It’s my birthday and I’ll eat cake if I want to. People with diabetes should blow out candles like everyone else. They have a lot to celebrate.
Sure our bloodstreams need medical intervention in order to process frosting flowers. But birthday cakes are a symbol of being one more year older and, hopefully, wiser. (Especially if you calculate the carbohydrates of your slice accurately.)
365 days of shots and boluses, carb counting, blood sugar testing, doctor visits, and more – these aren’t the things we celebrate. Doing them all successfully is. One more year of living a full life is something to be proud of. Plus, you can’t stick a candle in kale chips. It’s simply not feasible.
Now this is where I caveat: I would never say it’s okay for anyone and everyone to eat cake, particularly a person with diabetes. It’s the type of thing you need to know your body, how it reacts to different amounts of fats and sugar, and use your best judgment. But, technically, cake isn’t healthy for anyone. We should all eat it in moderation, whether it’s our birthday, wedding day, or Wednesday.
The thing that I can’t stand is when other people take it upon themselves as to whether I should eat cake at all. After all, many average-sized cupcakes have less carbohydrate than a banana. I have never had anyone question whether or not it’s a good idea for me to eat the banana. And this is despite the fact that just half a banana is enough to make my blood glucose spike. That’s carbohydrate perception vs. carbohydrate reality.
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Now that I’m older, people do not confront my diet choices as much. At least, not to my face. When I was growing up it was another story. In fourth grade I was particularly upset when the class was celebrating someone’s birthday. The well-meaning mother of the birthday child brought homemade cupcakes. Everyone in the class got one; she gave me a pencil.
I can still feel the heaviness in the pit of my stomach for being singled out, feeling so isolated for something that was not within my control. To this day, every time one of my sons get a pencil in his goodie bag, I cringe. If she was going to take it upon herself to dictate my diet, I do wish she brought a more fun alternative like stickers or Silly Putty. Chewing on a pencil isn’t festive. Neither are saltines wrapped in wrapping paper. (Another mother’s “festive” substitute. I wish I were kidding.)
As a parent, I can’t imagine what possessed these women. In their defense, that was the time when some carbohydrates were “bad” and others were called “fruits.” Now we know they are both carbohydrates. You measure and count them. You bolus. You try not to eat too many with no nutritional value. You move on. But, honestly, pencils and saltines? There’s a reason people don’t stick birthday candles in those either.
Whether you’re a fourth grader or approaching forty, I believe that enjoying some occasional cake is a good thing. After a year of working hard to stay healthy, I’ve earned it. That’s why, on the 13th of October, I’m going to have my family dim the lights and sing off tune. Happy birthday to me!
Lisa Taylor is a freelance writer, wife, and mother of two. For thirty years (and counting), she’s been living with type 1.