Type 1 Diabetes and the power of restraint

There is a Jewish teaching that says: when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit {fifteen grams of carbohydrates} a shift in the universe took place. From that day there would be an infusion of good and bad. No longer would they be separated elements but rather no good without bad and no bad without good.

How such an intense outcome can result from the simple act of eating a fruit is difficult to understand. Had it been the flesh of abused animals or cocoa beans farmed through illegal labor, palm oil produced through environmental destruction, perhaps there would be more relatability. But a good juicy apple? What’s the issue? I obtained the answer to this overnight and not by choice.

Six months ago, our six year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune condition, carried in the gene which can present itself at any time, often at an early age. It’s a game changer. In my naivety, I always imagined Diabetes to be a condition linked to an unhealthy lifestyle. So to hear that our son who seemed perfectly healthy has a chronic condition, was shattering.

From that day our role as parents amplified significantly. My wife and I became both student and teacher, we had to absorb and to administrate. Unlike Type 2 Diabetes which is easily managed and, with a robust commitment to a healthy lifestyle can be reversed, T1D requires an ongoing monitoring and managing of the blood glucose levels. To explain this in short: any food or drink (beside for protein and water) which enters the body, needs to be counteracted through an external intake of insulin. ‘Any food’ really means ‘all food’ and so throughout the day there is a calculated process that takes place in which all carbohydrates are estimated and the correct amount of insulin is administered. Too little insulin would result in a high blood sugar level and too much insulin would result in a low blood sugar level, both of which are problematic and would require management and intervention to correct.

The simple act of eating transformed. For a six year old, the challenge surrounding this condition is intense and requires a continuous and bottomless commitment to restraining, calculating and maneuvering the intake of food and drink.

Knowing an apple in its simple form – a nutritious and natural fruit – changed to an object that contains carbohydrates and can only be eaten with an intake of insulin. The same is the case for most other foods from fruits and vegetables to bread and yoghurt, milk, rice, pasta and majority of staple items which we would consume without giving much thought. One could appreciate that the challenge of T1D carries a lot of weight. Trying to get children to hold back from bad foods is an ongoing difficulty that we all face on a daily basis but trying to get your child to hold back from a nutritious food simply does not make sense. Organic berries, home grown carrots, gluten free oats, amongst most of all other good foods, contains carbohydrates (good carbs but carbs nonetheless) and therefore if not included in the insulin calculation it cannot be eaten without an effect.

Jewish living and environments are synonymous with food. Our family life at home gravitates around the kitchen, it’s the heart of the home where the discussions and debates take place while patiently (not always) waiting for dinner, a sense of anticipation in the ‘magic’ of moms cooking. To begin calculating these homely experiences has taken a lot of getting used to.

Our world offers us accessibility to everything at our fingertips, both the good and the bad. It seems that the ease of convenience and availability to so much can blur the lines between positive and negative, even with noble intentions. As an example, a journey through the isles of a supermarket will reveal that many items which are labeled as ‘healthy foods’ is often not the case.

However, in the case of T1D there is no room for blurred lines, the ingredients will talk for themselves, immediately. The outcome being that all intake is anticipated and consumed with consciousness and care and this establishes a wholesome sensitivity to food, its origins and its effect in our lives.

As a result, at a very young age, our son began to learn the power of ‘restraint’ and defining it as a ‘power’ is accurate.

‘Restraint’ has now become a keyword in our lives and through my admiration and respect for my son, I am beginning to learn that the excessive availability to all things in our universe is a daily test that can result in great things. The more I learn and understand T1D, the quicker I realize that this is indeed a ‘negative’ which ultimately contains a strong force of ‘positive’. Our son has learned to conquer his desire for foods which are not good for him and this has positively affected his personality to internalize this reality beyond food as well. A character trait which in its essence offers so much value in a world where it is not easy to ‘hold back’.

For me, this is the lesson of the forbidden fruit. The test for Adam and Eve was one of restraint, and as a result of their failure, lines between good and bad were blurred. However, we have been given the ability to restrain, the capability to be conscious and the sensitivity to acknowledge and think about all that we include in our lives and it is with this ability that we can begin to decipher the difference between good and bad and the gift to be able to make strong and informed decisions.

Side note: In the US, there are over 1.25 million people living with Type 1 Diabetes and 40,000 people are diagnosed every year. Although a serious disease, long term management options continue to evolve and those with T1D have robust, full and active lives. Major innovations, significant research and development is in place towards finding a cure. For more information go to www.jdrf.org

About the Author
Daniel has held various roles in Jewish organizations and, in between, pursues entrepreneurial and creative interests. He believes deeply in Jewish peoplehood.
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