring sugar levels overall).

7. Remind Them You Are There: They may not want your help right now, and they probably won’t want you hovering over them telling them to eat this and avoid that. You can do your best to have the supplies and foods on hand that will help them, but the most beneficial of these will be your moral support. I’ve learned to get out of the way really well. When your Type 1 is high or low, you can quickly slide them a snack, or just say, “I’m here if you need me,” then step aside and let them remedy the situation.  I can check blood sugar and know my way around a Mini-Med Quick Set if I need to, but hovering or badgering has never proven welcomed or appreciated.

If you have a newly-diagnosed Type 1 in your life, it will definitley be overwhelming, but don’t let it paralyze you with fear. While there is currently not a cure, and managing Type 1 is certainly no fun and takes a fair share of lifestyle adjustments, it is totally doable. There are plenty of organizations and resources out there that are dedicated to both finding a cure and making life easier on you and your loved one. I happen to know someone who absolutley does not let this slow him down. And when I wake up to find that cookie wrapper in the trashcan, at least I know that he “didn’t waste a good low.”

Kelly Barbrey is striving to be a good Type 1 spouse but knows there is so much more to learn and do. To get involved, find support, learn the basics, or help fund a cure, visit Barb’s JDRF Palmetto Chapter Walk Page. 







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