A Diabetes Rebellion: An Excerpt from The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes


Editor’s note: We’re very excited to share with you a wonderful excerpt from Amy Stockwell Mercer’s new book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes.   

From Chapter 4: Eating Disorders and Body Image

The dining hall of my boarding school was in the same building as the basketball court, locker rooms, and the athletic department, and the stench of sweat-soaked equipment always mingled with the spaghetti sauce and garlic bread from the kitchen. One night, during the fall of my sophomore year, I stood in the line for dinner behind Kate, a girl from New York City. She turned around and asked if I wanted to study biology with her that night. I was thrilled because she was popular. She was rich, beautiful, and always surrounded by a group of friends. I remember watching her fill her plate with noodles and meat sauce and thought, maybe just this once, taking a ladle full of the “forbidden noodles.”

I followed her to her table and then we sat down to eat spaghetti. When she went back for seconds, I was surprised, but followed her again. I’d had diabetes for only a year, but I knew spaghetti was on the “bad list” of foods at 42 grams of carbs per serving. But it tasted so good that I ate every drop of the thick tomato sauce with warm, spicy meatballs and crunchy garlic bread (24 grams) dripping with butter. I wondered if Kate knew that I was diabetic and not supposed to eat all this food. When we cleaned our plates again, ignoring everyone else at the table, Kate said it was time to go so I followed her out of the dining hall and down the path toward her dorm to study.

When we got to her dorm, she said that she was going to order pizza. I remembered thinking that that was strange, because I was already full from the pasta, but I was thrilled to be hanging out with her and didn’t ask any questions. After a while, the pizza arrived (20 grams of carbs per slice; pizza is high on the glycemic index and can cause unstable blood glucose levels ), and the smell filled the room. I couldn’t resist. I wasn’t hungry, but I took the slice that Kate handed me.  We talked about biology, and when the pizza was gone, Kate said she wanted a dessert. Grabbing my arm, we walked across the campus to the minimart. Kate bought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (18 grams of carbs per serving) and cigarettes. I was full and knew the ice cream would be too much, that my blood sugar would skyrocket, but Kate reached over and grabbed my elbow, guiding me up the steps of her dorm. We ate the ice cream side by side on her bed with our biology book open in front of us. When the tub of ice cream was empty, Kate said, “let’s go,” I didn’t ask any questions.

We walked through the dark streets of the campus. The tree-lined road was empty and growing dark. I looked around and wondered where everyone was. Where were the teachers who would ask us what we were doing, and why weren’t we in study hall? We reached the art building and I followed Kate to the bathroom. She opened the door and turned on a light. The room was small and on the counter, there were paint brushes left out to dry. With the door closed and locked, I felt  claustrophobic, but there was nowhere to go. Kate reached under the cabinet and pulled out a toothbrush. “Will you hold it?” she said. She meant her hair. I must have looked at her strangely because after that she said, “I’m not going to get fat from all that food, are you?” I grabbed a fistful of her thick brown hair while she leaned over the toilet, and then shoved the toothbrush down her throat and gagged. The sound echoed off the walls and the food we’d eaten sat like a cement brick in my stomach. She gagged again and again, flushing each time after she’d thrown up. I closed my eyes. When she was done, I let go of her hair. Kate splashed water on her face and handed me an extra toothbrush.

“Your turn,” she said. I realized that her stomach was emptied out, free of all the calories we’d consumed, and that mine would stay full.

My instinct was to say that I couldn’t throw up what I’d eaten because I had diabetes, but I knew that diabetes also meant that I should never have eaten all that food in the first place. But it felt so good to eat without thinking, to eat the foods that were on the bad list: pasta, pizza, and ice cream. Foods that I’d missed on my restricted diet, foods that tasted so good. Eating those foods with Kate was my first diabetes rebellion and for a brief time, it felt good. But walking back to my dorm in the dark, my stomach bloated, I realized what I’d done and was scared. I was scared of getting low, scared of being high, and scared that having diabetes meant that I couldn’t follow Kate’s footsteps.

For years, I wondered why Kate picked me that night. I wondered if she saw something in me and knew that I would follow her, or maybe, she knew that I wouldn’t ask any questions.

The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes is available on Amazon.

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maxine winer
maxine winer
11 years ago

After reading this essay, I’m not sure that the food temptation was greater than the author’s desire to be part of a “popular group.”  Obviously the writer has thought about this incident and understands herself much better than she did when she was a sophomore in college.

11 years ago

what a frightening experience. i too want to read this book.

dan roth
dan roth
11 years ago

Excellent. Gonna have to get this book for some friends. 

11 years ago

It’s important to write — and write well, as this author has done — about the hold that food has on the mind, particularly when food, at least certain ingredients and dishes, can be major health risks. I’ve always likened certain food to heroin. It’s helped to think about how damaging these things can be to me, and how I’d rather not think of myself as a heroin addict ruining his level of health by choice.

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