"It's a trial-and-error game I play."
"It's a trial-and-error game I play." Credit: Celine Loup

“If only we didn’t have to eat,” I told Kim, the diabetic educator, as she was placing a small white shell of a device under the skin on my stomach. She laughed. The shell, a continuous glucose monitor, was going to perform a three-day test to gauge whether I was doing a good job managing my blood sugar—and controlling my diabetes.

THE FOOD ISSUE: Where Chicago Eats

At 23 years old, I was relearning how to live with a disease I’d had since I was seven. This was not the first time I’d been instructed on diabetes management, but it was the first time I was hearing about it from someone who’d been living with Type 1 diabetes herself. I took what she said and ate it up like the carbohydrates she was teaching me to count.

Going through puberty with this disorder wasn’t bad. My mother managed my diet and my father, a soccer player, got me active. I had a balanced lifestyle. I can’t say the same thing about my college years, in Champaign-Urbana, where beer flowed like the Nile and Pokey Stix were the preferred midnight snack. I was lucky to graduate with a solid GPA and all of my organs intact.

But never mind all that. As I sat in a little white room under fluorescent lights at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, this woman with diabetes was handing me the key to my freedom. I’ll never forget the words that came out of her mouth: “You’re 23 years old. You’re going to drink. Instead of telling you that you shouldn’t, I’d rather just teach you how.”

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez
Christina Elizabeth RodriguezCredit: Eileen Meslar

Like anything you live with—including roommates and lovers—you have to learn as much as you can about each other to manage the relationship and keep it healthy.

The thing is, I have to count carbohydrates. If it’s not listed on the nutrition label, I have to estimate. A small apple has about 15 carbs, a regular banana 45. But what about that pasta from Barnelli’s or those mouth-watering rainbow cones on the south side? It’s a trial-and-error game I play.

I’ve had to forgo cultural staples, like tortillas and rice. Being Mexican, that’s a sin, but I’ve educated my parents as to why it’s one I must commit. My mother gets it. My dad still pushes.

I know my system better than most “normal” people, I think. So yes, I can have a piece of tres leches cake and take insulin for it. However, the more natural foods I eat, the easier it is on my body. Sacrifice is part of the lifestyle.

Rodriguez is executive editor of LatinoDr.org and runs a blog about living with diabetes.