Does a potato and haloumi omlette sound tempting? In this interview, Megan talks about some of the recipes that got her through her vegetarian and gluten intolerant pregnancy with GDM. Before becoming a mum Megan worked as a university tutor and moonlighted as a DJ. She plans on going back to uni sometime to study early childhood development after finding the research so fascinating. Megan is married and a full-time mum.
GDRecipes: What’s does a day in your life currently feel and look like?
Megan: I’ve adopted many Attachment Parenting ideals in my parenting style so I’m still breastfeeding and generally take each day as it comes while creating a gentle flow with our weekly activities. We do a lot of free play and I try to take my daughter’s lead unless there are things I must do, in which case I give her as much warning as possible and try to find ways to involve her if I can. She has turned out to be as much of a night owl as her mum (unfortunately) so we usually get out of bed quite late and have a leisurely breakfast while I map out how I want the rest of the day to go. Dinner is a fairly even mix of home cooked, takeaway, or dining out: I see eating as a very social occasion so we rarely have a day where we don’t have at least one meal out of the house. Dad will give her a bath if he’s not too wiped out from work and I settle her to bed with a few stories and a breastfeed.
GDRecipes: Is there a history of diabetes in your family?
Megan: Oh yes. My mother, my paternal grandmother and an uncle on my father’s side all have/had type 2 diabetes. One of my mother’s sisters recently had pancreatitis and ended up with type 1 diabetes and my sister has Impaired Glucose Tolerance. I fully expected to develop GDM and was not at all surprised when it happened, although I was a little disappointed because I still held out hope that I’d beat the odds.
GDRecipes: What was your reaction when you were diagnosed with GDM in your first pregnancy?
Megan: My immediate reaction was worry for myself due to the long term implications of the diagnosis but I had to put that aside as I accepted the humbling fact that all the health professionals I dealt with were only really concerned about the effects on the baby.
GDRecipes: How did you find the whole experience of having gestational diabetes?
Megan: I personally feel it is often blown out of proportion. Obviously there are real risks involved and anyone who is diagnosed with GDM should most definitely be vigilant about their blood sugar levels but I really felt like the specialists I saw in the public health system were more concerned about possible litigation than about treating each individual case.
I never felt like it got completely out of control (even though I ended up taking a small amount of insulin in the evenings for the last few weeks) and otherwise felt like my pregnancy was going quite smoothly: my weight gain was healthy (I actually lost weight, in fact – I was overweight when I fell pregnant and the baby sucked up all my reserves for me), my blood pressure was steady, and all other indicators were good.
The obstetricians at the hospital, however, chose to ignore all that and decided I needed to be induced based purely on the fact I was taking the insulin. I let them talk me into it – despite my concerns about the risks of further medical intervention (and my aversion to needles and drips!) – but thankfully I went into labour the day before the induction was scheduled. We had a totally natural water birth at the Birth Centre, my baby weighed a very healthy 3.09kg and our bloods were completely in the clear afterwards.
GDRecipes: Did you know much about it before you were diagnosed?
Megan: Yes. Because I was in a high risk category I had read around a bit beforehand.
GDRecipes: Where did you receive or find the most useful and practical information about gestational diabetes at the time?
Megan: I Googled it to find out about the basics of what was happening biologically. The information sheets I got from the hospital [Royal Prince Alfred, Sydney, Australia] were also very good and the midwives at the Birth Centre were very supportive of my wishes to still go ahead with a natural birth. I got a really useful diet plan from the diabetes centre at the hospital that basically broke down how many servings of carbs I should have at each meal and gave serving suggestions, but also left it open for personal customization. GDM is the sort of condition that is relatively common and straightforward these days so I think it’s pretty easy to find good information on your own.
GDRecipes: You were vegetarian and also had a gluten sensitivity when you were diagnosed. How did this impact what and how you could cook?
Megan: My most common joke at the time was that I was basically living on celery and hummus! My diet became fairly limited and predictable towards the end and I had A LOT of trouble eating out. I even tried to eat meat again because I was sick of all the restrictions, but it just made me feel ill. Cooking at home was actually not too hard though, especially as there are a decent range of gluten free staples like bread and pasta at most supermarkets these days (although I had to shop around as often gluten free products use corn, rice or potato as a base, all of which are fairly high GI). I found that sticking to low GI carbs made a big difference to my blood glucose levels so substituted foods that I would normally use quite a bit. For example using basmati or brown rice rather than jasmine, and sweet potato instead of desiree potato. My biggest issue was sweets (which probably affects everyone, regardless of other dietary restrictions) as even a small amount of cane sugar could set me off. It has always seemed unconscionably cruel that GDM strikes right at the point of your pregnancy where all you want to do is flop on the couch and eat chocolate and ice cream all day!
GDRecipes: Where did you get most of your inspiration in the kitchen from?
Megan: I have one vegan cookbook* with lots of gluten free and sugar free recipes which came in really handy, but I’ve always been one to cook meals by instinct. I tend to have staple meals that I tinker with depending on what veggies I have in the fridge, so my inspiration comes from whatever I’ve taken a fancy to during the previous grocery shop.
GDRecipes: Did you have a favorite GDM meal you loved to cook?
Megan: I really refined my red lentil and veggie soup during that time. It is a fallback that I love to cook that just happened to fit the bill of vegetarian, gluten free and diabetic friendly anyway so it was great when I wanted something hearty that I didn’t have to think too much about. My other favourite meal was at my local caf’e: a potato and haloumi omelette with a side salad instead of toast, washed down with a soy flat white (I cut back on my coffee during pregnancy but couldn’t give it up entirely!) I had that for lunch at least 3-4 days a week. They loved me there…
GDRecipes: Are there any recipes you have adapted that you continue to cook for you and your family now?
Megan: Seeing as my gluten sensitivity has stuck around (damn it!) and I’m conscious of the risks of developing full-blown type 2 diabetes I’ve basically continued to cook exactly the same way, although I’m not so cautious about portion sizes and have gratefully welcomed chocolate back into my life.
GDRecipes: Has having GDM influenced the way you nourish and prepare meals for your family?
Megan: It was a big factor in my decision to keep breastfeeding for as long as possible. Given the family history, I am keen to minimize the risks of my daughter having issues with diabetes in the future and there is much research to suggest that extended breastfeeding can play a big role in this. I make sure we have healthy snack foods on hand and try to keep junk food to a minimum without cutting it out altogether. I also don’t obsess about making sure my daughter ticks off all the RDI [recommended daily intake] amounts and try to keep eating fun and stress-free. She’s a grazer so I just make sure she has ready access to healthy foods at all times so she can eat as much or as little as she wants (although we do make sure dinner is a family meal where we all sit at the table together) with the goal of letting her judge how much she needs to eat based on her own bodily cues. As such, my hope is that she’ll have a very healthy attitude to food and will be able to listen to her cravings rather than ignoring her natural metabolic processes for the sake of culturally defined mealtimes and serving sizes.
GDRecipes: Are you still vegetarian with a gluten sensitivity?
Megan: I ate gluten again for a while but have found that some health issues I have are far easier to manage without gluten in my diet so went back to being gluten free. I think as a result of this my overall protein levels dropped below what is ideal so I actually recently started craving meat again for the first time in 12 years. I’ve reintroduced chicken and bacon, although fish and red meats still make me feel ill. My daughter still doesn’t like meat though and we continue to eat a predominantly vegetarian diet at home.
GDRecipes: Have you had a follow up for GDM since your pregnancy?
Megan: I’ve had three checkups since giving birth and they’ve all come back in the healthy range.
GDRecipes: What were your biggest insights from having gestational diabetes?
Megan: I was amazed by how quickly cane sugar became unpalatable once I cut it out entirely and how much I really missed eating comfort foods. It really brought home the extent to which I eat for emotional reasons rather than physical hunger and this is something I am still working on addressing. I also became more resolved than ever to try to avoid developing diabetes later in life because I totally hated having to carefully plan and space out meals and snacks every day and injecting insulin was definitely not fun (although I liked being able to relax a bit about dinner again with that little insulin booster to help). The other huge lesson was just how important physical activity is for a healthy metabolism: going for even a 10 min walk straight after a meal made the world of difference to my blood glucose reading.
GDRecipes: What would you say to a women recently diagnosed with GDM?
Megan: It’s damn scary to get that diagnosis but it’s not the end of the world. If you feel like you are being unduly stressed out by how people are treating you, read up and seek other opinions to make sure you are aware of the risks involved in various treatment plans. Chances are really good that you and your baby will get through this just fine so long as you keep on top of things and stay as healthy as possible. As one dietitian said to me, the diabetic eating plan is really the ideal that we should all strive for so try to treat it as an opportunity to make lifelong changes for the better (even if you don’t remain as strict about it at all times!)
* ‘Vegan Cooking: Recipes for Health and Happiness’ by Amanda Quinn and Diipali Lilburne.
Want to share your experience with GDM? Email me, lisa [at] gestationaldiabetesrecipes.com