How Instagram – and Eating Vegan – Is Helping Create a Type 1 Diabetes Patient Community

by Marianne Beirne ***

In today’s socially connected world, people living with medical conditions don’t have far to look to find others sharing their experiences. These growing patient communities have given rise to thousands of websites, blogs, discussion and online groups – all with the goal of sharing ideas and understanding about managing, and even thriving, with medical diseases or disabilities. One unexpected patient online forum emerging today is within Instagram. How does an essentially visual medium create medical communities? I caught up with Michelle Peterson from t1dveganMama to learn how she’s using social media to connect with others who have type 1 diabetes.

What got you started posting on Instagram?

Initially I created an Instagram account to follow my friends’ activities. After a time I started following a few people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D.) I found their posts interesting because they were sharing information about the same things I was experiencing. It was actually my 14-year-old daughter’s idea to set up an Instagram account focused on living with T1D and eating a vegan diet.

What are some of the challenges living with type 1 diabetes?

I have had T1D for 46 years. It is a 24/7/365 disease. There are no breaks. You need to be pay attention to it constantly. While the technology for managing diabetes has improved tremendously over the years, you still need to make smart decisions about what you eat, when you eat, how much you exercise, when you exercise and how much insulin to take. You can do something one day and have beautiful, stable blood sugar levels, and do the exact same thing the next day and have blood sugar levels all over the place.

How long have you been a vegan?

Being vegan is fairly new to me. I tried it off and on in the past, but always missed cheese and seafood. About two months ago I transitioned to a totally vegan diet after my daughter began eating vegan. Now I’m not missing cheese or seafood! My husband has now started eating vegan too, but my two boys are not quite there yet.

Do you have some favorite vegan recipes?

I have found a lot of very good recipes on the Forks Over Knives website. White bean and avocado wraps are a favorite for my family. I also found a banana nut muffin recipe that is a hit.

white bean and avocado wrap

With the holidays coming, big meals and festive gatherings will abound. How do you manage these holiday meals – both as a vegan and a person with diabetes?

When I’m hosting, I don’t plan the entire meal around my diabetes. Nor do I plan to serve everything vegan. I serve a variety of options. I can eat anything; I just need to understand the impact of food on my blood sugar level. Many people think people with diabetes can’t eat sugar. That’s not true. I love this meme that says what people with diabetes can’t eat:

  1. Poison
  2. Cookies with poison

(diabetes humor)

What is your reaction to the growth of your Instagram following?

It’s rewarding. For me, having this network of people trying to manage diabetes well and stay healthy feels very supportive. People share some of the same thoughts about managing diabetes that I have. It’s validating. And, yes, I have T1Ds who are also vegans following me.

What advice do you have for people living with type 1 diabetes?

Make sure you have a good support system. It’s easy to feel alone and like no one understands what you are going through. Type 1 diabetes is often misunderstood, so educate people on what it is and what it isn’t. Be sure to align yourself with an excellent care team that you can reach out to when you need help with managing your diabetes. My last recommendation is that you don’t beat yourself up when your blood sugars are not doing what you want them to do. That’s going to happen, so focus on what you might do next to try to have the best control possible.

You can follow t1dveganmama too! Check out her tips for living with type 1 diabetes and a healthy vegan diet.

And don’t forget — Tuesday, Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day. Learn more about type 1 diabetes from the American Diabetes Association and the JDRF TypeOneNation T1D support group.

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