For most young students, college is their first real taste of independence. “College can be overwhelming already”, said Dr. Charles Frost with CMC Primary Care, “but with added diabetes, it could be a lot more to handle.” For some students with type 1 diabetes this might be the first time monitoring their diabetes on their own.
Many students, at least for their first year, often don’t have the tools needed to prepare their own food and must rely on a student meal plan. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the vast array of food at your disposal. Not to mention, going from home to college often results in a new daily schedule, including new mealtimes.
Understanding Type I Diabetes
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels. It occurs when the body fails to produce or properly utilize insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. There are primarily two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This autoimmune response leaves the body unable to produce sufficient insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood and requires lifelong insulin therapy.
How you and your child can prepare for this new journey
- Bring more than several months’ worth of supplies. You should come with extra insulin, pumps, CGM, testing supplies and low blood sugar supplies.
- Invest in an alert bracelet. Nurse Practitioner, Rachel Collins, with CMC Endocrinology encourages students to invest in an alert bracelet that can be worn at all times in case of an emergency in which they are not able to respond.
- Set up your new pharmacy. Locate a pharmacy near campus, update your shipping address and make sure there’s a way you can access your supplies.
- Set up your living space. Make sure your dorm, or other living quarters, has space and storage for your supplies. You might need a mini fridge for insulin, or containers to separate your low blood sugar snacks from any shared snacks.
- Inform your peers. Have a conversation with your peers, RA, professors and advisors about how to identify and help you if you have abnormal blood sugar levels. Know what medical resources are available on campus. The Office of Disability Services is a great place to start.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle while at school.
- Navigating the dining hall. Most universities allow students to access menus online. Take a look at your school’s dining options and prepare some healthier options ahead of time. It’s not about eating less…It’s about eating more of the right things!
- Registered dietitian, Courtney Fuller, says “Build your meals with moderate portion sizes following the plate method. One half non-starchy vegetable, one fourth lean protein, and the remaining one fourth low glycemic carbohydrates, such as whole grains.”
- Have fallback options you can have daily, especially when the main food options won’t work for you.
- Ask the staff! Let them know you have dietary needs and ask if they have options for you. Many universities have registered dietitians on staff that are willing to work with you as you are navigating your new life at school.
- Stay stacked with snacks. Pack your backpack with snacks.
- Low carb snack options on the go could include Jerky, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, Greek yogurt, nuts, veggies, veggie crisps, small portions of fruit with nut butter, hummus.
- Blood-sugar boosting snacks: raisins, juice box, candy, fruit, granola bars, trail mix, honey.
- Drinking. It’s safe to say in most cases, avoiding alcohol is the healthy choice. However, in college, that isn’t always realistic. If you are 21+, have type 1 diabetes and are choosing to go out for drinks, here’s what you should remember…
- Have your supplies on you.
- Eat before you drink. Pair a protein with your drink.
- Continue to monitor your blood levels before, during and after drinking.
- Go out with a trusted friend who knows you’re a person with diabetes and how to help.
- Go for drinks with less sugar. Swap a margarita for a tequila soda with lime.
- Alternate between alcohol and water.
- Stay active. Find movement options you enjoy doing and best practices for keeping your blood sugar in check. Try workout classes with friends, while monitoring your levels & being prepared to treat hypoglycemia. Don’t be afraid to carry a carbohydrate on runs in case you have a low blood sugar. Tell your trainer you’re a person with diabetes and let him/her know you may have to step out or sit down. Prepare yourself & those around you in case, but don’t hold yourself back from trying new things!
How to talk openly about your diabetes
Millions of Americans are living with type 1 diabetes. Your new roommate or friend from class may not share your experience, but you can give them the chance to understand. Some students with diabetes say the lack of knowledge around type 1 diabetes is what worries them the most when starting off in a new place. Tell your friends what type 1 diabetes looks like for you. Explain some of those supplies you carry around and why they are necessary. Give your peers the chance to understand your habits. How can they identify when your blood sugar levels are abnormal, and how can they help?
You are not alone!
There are plenty of resources on-campus, at your local healthcare clinic and online.
“A lot of students will likely stay in touch with their home endocrinologist or Primary Care Provider and have checkups when they are visiting home, but having a medical team close to where the individual is attending college would be a big plus should any issues arise.” Dr. Frost told us.
Supporting Students with Diabetes
Remember, staying proactive, informed, and seeking professional guidance are key to successfully managing diabetes and achieving your long-term health goals. At CMC Endocrinology, we are excited to offer top-notch treatments and service our Coastal Carolina University students can depend on. Call 843-234-9700 for more information about our practice and the physician referral process or keep your health in check with one of our primary care providers.