Early this September, my husband and I boarded a flight to Milan, Italy. Our seatmate was the maître d’ of Galatoire’s, an excellent New Orleans restaurant. After talking food and wine for an hour or so, dinner was served.
I had ordered a special vegetarian meal, since I don’t eat meat and often find the vegetarian selections more diabetes friendly. But when I pulled back the foil, I discovered a few dried pieces of tofu scattered over a pile of white rice.
My seatmate watched as I pushed aside the meal and searched my carry-on for a protein bar.
“Type 2 diabetes,” I said. He nodded: “Me too.”
He reached beneath his seat and pulled out a large bag of precut vegetables, nuts and cheese, which he offered to me.
“At least we won’t starve,” he said.
“How will you handle your diabetes in Italy?” I asked.
He sighed. “Try?”
Travelling with diabetes can be a minefield. While airport usually have some healthy food options, once you’re up in the air it’s mostly a case of unidentified sauces and large helpings of starches. Carrying your own food seems the best alternative.
But man and woman cannot live on carrots and cheddar alone. And in Italy, who would want to? Part of the pleasure of travelling is trying out new cuisines. And since this trip marked our 35th wedding anniversary, it also was to include a 7-course splurge meal at a very fancy Milanese restaurant.
In short, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to keep my blood sugars in check. And it wasn’t only food. I’d be missing my bicycle and weight workouts and jet lag would interfere with my normal sleep schedule. All of which added stress to the mix, which never helps my readings.
I wish I could say that all of this worry was unnecessary and that my sugars stayed steady and stable. But though my husband and I clocked an average of 15,000 to 20,000 steps per day, my metabolism was upended.
The results were not pretty.
Within a single day in Milan, my readings could range from a morning low of 108 to a pre-lunch high of 267, stay high throughout the day and dip to 150 before dinner. For someone whose sugars usually stay between 100 and 130 per day, it was disturbing and exhausting.
I tried to be careful. At breakfast, I limited myself to half a croissant or roll, hurrying out of sweet smelling bakeries before my resistance broke down. Lunches were salads with lots of vegetables and a little cheese or fish, and dinner was more fish and vegetables (we were in Northern Italy where fish and risotto are far more common than pastas and pizzas).
But I wasn’t a saint. There were Aperol Spritzes, pinkish drinks consumed like water across Milan, always served with tasty little snacks of olives, tiny puff pastries, and salty cheese. There were the gelatos that beckoned on every corner, dark chocolates and sea salt caramels calling my name.
A week later, as I sat in the airport for the return trip home, my head was full of visions of the Last Supper, a sparkling Lake Como, the extraordinary Milan Duomo. And that amazing 7-course meal.
I wished my sugars had been better, but I didn’t have too many regrets. I had tried as much as I could, and now, on the plane home, I was headed back to exercise and healthy eating. In short, back to reality.