Even a Dietitian’s Child Gets Diabetes

Jake in the ER, Chowing down after his first insulin shot

Health Champs and Nutrition Superheroes,

My post today is a personal one. This past week, we found out that my 2 year-old son has type 1 diabetes (the need-insulin-shots-for-the-rest-of-his-life kind). Despite our uber healthy diet topping the charts with veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains, an autoimmune response to a virus or reason unknown caused my littlest dude’s immune system to attack the insulin-producing cells of his pancreas. When this happens, insulin (which is like the key that unlocks cells’ doors to allow glucose to get in and do its job) can no longer be produced, leaving excessive glucose floating around the bloodstream. A normal body’s pancreas produces just enough insulin to deal with whatever carbohydrate is or isn’t eaten–no thought, shot, or pill needed. The glucose gets into the cells, blood sugars are stable, and none of it requires any extra effort.

As type 1 diabetes is hitting, however, and the insulin-producing cells are being destroyed, the body panics with the extra glucose floating around the bloodstream and reacts by pulling fluid from every store to try and eliminate the glucose through the urine. Dehydration and extreme thirst result. Those are the first signs. The next are usually lethargy and vomiting.

About 5 days before we discovered Jake’s diabetes, he had been asking for more water and urinating more. Not crazy amounts, we just had to change his diaper more often. He was getting over a cold, so of course he was thirstier. He even had a fever one night and I took him to the pediatrician first thing the following morning suspecting an ear infection. But nothing was wrong. Well, once Day 5 hit and he was still asking for “wa wa please” every several minutes (and his grandma also noticed he was cold and his skin looked a little thin), I asked the nurses at my work if they thought anything of his excessive thirst, and asked if I might borrow a glucometer to test his blood sugar levels, just to rule out diabetes. They had seen this before and were worried. They encouraged me to postpone my patients for the day and go home to test his blood sugar, and then I could return if all was well.

His blood sugar level was 560 and then retested at 549. Normal is 100-200 for a 2 year-old. Obviously, it was a faulty machine. I tested MY levels: 73. Crap. Fast-forward past the ER at Children’s hospital, IV fluids to rehydrate him, the official diabetes diagnosis, and a daylong diabetes bootcamp with a diabetes educator to learn how to test blood sugars (I was very awkward in testing his levels at home!), give insulin shots, and manage his meals. All I kept thinking was thank gosh I have the nutrition stuff down because the insulin and blood sugar monitoring was about all the new learning our brains could take!

So, here we are now on Day 3 at home and are getting used to our new ways. We’ve only now realized how much more alive Jake is compared to last week. His body is happy, he laughs and jokes constantly, he’s gained nearly 3 lbs since getting insulin shots because his cells are finally getting the glucose they need, and he’s even telling us which finger to prick for each of his glucose checks. Our days consist of 4 insulin shots, several blood sugar checks to help detect low blood sugar levels (which can be serious)–including 2 while he’s sleeping. My husband and I sneak in there like a diabetes SWAT team with our headlamps and blood sugar checking gear. Most of the time, he sleeps right through! Blood sugar checks also determine what kind of snack he can have: low-carb if his blood sugars are within the normal range, and carby if his blood sugars are low. Our days no longer include enticing desserts to encourage veggie consumption at mealtime, and there are no more meals on the run. Meals MUST be balanced: moderate carbohydrates (about 30-40 grams per meal), protein, and fat. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in the bloodstream immediately, 40% of protein turns into glucose 1-2 hours after consumption, and 10% of fat turns into glucose about 4 hours after consumption. A balanced meal means blood glucose levels are less likely to drop too low between meals. We can do this!

Thanks to our previously healthy habits, the nutrition part of diabetes management is pretty much the same, and any changes have been for the better (we WERE probably getting a little too crazy with the desserts…). Today for lunch, we all had hummus (some carb, some protein, some fat), broccoli (a “free” and healthy food), whole wheat crackers (only a few, so Jake also had a banana to meet his carbohydrate needs), avocado slices (fat), and ice water. The morning snack which would have been pretzels, became a naturally low-carb peanut butter spoon, one of Jake’s all-time favorite treats. We’re all having to change some–We, and my other 2 kids can’t be chowing on foods that Jake can’t have (like pretzels at snacktime) until Jake understands what’s going on. But we’re realizing that his diet is actually just a balanced one that leaves the junk behind. We’ll all be even healthier now!

Obviously, this new life is no walk in the park, and my anti-carb-counting and anti-low-carb days are over. I appreciate both now. But, we are so blessed to have this super cool kid, who can still be a kid and live a healthy, normal life. We’re finding that type 1 diabetes isn’t hard, it’s just more. More to watch and do. So we’ll probably just put off getting that puppy for now… 🙂

Even a dietitian’s child gets diabetes, and even a dietitian’s family can improve their eating habits. Stay tuned for a new tab: Bitchin’ Diabetes! And please share stories and tips.

Peace and balance,


36 thoughts on “Even a Dietitian’s Child Gets Diabetes

  1. IHeartVegetables says:

    I’m sorry to hear that, but it sounds like you and your family are dealing with it as well as you can! Jake is lucky that he’s born into such a health conscious family 🙂 I’m sure you’re going to continue to learn lots and lots about blood sugar and diabetes and life will get a little less crazy. Good luck!!

  2. Gail Cooley says:

    Sounds like a rough couple of weeks…but as you have stated, “its more”, and you all can do this!
    If we all ate like a diabetic, we would all be healthier!

  3. StephLove says:

    I’m sorry to hear of Jake’s diagnosis, but it sounds as if you’re handling it in stride. Good luck with the new challenge. (I do know a couple families with diabetic kids and they say it becomes routine pretty quickly.)

  4. gramma Charlotte says:

    Jake’s diabetes is a blessing and a gift from God—for nothing happens without
    His will behind it. You now have been giiven another opportunity to provide for
    others. Love, Mom

  5. Jane Sirignano says:

    Thanks for being so honest. Life is strange and I agree with Gramma Charlotte. From other people’s experiences, as time goes on with such a healthy diet, Jake will be OK. He may need less insulin. I appreciate your posts and always remember our training in 2005. Being a cooking instructor has been wonderful.
    Jane Sirignano, Goshen, CT Cancer Project/PCRM nurtition & cooking instructor

  6. Rosanne says:

    Jake and your family will be in my prayers as you begin this new path of life for you all. Thank God you caught it early before anything happened to Jake. Take care. Rosanne

  7. Nicole says:

    Hi Jen,
    I am so sorry to hear about little Jake! I have been thinking about you all week and I am glad you got some answers.

  8. Joanne Irwin says:

    Jen, life is certainly difficult, surprising and, at times, shocking! I’m sorry to hear about Jake’s diagnosis, but know that he couldn’t be more blessed with the perfect parents and sibs to be his caretakers, managers and cheerleaders! And I’m certain that one day soon, when you come up for air, you’ll be able to share your experiences and teach other parents how to walk this journey with confidence, knowledge, humor and grace.

    Manure, (thought we’d like to see less of it), is a fertile field. Flowers do grow from sitting in it!

    On another note, my son’s girlfriend, now 38 was diagnosed with Type 1 just a few months ago. She was always thin, active and healthy. But she’s dealing with her diagnosis with confidence, along with taking a proactive stance of learning all she can.

    I’ll be interested to hear more of your journey. Take care of yourself, too!!
    Joanne Irwin, PCRM Food for Life instructor, Cape Cod and Naples, FL

  9. MJ says:

    So glad you were proactive and caught your son’s Type 1 quickly. Sounds like you have a terrific child. And he’s young enough that he won’t remember ever having life without insulin shots. They will just be his everyday routine. I have a brother-in-law with a severe Type 2 case and am looking forward to sharing your diabetes info with my sister.

  10. Beth Iseminger says:

    It’s so hard to hear about little people getting type 1. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent and have to help manage someone else’s diabetes! I was diagosed at age 24. It’s wonderful that you have the nutrition piece under control. My advice would be to look into getting an insulin pump as soon as you’re all ready. I’ve had one for 10 years, and it helps so much in regulating sugars and keeping them stable by using the basal rates (constant insulin, as opposed to “boluses” for carbs)

    Good luck to you all!

  11. Mary Bingham says:

    My heart goes out to you as my husband’s granddaughter Claire,was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9. She is now 12 , on a pump, and is just terriffic about her levels . She also plays soccer, La Crosse, basketball and swims. Her life is good in spite of this little detour in the road. Keep on keeping on and enjoy life.

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Thank you, Mary! Your story is inspiring and proof that kids with type 1 can be normal kids. Plus, life isn’t perfect and there are certainly worse things than having to regulate blood sugar levels 🙂 XOXO Jen

  12. Mike says:

    This is a great post – thank you so much for sharing. I’m sorry to hear about Jake, but I know that that won’t stop him from being as awesome as his parents are. Sending some love your way guys!

  13. Jacquie says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    My Aunt Gerri Idaszak sent me your book to help guide me as I transition my family to a gluten-free diet. My son who just turned 2 was recently diagnosed with Celiac after months of misery, and while the news was depressing and scary, the prospect of having our happy little guy back was worth all the “work.” Good luck to you and your family. He is blessed to have a mom who is so knowledgeable about diet and the body.

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Hi Jacquie! I remember signing that book! So glad to hear your son is doing better. My little guy is like a new person with his insulin injections–it definitely makes the extra attention worth it! Peace to you and your wonderful family 🙂 XOXO – Jen

  14. Cristina Sales says:

    Jen – Jake is soooo lucky to have such a great mom. I’m sorry to hear that you all will be facing such challenges but I can’t imagine a better army for little Jake to face them with. Keep being inspiring to your family and to all of us. Hope to connect with you very soon and much love to you and your family.


    • Jen Reilly says:

      Cris! You’re a star! Thank you 🙂 We are doing great. Jake is a total champ, and our caregivers are getting more comfortable with taking care of not only his diabetes, but also his new energy level! We’ll definitely connect soon 🙂 Hugs, Jen

  15. Robyn says:

    That’s a tough thing for a two-year-old to deal with! It sounds like he is in very good hands though – having a dietitian for a mom is going to come in handy for sure! 🙂

  16. morningtear says:

    Ah, this reminds me of when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (10 years ago!). Brought a little tear to my eye, mainly from happiness that you’re such a good family that really embrace it all and try to do your best, and a little from sadness because I don’t think any child should go through that. Anyway, I hope you’ll do really well with it all, and I’m sure you will! Big hugs to little Jake for being such a brave little boy!

  17. Rai says:

    Hi..just read your post.
    My son was diagnosed approx 10 months back, he was 1.5 yrs old. We share similar story and those hospital scenes came to my mind again. not easy to get rid of them. I have just recently heard of low carb diet for my son, i am not sure of the effects on him.. giving him about 45-60 gms a day, would it be enough for his growth.. would that cause any harm to his brain, cells etc? all those little things that some parents have posted on forum to say it’s fine.. others scream HALT, no diet at that age. You’re thru the low carb/ carb counting process for similar age child.. any suggestion?

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Hi Rai! Great to connect. We still count carbs and weigh Jake’s food. He’s 3 1/2 years old and on the Omnipod insulin pump and the Dexcom G4 Continuous Glucose Monitor. I would strongly encourage you looking into both. From a growth and development standpoint, I would not encourage low-carb for your son. It puts too much stress on their growing bones and kidneys, and doesn’t allow for the glucose they need for brain function. I *would* however, highly recommend putting him on an insulin pump so that he can eat healthy carb snacks like fruit, whole grains, and granola bars (Clif Z bars are our favorite) between meals without extra shots. It’s really hard to limit a toddler to 3 meals a day, and believe you me, the low-carb snacks of nuts and edamame beans get boring to the little ones really fast! Keep in touch and let me know if you have any questions! XOXO Jen

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