Hearing Your Inner Nutritionist

Katherine Tomlinson rebels against a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the diabetes diet.



The clinic where my doctor works has an on-site nutritionist. When I was first diagnosed, I had a meeting with her. She gave me my meter, and showed me how to use it and then she gave me a list of vitamin supplements to purchase. So far so good.

And then we got to the handouts.

You know the handouts I mean—the ones with pie charts and pyramids and diagrams and lists of “good” and “bad” foods.

“You’re going to have to really cut down on your portions of potatoes,” she said while I scanned the handouts.

“I don’t eat potatoes anymore,” I said, sort of hoping for an ”attagirl”. (Just between us, giving up french fries was harder than giving up sweets. Especially seasoned Parmesan fries.)

“And have you heard of Ezekiel bread?” she asked, as if I hadn’t said anything.

“Yes,” I said. Before I could add that bread is off the table for me, she went on to tell me about the various bread-like options that are available.

“If you toast it, it’s pretty good,” she finished enthusiastically.

“Okay,” I said.

“No white rice,” she added.

“No problem,” I said.

She looked at me skeptically.

“I don’t like white rice,” I said. “I never eat it.” Which is true. My younger sister was allergic to milk and after my mother quit breastfeeding, she was fed a formula that was mixed with water boiled with rice. I had more rice as a kid than I ever wanted to eat. Pasta is another story.

I inwardly sighed and realized the conversation with the nutritionist was going downhill. Despite her best intentions, she was handing me the “one size fits all” option of nutritional advice. And you know what? That never worked for me buying clothes, and it hasn’t worked for me as an eating plan, either.

For example, oatmeal was on the suggested menu. It’s a whole grain (unless you buy instant oatmeal) and its cholesterol-fighting properties are well known. Practically every diabetic eating plan has oatmeal in there somewhere.

Now, I’m not a fan of oatmeal. I think it is only truly edible as an ingredient in oatmeal cookies, but I was willing to give it a shot. And I’m not talking about a big bowl with chopped apples and walnuts and brown sugar and cream. I ate it hardcore—naked and gelatinous and kind of gray. It was not the most appetizing breakfast, but I kept telling myself that it’s fuel, not fun.

Imagine my surprise when my blood sugar shot up after my first bowl. In fact, every time afterwards that I ate oatmeal for breakfast, my postprandial numbers shot up. So I switched to a breakfast of protein with a small (really small) amount of fruit and those numbers flattened out like magic.

Also on the recommended list were low-fat dairy products. Now, I was never the girl who sat down with a piece of cake and an ice-cold glass of milk. In fact, I can actually tell you the last time I drank a whole glass of milk; it was my freshman year in college and I don’t really know what possessed me to pick up the little waxy carton as I went through the cafeteria line.

But I do eat yogurt and I do eat cheese. I understood why the nutritionist was pushing the low-fat versions—weight loss is step one when you’re overweight and diabetic—but I was already losing weight. There also is growing scientific evidence suggesting the process of de-fatting foods sometimes can lead to your body processing calories inefficiently. Greek yogurt mixed with chopped berries became a mainstay of my meal plans. I eat the full-fat kind and my cholesterol is fine, and so is my blood sugar.

I know that I don’t know everything (There are some people who might be surprised to hear me admit that). And I know that managing diabetes is a team effort. I am really grateful to the team I have working on my behalf. But I also know that every body reacts differently to different foods, and I’m the one who knows my body best.

And my body does not need oatmeal. Thank God.

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Katherine Tomlinson is a former magazine writer and editor who transitioned to online publications at the beginning of the millennium and has never looked back. She writes for sites as diverse as BellaOnline, Criminal Elements, Gourmet Food Garden, L.A. Reviews, and Horror Snark. She is the author of A Study Guide to Heart of Darkness and several short story collections, including Suicide Blonde, Toxic Reality, and Just Another Day in Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.