Diabetic College Students Face Special Challenges

"Instances occur almost every week when a group of friends will be ordering pizza at a time when I am unable to eat, and I am forced into either eating the pizza or leaving friends to avoid [food] that will spike my blood sugar," Friendly said.

The good news is that diabetic students can often find support through online social networking sites like Facebook, which boasts more than 500 groups dedicates to diabetes.

Other students like Gilbert and Friendly support each other through campus clubs.

"It was really nice to be able to take out my blood meter and test [my glucose level] without people looking at me or pretending not to look at me," Gilbert said.

"The idea," added Friendly, "was that having support from those around you going through the same daily struggles makes the challenges of diabetes a lot easier to get through."

Making the Transition

Such support may be crucial — particularly considering the fact that before college, most students' parents are responsible for shopping and managing food preparation in their households.

"The most challenging part of the transition [is] having to make those choices myself," Gilbert said.

"[Diabetics] give up control of how food is prepared when [they] are in a cafeteria, and that can be very frustrating," said Stacey Snelling, associate professor of education, teaching and health at American University in Washington, D.C.

While some students may become overly cautious in their food choices, others may rebel against their normally strict diets, putting themselves in danger.

"The challenge is that everything looks good in the cafeteria," Snelling said. But she adds that there are ways to deal with the temptation.

For example, she notes, "pizza is a fine food [and] it's not so problematic if you balance it out with other foods," like a salad or fruit.

And other features of campus life may add to the difficulty of the transition from home. Snelling and Drexler agree that busy schedules cause many diabetic students to eat at irregular times.

In addition, even getting used to walking the grounds of a large campus can be an adjustment.

"They are accumulating more exercise — and their blood sugars fluctuate more so than they did in high school."

To help combat the obstacles diabetics face on campus, organizations like The American Diabetes Association and others provide valuable nutrition tips online.

The overall rule of thumb is to incorporate a lot of variety, whole grains and protein into meals. The University of Texas' Wells Gunner suggests that students substitute processed grain products like white bread and pasta with whole grain options instead.

Gilbert agrees that having these foods on hand is a huge help for her. "Having healthier snacks in my [dorm] room is enough to keep me from going to get a burrito or pizza at one in the morning."

Juice boxes, hard candies and fresh fruit can be good choices for combating low blood sugars. In dorms with little more than a mini-fridge, these are good choices because they can be kept at room temperature and easily tossed into a backpack before class.

And even on a college campus, following a diabetic diet can be easier and more widely accepted than many think.

"Everyone can benefit from eating like a diabetic," said Wells Gunner. "It can be a very healthy diet because it's balanced."

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