After giving you guys a glimpse into life with diabetes, and listing all of the graphic complications that can accompany it, it may seem silly to write this post.
But this series is about being honest and informative. So here goes.
One of the biggest struggles I deal with in regards to diabetes is body image.
Prior to my diagnosis, I weighed just over 100 pounds. Granted, I was in high school, and those bodies don’t last forever for anyone. But insulin makes you gain lots of weight, and it feels nearly impossible to take off. My diabetes-related thyroid disorder doesn’t help matters, either.
Exercise makes your blood sugar crash, so trying to keep up with a healthy regimen of working out leads to unbearable frustration. I have to eat tons of food to bring my blood sugar up from a workout – so sometimes it’s hard not to ask myself why I even bother. The same goes for dieting – less food means more low blood sugars.
In the months after my diagnosis, I gained a decent amount of weight, but luckily I could afford to do so at the time. I remember the picture that was taken of me on my 16th birthday, one month after my diagnosis. It was before my Facebook days (guess I’m old!) so I can’t pull it up, but my face looks puffy and swollen.
I stressed over my weight a bit as high school continued, but I don’t remember anything too out of the ordinary for a teenage girl. It wasn’t until college that it really took a toll on me.
As you know, many college freshmen gain the Freshman 15 – too many beers, late night pizzas, lack of exercise.
Well, I gained the Freshman 15 plus the Diabetic 15.
I’ve never been a big drinker, so I can’t really contribute my weight gain to that. I’ve always hated pizza, so it wasn’t that, either. 😉 But seriously, I tried to make healthy choices in the dining hall for the most part. As for exercise, I was hitting the gym and even got a personal trainer to help me. But the weight kept coming on.
As I said, insulin makes you gain weight. Dining hall food, no matter how ‘healthy’ your choices, contains more carbohydrates, which means more insulin. So it’s a double whammy – I had the effects of a normal college freshman, compounded with my body essentially rejecting this foreign food. I was so used to weighing everything I ate, but I didn’t exactly want to bring a Salter scale to the dining hall.
I cried a lot about my weight that year. It didn’t help matters that someone had posted about my weight on the gossip site “College ACB.” (Remember that evil thing?!)
Getting into one of the best sororities on campus should have boosted my confidence. I was surrounded by amazing girls who clearly loved me for me. But as much as that brought me out of my shell, I also had a new group of gorgeous ladies to compare myself to. Miami (both the city and the school) is a mecca of toned, tan, model-like specimens. Talk about throwing yourself into the fire!
Throughout my years at Miami, I battled with my confidence. My weight fluctuated often. When I look back, I kick myself thinking of all of the fun I missed out on by being worried about my body. I skipped a majority of the pool parties – and in Miami, there were a lot. What I’d give to be day drinking by the pool with my friends and cute boys, now!
My stomach is still pudgy and oddly shaped from my insulin injections. I have pads of scar tissue beneath my bellybutton that stick out. I have extra layers of fat build up near my injection sites. My thighs, arms and butt are starting to become padded with scar tissue as well. My skin is perpetually bruised from needles.
Sometimes I stand in the mirror and push away those bumps and layers, admiring what I would look like without them. For a few minutes, I pretend I’m not chronically ill – that I’m just a twenty-something girl with a flat stomach and a carefree life ahead.
Chances are, other people don’t see these imperfections like I do. Yet I sometimes wish I could just post a sign somewhere to explain to people that my body is the way it is because of medical issues. But why do I feel like I owe anybody an explanation?
I am currently at the lowest weight I’ve been in a while, but I’m still not really satisfied. As unhealthy as it is, I’m always wondering what I would look like if I didn’t have diabetes. I torture myself thinking about how I would probably be stick thin like both of my parents were at my age. I fantasize about how my life would have been different if I were skinny.
But at the end of the day, I know confidence doesn’t come from the scale. It comes from within. And even if I were a size zero, these problems wouldn’t miraculously disappear. I try to remind myself that the things I hate about my body are the result of the hard work it does to keep me alive, day after day. I should be proud of these imperfections, not ashamed. Because without them, I wouldn’t be here today writing this post.
Unfortunately, many diabetics don’t get these moments of clarity. Adolescent girls with Type 1 diabetes are 2.4 times as likely as their non-diabetic peers to develop an eating disorder. The most common eating disorder found in diabetics is diabulimia, which is when a person cuts back on or skips their insulin in order to lose weight – and it is extremely deadly.
My diabetes has made me more resilient, empathetic, determined, and independent. I have accomplished so much in spite of it – or maybe even because of it. If people choose to focus on some extra flab instead of that, then they aren’t the type of people I want in my life. And if “fat” is the worst thing you can call me, I’d say I’m doing pretty damn well for myself.
Colorfully (and sometimes pudgily) yours,