My roommate, Sophie, has Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed when she was just seven years old and had to be hospitalized for a week. Although this is one characteristic of her life, it’s not the only one — she’s also kind, intelligent, funny and my best friend.
I’ve lived with Sophie for almost three years now. We’re typical college roommates — we laugh, we cry and we go on 1 am French fry runs. Life wouldn’t be that much different if she didn’t have diabetes, but here are some important things I’ve learned from her.
1. The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
I’m sure you’ve had friends say, “Oh man, I’m probably gonna get diabetes!” after inhaling a dozen donuts. However, this is definitely NOT the case for Type 1. Type 1 diabetes is mostly genetic and is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is caused from wearing out the pancreas, usually from an overconsumption of sugar. Type 2 can be reversed with a healthy diet and exercise, but Sophie is stuck with Type 1 for life.
2. Carbs are the Big Kahuna of food
Although many people zero in on the sugar content of foods, carbs are what give you energy. Your body turns carbohydrates into the glucose that gives you energy to do your daily activities. Many people are familiar with counting carbs, but my roommate has to do a different kind of carb-counting — the amount of carbohydrates in her meal determines how much insulin she needs. Healthy carbs are foods like veggies, beans, fruits, nuts and yogurt. Unhealthy carbs are in foods like bread, pastas and potato chips, which brings us to our next point.
3. Everything in moderation
Sophie has diabetes, but it doesn’t stop her from going on 2 am donut runs with me during finals week. There is nothing she cannot eat because of her condition; she just strives to exercise general self-control like the rest of us should. Yes, 2 am donut runs aren’t the most healthy, but it’s okay (and sometimes necessary) every once in a while.
4. Food is not the enemy
This applies to diabetics and non-diabetics everywhere. Food is life, literally. People with diabetes, like Sophie, just have to be a little more conscious of what they eat and how it’s going to affect their body. Diabetics CAN have their cake and eat it, too — refer back to #3 for elaboration.
5. Adventure is out there
My roommate hasn’t tied balloons to her house in pursuit of Paradise Falls (unfortunately), but her diabetes doesn’t stop her from living out her own adventures. She runs 10Ks, paddle boards on Lake Travis (yes, that’s her in that picture and yes, she’s single) and likes to rock-climb in her free time. The only difference between her and someone without diabetes in these situations is that she carries around a small bag containing her insulin and shots.
6. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1
This small 5 percent includes my roommate and Nick Jonas, aka everyone’s celeb crush from the early 2000’s. Nick Jonas was diagnosed when he was 14 and is constantly trying to make people more aware of Type 1 diabetes and even called out a crossfit Twitter account for failing to differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, something my roommate also deals with on the daily (which she says means they’re meant to be). Knowledge is power, people. Educate yourself.
7. “Free carbs” are a thing
Free carbs are foods with such little carbs that it doesn’t affect your blood sugar, which means Sophie doesn’t have to take an insulin shot. Even for someone without diabetes, this is a plus because foods with less carbs are generally better for you. These include a spoonful of peanut butter, non-starch veggies, meats, and yes, even vodka.
8. More than 200,000 juvenile cases are diagnosed per year
Type 1 diabetes currently has no cure. Hundreds of thousands of kids are diagnosed every year, and although a majority go on to live normal lives, it’s a drastic lifestyle change. Pricking yourself 3-5 times a day and insulin shots after every meal is no one’s idea of fun. JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, raises funds for research to cure Type 1 diabetes. The One Walk is their primary fundraising strategy and has raised over $1 million for research. I strongly recommend you check out your local JDRF website and consider participating to help create a world without Type 1 diabetes.