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Life with Diabetes: In College

June 17, 2011

My name is Caitlin Waters and I am a senior at Texas Tech University majoring in Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 6 years old and am currently interning at the JDRF Greater Dallas Chapter. I was recently asked to write this blog on Diabetes and College, and I thought to myself “Wow, what a great idea. I wish I had this resource before I went to college.” So here is my guide for diabetics on managing life as a college student.

{Last week we introduced you to Caitlin. If you missed it, be sure to check out her interview.}

 I am sure there are many teens out there about to be making that big step of going off to college. If your parents are anything like mine, which I’m sure they are, they are probably so nervous to send you off. I can still remember the day I left for college… my parents’ anxiety was at an all time high.

Of course my parents wanted me to go to college, but after finding out I would be attending Texas Tech in Lubbock, which is 5 hours away, they were suddenly apprehensive. I will admit I was even worried myself, as I am sure many of you are, which is totally natural. I promise it goes away. It’s just a new experience and you have to learn how to adapt to a new lifestyle.

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Going off to college is definitely a BIG step that is already daunting enough without diabetes, but trust me when I say that it’s not too bad if you follow these 6 easy steps!

1. Stay connected to your endocrinologist

I am so blessed to have a great endocrinologist that I work with that really cares about me. When I went off to college he gave me his personal cell phone number and told me if I ever needed to talk to him about my diabetes to just call.

I realize some endocrinologists may not feel comfortable doing that, but that’s ok! Before you go off to college ask for any tips they may have for you and also some recommendations for endocrinologists in the city you will be living in. That way in case anything happens you have a back-up doctor to go to that can work with you.

2. Keep your friends and professors informed

When I went to Texas Tech I decided I wanted to join a sorority. It was great because I instantly made tons of friends that I knew I could lean on. I have always had great friends at Tech that have always supported me and been my family away from home.

Remember that most people don’t know much about diabetes in general and more importantly what you’re going through. Make sure to always be open and tell the people around you if you’re feeling funny or if you just need their support. Check out this sample Letter to a Roommate which you can adapt for your needs!

With your professors, go up on the first day of class and introduce yourself and tell them you have diabetes. I would generally say “Hi! My name is Caitlin Waters and I was just going to let you know that I do have diabetes, although I don’t think it will be a problem, I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

Every professor I have ever had has been so nice about it and provided me with flexibility if I was having a bad diabetes management day. If your professors won’t provide flexibility, go to the Students with Disabilities office on campus to have them talk to your professor about everything. Learn more about how to form a relationship with your school’s Disabilities Office!

3. ALWAYS wear your medical ID bracelet

I always make sure I wear my diabetes medical ID bracelet. When I was younger I would rarely wear it just because they aren’t cute, but one day I stumbled upon the website Lauren’s Hope. They are so cute and best of all she donates to JDRF! Another good site is Petite Baubles which also sells sport ID bracelets.

Wearing the bracelet is so important because you never know where you will be and there may not be somebody around that knows you have diabetes, if something serious happens. I know we all hear this enough, but really, it is so important because it could potentially end up saving your life.

4. Pick a schedule that works for you

In college, one nice thing is that you get to make up your own schedule. Don’t try and do 4 or 5 classes back to back, if possible. Give yourself a breakfast and lunch break so that you are making sure you actually have time to sit down and eat something.

Make a schedule that works for you, and in my experience it is best to have a schedule that is as close to the same every day as it can be. This way you are eating around the same time and it’s easier to plan your insulin/boluses.

5. Make good food choices

I am sure some of you are worried about the dreaded “cafeteria food” that most college campuses have. Usually the food they offer isn’t healthy and can be packed with tons of carbohydrates, which isn’t good. I will say most campuses are getting better about providing healthier food such as salads and wraps, so try finding the healthier options.

Make sure that if you don’t know the carbohydrate content of some foods that you have a carbohydrate counting book, such as the Calorie King Book. If you have a smart phone you can even download one on your phone for a convenient guide. Some good ones I have found are Track 3, Atkins Carb Counter and CarbsControl which vary from free to $6 from the iTunes App Store. Always calculate all the carbohydrates you’re consuming so your insulin dosage will be correct.

And remember that you don’t always have to eat at the cafeteria. Try cooking your own meals so you can ensure you know the carbohydrate content and it’s something you like. — Diabetic friendly recipes coming soon to our blog!

Finally, make sure you have glucose tabs or a small snack with you at all times. Put one in your backpack, your gym bag and your car. You never want to be stranded somewhere with low blood sugar and no snack! Check out these Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating in College!

6. THE BIG ONE: Be extra cautious when drinking alcohol

Always remember that drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in most states, as it is in Texas, and for a person with type 1 diabetes, there are serious health risks. Of course, your parents and healthcare providers have probably already told you they wish you wouldn’t drink, but the reality is that many teens and college students do it anyway. If you are one of them, consuming alcohol as safely as possible–by staying awake and aware–is key.

Make sure if you plan on drinking that you are checking your blood sugar often. Alcohol has a different effect on everyone-some people experience more lows when drinking and others experience more highs. Before going to college make sure to ask your doctor what they recommend as far as taking an insulin shot or bolus for the drinks. Also, you may feel pressured to drink sometimes, and if that happens just tell them “no” and explain that with diabetes it is too risky. Check out these tips for Alcohol and Diabetes and Turning 21: Advice on Drinking.

To find more resources on living with Type 1 Diabetes in College or Preparing for College, be sure to check out our Living with Diabetes page.

*Please Note: As much as we love Caitlin, she is not certified to provide medical, legal or dietary advice and she recommends that you consult a doctor, lawyer or dietician before making any major decisions concerning your diabetes care, especially while away at college.

If you have any questions, feel free to post a message below or contact Caitlin at dallasintern@jdrf.org or by phone at (214) 373-9808. She would love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have. Caitlin is also looking for more blog post ideas, so let her know what you would like to see on our blog!

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To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna Mohr permalink
    June 17, 2011 4:14 pm

    Thank you so much Caitlin!

    My son is between his junior and senior years and we are doing college visits this summer. He really wants to goto college away from the Dallas area (San Marcos or Fayetteville which are each about 5 hours away) but I am pretty nervous about it.

    This help!

    Donna, Greg’s Mom

  2. Caitlin Waters permalink
    June 29, 2011 3:40 pm

    You’re welcome Donna! Glad I could help. Is there anything specific you or your son would be interested in for my next blog post?

    Caitlin Waters

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