After a wonderful holiday break I returned to Boston last weekend and began my second semester of grad school. As indicated by my lack of blog posts the past few months, I was completely consumed by school during my first semester. Returning to the classroom after six years to take a full load of grad-level courses left me with very little time to think straight, much less blog. However, the good news is that I loved my first semester and feel energized to be starting my next. What could be better than reading, writing and studying about food day in and day out?
One of the things that drew me to this program is my fascination with humans’ relationship with food. Food is often overlooked as something to study because it is such a necessity, so everyday. But I find the way people relate to and identify themselves through food to be an extremely interesting subject area.
The relationship with food is even more complex for people with diabetes. Thinking about food is constant – from counting the carbs of everything consumed to guessing how something will affect blood glucose. For those with diabetes, food can fluctuate between being seen as the savior and the enemy depending on the latest blood glucose reading.
Because of my interest in the relationship people with diabetes have with food I decided to study this area further in one of my classes last semester. My research focused on how cultural food identity, or how people identify themselves culturally through their food choices, affects the management of type 2 diabetes.
I read through study after study that discussed how people with type 2 diabetes struggled to change their diets after diagnosis because the health professionals they were working with did not take their culture into consideration when offering nutritional advice. Too often the health professionals did not understand the patients’ cultural background or did not think about it when discussing dietary options. Because culture influences everything from the ingredients someone uses to the way they prepare and consume food, however, this is crucial.
I discovered a couple of successful type 2 diabetes pilot programs, including one on the southern border of Texas and one in rural South Carolina, that were designed to fit the needs of the specific communities. Every aspect of each program was developed based on the participants’ culture. For example, when talking about food the health professionals used food items and ingredients that the participants were accustomed to and presented cooking demonstrations of healthier versions of traditional dishes. This focus on culture had an extremely positive impact. The pilot program participants had much more success improving their dietary behaviors and lowering their A1Cs than those in traditional programs.
I could go on and on about my research (and I did in 20-plus pages), but I don’t want to be a bore. However, I will say that as I continue in the program, and continue to be faced with daunting research papers, I hope to look at the diabetes community again. There are so many areas related to diabetes and food worth studying that could help health professionals work with diabetes patients in more effective ways.