Keeping diabetes away from my children, as a diabetic mother

5
minute read
December 19, 2022
2 children play outside, running through fallen leaves.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story.

For a food lover with a sweet tooth, diabetes can seem like a death sentence; how can you live when you can’t just indulge in your favourite dessert or an ice cream? As a diabetic, your whole life has to be reorganised around controlling your blood glucose level.

Interestingly, did you know your sweet tooth can be inherited by your children? That it’s literally ingrained in their DNA?

I found this hard to believe myself, but a study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh proved it – Food preference traits, which determine your food choices, are part of your DNA.

As a parent that knows diabetes runs in the family, this presents an ongoing challenge. My children will inherit my sweet tooth, and I need to keep diabetes away from them for as long as possible.

Here are some of the modifications I make to my children’s lifestyle to help them avoid diabetes.

1. Reduce screen time and increase outdoor playtime

These days, screens are an integral part of our kids’ lives, keeping them from being physically active. And it’s a real struggle to try and tell them when to stop using a screen.

What I do is replace screen time with outdoor playtime. My kids love the outdoors, so rather than simply telling them they’re not allowed to keep sitting with their screens, I incentivise them to go outside to a park or playground. This makes it feel like a ‘treat’ rather than a ‘punishment’, and it works every time.

2. Increase physical activity even more

I try to add even more physical activity to my kids’ routines by asking them to help around the house with everyday chores. For example, helping wash the cars, sweeping and dusting the house, laying the table for dinner and clearing it afterwards, picking up laundry, etc.

These seemingly simple tasks not only provide some physical activity for the kids but also nurture the spirit of helping. And I thank them very generously for whatever help they provide, keeping them motivated.

3. Provide healthy alternatives

You can’t simply remove a food item from a kid’s diet. You have to replace it somehow, because otherwise they’ll feel the loss terribly.

For example, an adult could quit donuts for life with ease, but for a kid, it’s like taking away a portion of sunshine.

My policy is to encourage healthy snacks instead of sugary ones, swapping them out whenever I get a chance. I haven’t succeeded 100% yet, but I put in a lot of effort, and I’m making progress. Fruit salads, popcorn, nuts, and granola bars are just a few of the healthy alternatives I keep handy at all times.

4. Manage weight

It’s vital to maintain an ideal weight; obesity is a high-risk factor for developing diabetes and should be avoided at all costs.

My kids are roughly 4-5 kgs over their target weight, and I’m working with them to help reduce it. In addition to the increased physical activity I’ve built into their routines, I also watch their eating habits and try to intervene wherever possible.

5. Introduce a no-soda policy

This one’s a hard nut to crack, but it pays off well in the end. A single can of soda contains up to 39 grams of sugar, and my children can easily consume up to 3 cans in a day – That’s a lot of sugar on top of meals.

My initial target is to reduce my kids’ consumption of soda to 1 can every 2-3 days.

In time, I intend to slowly cut it back more and more and eventually eliminate it entirely (wish me luck!)

6. Discourage eating between meals

The main reason children put on weight despite their active metabolisms is that they snack too often.

To counter this I strongly discourage my kids from snacking in between meals. If they absolutely have to eat a snack I negotiate with them, and try to make that snack a piece of fruit instead of biscuits or crisps.

7. Replace food excursions with activity-based excursions

Last but not least is to try and replace food outings with outdoor activities.

As a family, we love to dine out on special occasions like birthdays, good result days, bonus days, etc. But I know we can’t have too many of these, so I try to replace them with a more active experience.

For example, swapping a meal in a restaurant with a picnic or going camping. Having a picnic means my children can run around and get physically active. On a camping trip, we’ll eat good food but we’ll hike too, adding physical activity to the fun.

Final thoughts

This list isn’t exhaustive, and it’s also not terribly rigid.

I’m trying to make as many changes as possible to help my kids stay healthy and active. I’ve achieved success in some, but I also recognise that a lot of the time, it will be impossible. You can’t just restrict sweet treats from children.

So, I try not to be too hard on them and I let an occasional cake, donut, or ice cream slip through – I just silently add an episode of physical activity to their day to make up for the sugar rush.

It can be hard work. But lifestyle modification goes a long way in preventing and controlling diabetes. The sooner you can start, the better!

Graphic of a female profile picture.
Amna Bajwa
Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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