Dining with Diabetes

January 29, 2019

Megan Dalton
Purdue University
Megan is part of the Dia-Beat-It chapter at Purdue University. She is expected to graduate in 2022 and studies speech, language, and hearing sciences. She is also involved in Cru at Purdue, the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, and is a vocalist for the worship team. Her interests include distance running, spontaneous dance parties, and hanging out with her goldendoodle.

The first time I walked into a college dining court, I was instantly stunned by the amount and diversity of foods available. However, my brain immediately switched to worrying as I realized that I would have to navigate my way through all these new foods as someone with T1D. How could I tell what sauces or toppings would add sneaky carbs into the dishes? How would I be able to measure out the correct serving size? How could I even decide what to eat with so many available options? Throughout my first semester, I’ve developed a few handy tips from eating at the dining courts, and hopefully some of my thoughts may help you on your own campus.

“Being able to ask for help when you need to is essential as someone with T1D.”

When it comes to eating in the dining courts, I have three simple pieces of advice: be prepared, proactive, and patient.

  • Be prepared. Having a plan of what you want to eat before you go into a dining court can make a significant difference. When I walk into a dining court and begin looking at all the buffet-style options, it can be tempting to pile my plate high with every food I see. Luckily, my school publishes each food item’s nutrition facts through a phone application that’s free and easy to use. I can then look at what is going to be offered at each dining court each day and have a general plan of my upcoming meal. Not only does this help in accurate carb-counting, but my preparedness also allows me to be aware of what I am eating and, hopefully, avoid not only blood sugar swings but also the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” Planning what you will eat ahead of time may also allow you to get your food quicker instead of walking in circles until you decide what to eat. All in all, be prepared by looking up the resources provided by your school and by having a general game plan when it comes to your nutrition.
  • Be proactive. Being able to ask for help when you need to is essential as someone with T1D. One of my struggles throughout my first semester in college was wondering what my new friends would think when they saw me pull out my insulin pump to bolus during a meal. I was so worried that people would question me for having a weird contraption attached to my stomach that I often tried to hide my pump. What I’ve learned, however, is that coming out and telling people about your diabetes is much easier and will cause you to be much less stressed. You may even find that your friends are genuinely interested in learning more about diabetes, and they can also provide support and encouragement for you. In addition to telling others about your diabetes, another way to be proactive is to talk to the workers at the dining courts if you have any confusion or personal needs. There have been times in which the nutrition information for a certain dish is missing, and the workers or chefs at the dining courts are very helpful in finding out more information. All in all, be proactive by being vocal about diabetes. Reaching out to your friends as well as campus faculty can help reduce any anxious thoughts or doubts about campus dining.
    “No one is perfect about their diabetes management, so give yourself a little grace when it comes to pesky, unexpected highs or lows after trying a new meal.”
  • Be patient. Establishing a new pattern of eating can take a bit of time and effort. The dining courts offer new foods on a regular basis, and I’m constantly figuring out how certain foods affect my blood sugars differently. My favorite way to do this is through the MySugr app on my phone, which allows me to log blood glucose, corrections, boluses, exercise, and foods eaten. Though it may take a week or so of disciplined logging to notice trends, it truly does help to keep note of the specific way in which foods affect your blood sugar. Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to patience is to be patient with your own blood sugars. The foods offered at the dining courts are most likely going to be different than what you are used to eating at home. No one is perfect about their diabetes management, so give yourself a little grace when it comes to pesky, unexpected highs or lows after trying a new meal. As with any goal, it can take time and dedication to know what works and what doesn’t work for you in campus dining, so have patience.

Navigating diabetes in the dining courts is definitely an ongoing task, but hopefully you have taken away some helpful hints from my experience. Best of luck in your dining court endeavors!

Editor’s note: Check out our YouTube playlist on navigating the dining hall with diabetes here.

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