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Coping with Diabetes- Helpful Information

Teens and Diabetes

 Dr. Carol Hartman with patient and mother
A glimpse into the Washington National's Diabetes Care Complex kitchen at Children's National.

Although the teenage years can be a challenge for any child as he/she goes through sexual and emotional changes, it can be especially trying for adolescents with diabetes. Adolescents inherently want to fit in. Being different in any way from his/her peers can be emotionally stressful, especially for the teenager.

The teen who previously complied very well with his/her diabetes management plan may now become rebellious and refuse to comply. He/she may also experience denial of the disease, or display increasingly aggressive behavior in reaction to the stress of managing diabetes.

One aspect of diabetes management, blood sugar control, is especially hard during adolescence. Researchers believe the growth hormone produced during adolescence to stimulate bone and muscle growth may also act as an anti-insulin agent. Blood sugar levels become harder to control, resulting in blood sugar levels that swing from too low to too high. This lack of control over blood sugar levels can be very frustrating for your teenager.

Helping your teenager cope

Open communication between you and your teenager with diabetes is important during these years. You should recognize that your teenager wants to be treated as an adult, even if that means letting him/her take charge of his/her own diabetes management plan. Parents should also recognize that teenagers need:

  • Spontaneity
    Adolescence is a time of spontaneity, such as stopping for pizza after school. However, the teenager with diabetes also needs to realize that managing his/her diabetes successfully will give him/her the flexibility that is craved.
  • Control
    Teenagers want to be in charge of their own lives and create their own identities. To achieve this control, the teenager will test limits. However, a teenager with diabetes can learn that to exert control over his/her diabetes, he/she learns to gain control over other parts of life.

Diet and Diabetes

Diabetes management and meal planning

It is important to learn about proper meal-planning when your child has diabetes. This will become especially important when a child is on his or her own, like in college. The type and amount of food your child eats affects his/her blood sugar levels. If your child eats too much, his/her blood sugar may go up too high. Also, if your child skips meals, his/her blood sugar may go too low. Good blood sugar control requires a balance of food, exercise, and medication. Healthy meals include foods that contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for children. Carbohydrates in foods affect the body's blood sugar the most. The body turns carbohydrates into blood sugar. If your child eats too many foods with carbohydrate, then his/her blood sugar can go too high. A dietitian can help you decide how much carbohydrate your child needs each day. About half the calories your child eats should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate foods should be included with each meal and snack. Sources of carbohydrates include the following:

  • Breads, crackers, and cereals
  • Pasta, rice, and grains
  • Vegetables
  • Milk and milk products
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Sugar, honey, jelly, and syrup

What are sugars?

Sugar is also a carbohydrate. It does not affect your child's blood sugar any differently than other carbohydrates do. Your child can eat sweets and sugars if they are counted as part of the daily carbohydrate intake. Sweets and sugar do not have many vitamins or minerals, so they should be eaten in small amounts.

Protein and fat in your child's diet

Protein and fat do not affect the body's blood sugar level as much as carbohydrates. However, the amount of protein and fat in your child's diet may need to be counted as it is important for your child to eat the appropriate amount of protein and fat. Too much fat can increase your child's risk for heart disease and may make it difficult for your child to maintain a healthy weight. Your child's dietitian can help you decide how much protein and fat your child needs. Sources of protein include the following:

  • Beef, pork, and lamb
  • Fish and seafood
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter
  • Butter and margarine
  • Oils and shortening
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream and cream cheese
  • Salad dressing
  • Bacon
  • Nuts and seeds

There are also foods that have carbohydrate, protein and fat. These foods can affect your child's blood sugar similar to other foods with carbohydrates:

  • Pizza
  • Casseroles
  • Stew and soups
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Beans
  • Sweets (cakes, pies, cookies, chocolate, ice cream)
  • Snack foods (chips, snack cakes, pudding)

A dietitian can help you find the meal-plan that works best for your child.

Sample menu plan


  • 1/2 cup cereal
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 slice toast
  • 1 tsp. margarine
  • 1/2 cup orange juice 


  • hamburger
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 apple
  • carrot sticks
  • 1 cup milk 


  • chicken breast & wing
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • dinner roll
  • 1/2 cup greens
  • 1/2 cup fruit cocktail
  • water 

Bedtime Snack

  • peanut butter sandwich
  • 1/2 cup milk