The ‘Double Whammy’ of Celiac and Type 1

July 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

[When we read NFCA volunteer Ellen G’s blog post about a gluten-free feature for her insulin pump, it got us wondering about the daily management of celiac and type 1. Luckily, NFCA intern Jordan was here to give her firsthand account.]

You can easily spot my hot pink Animas insulin pump clipped to my side wherever I go. However, if you are not familiar with what an insulin pump is, you might ask me “Is that your cell phone?” and you wouldn’t be the first. In high school, teachers would constantly accuse me of listening to my iPod or playing with my phone in class when all I was really doing was using my insulin pump.

I am a type 1 diabetic. I have been for over 15 years. The conversations that begin over my insulin pump eventually lead to discussions on not only my diabetes, but also being celiac. The most common response when people discover I have both celiac and diabetes? “Well, that’s a double whammy!”

I am 21 years old, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6 and celiac disease at age 15. Treating both autoimmune diseases can be difficult at times, but I am grateful every day that it is manageable. When asked which disease is harder to control, I have to say diabetes. Celiac disease certainly gives me an added diet challenge, but with so many options nowadays for gluten-free foods, restaurants, and especially my mom’s cooking, it is considerably easier to manage.

A few weeks ago, I was at the doctor’s for an advanced pumping class and reviewed some of my blood sugars with a certified diabetes educator (CDE). The CDE asked, “Do you think some of your numbers may be affected by the celiac disease?”

I stopped at stared at her for a minute before I answered, “No. Why would they?”

She explained that if I wasn’t following the gluten-free diet, my absorption of foods wouldn’t be right and could affect my blood sugars. “I’m following the diet to a T,” I responded, harsher than needed, but true.

I am aware of the effects non gluten-free foods can have on my blood sugars as well as the plethora of other side effects that can occur. I did not want her or anyone else to think I wasn’t committed to the diet.

As many people know, eating a diet high in simple-carbohydrate foods can increase your blood glucose levels and cause spikes. Fortunately, the gluten-free diet can eliminate most of these foods from your meal plan, leaving you with more complex carbohydrates that are better for blood glucose control. Diabetics are encouraged stay away from substituted products like gluten-free cookies and pastries. However, even as a nutrition major, I can’t stop the occasional gluten-free cookie or sweets craving.

As a diabetic, it is important to take note that these substituted foods usually have more carbohydrates than their original counterparts. When carbohydrate counting, you need to give yourself enough insulin to cover the foods. While I cannot tell you from recent experience what a non gluten-free food does to my glucose levels, I can tell you that my A1C levels have improved since my commitment to the gluten-free diet.

Staying gluten-free can affect social situations at times, too. My friends know how much I prefer going to a restaurant with a gluten-free menu than one without. However, that doesn’t stop them from wanting to go to ones that do not have knowledge of gluten-free food handling or special allergy menus. My anxiety level can go through the roof when we plan dinners like these, but I am not afraid to go. I often call ahead, ask about any knowledge they have about the condition and pick out something from the menu ahead of time that I am certain will be safe. My family is great about cooking for me, especially my mom. When my dad was diagnosed with celiac about 3 years after me, she dedicated our entire house to being gluten-free and hasn’t turned back.

So, while most people would call my autoimmune diseases a “double whammy,” I wouldn’t disagree. But it does get easier as you go.

– Jordan

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