Disney with T1D – Food, Beverage, and SWAG Boluses

Disneyland with Type 1 Diabetes - SeeJenDance

About three years ago, I wrote a very similar post about navigating the Disney Resort with a broken pancreas. However, times have changed, information was left out, and the post was extremely long. To follow up on this original post, I’m creating shorter series-like posts to reference at different points of trip planning.

Why is this relevant to the non-Disney fan? The Friends for Life Conference is held annually in Orlando, usually on or near Disney property. CWD is also planning a conference at the Disneyland Hotel in September 2016 and  May 2017. (And if you are a parent caring for a CWD, definitely check out a Friends for Life conference if you can.) In between sessions and in the evenings would be a fantastic time to check out the Resort.

These posts are Disneyland Resort, California specific, but the tips can apply to visiting the Resort in Orlando as well. (I just live much closer to “Land.”)

Previous Posts: Where to Stay, Packing List Part 1 and Part 2, Traveling Tips, Navigating the Parks, Disability Access Cards.


I have a love/hate relationship with the food at Disney Parks. Food costs aside, this is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of planning a Disney vacation. But, there are ways to enjoy the culinary offerings in the Resort without blowing through a vial of insulin. Here are things to be aware of, plus helpful alternatives.

Disney with T1D - Food, Beverage, and SWAG Boluses

First, what’s a SWAG Bolus? “Scientific Wild Ass Guessing.” A term of endearment I’ve picked up from the DOC, which essentially means carb counting is futile and I just need some form of insulin on board. Correct later.

This is usually how I get by in the Parks because Disney, as accommodating as they try to be to special diets, does not provide Nutrition Information, including carb counts, for their restaurants. Anywhere.

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Whhhhhyyyy are there no carb counts???

This makes it sound like eating at Disneyland is a crapshoot, right? Kind of. In Disneyland, bread is still technically bread, garden salads are still lettuce and other veggies, a cup of fruit is just that. The Mouse does not inject extra carbs in places normally not found just to mess with us. (How’s that for a visual?)

There are two strategies to take: a) Don’t worry about it too much and the excess of carbs and treats will be balanced out by the amount of walking done (because it’s a vacation) or b) go back to basics on learning about estimated portions and be as close to the perceived normal as possible. Keep in mind that this is still a vacation with various routine changes to consider – so the best efforts could still be thwarted. (Sometimes roller coaster BGs just happen.)

There are a few blogs and websites out there to help. Since eating low-carb and gluten-free have become almost diet staples these days, these types of accommodations are readily available.

Here are a few pages I stumbled upon: Eating Low Carb in Disneyworld | Portion Control with Hands | All Ears.Net Type 1 with D (older) | MyFitnessPal (lots of sweets) | Gluten Free Options in DL

Some general advice:

  • Try not to stress about wild sugar control while here. Obviously, be vigilant about treating lows when they pop up, but it’s easy to let the meal planning overtake the reason we are here – a vacation.
  • Bring in your own meals/food. Pack sandwiches which have been pre-carb counted. Or…
  • Eat outside of the Parks. While the Disney food is novelty, there are a ton of chain restaurants (with nutrition information available) on South Harbor and Katella. Escape and go eat… probably for cheaper. Especially if the crowds are insane.
  • Seek out items you know. Like chicken caesar salads. Or a grilled cheese sandwich. Vegetable Soup. A Turkey leg. There are plenty of recognizable food items available in the Resort that don’t require strange math equations. 
  • Indulge in a treat here and there. I’ll cover a few “bolus-worthy items” below. Things like this keep me sane and remind me that I’m on vacation, even if I’m working hard trying to keep my health in line.
  • Split/Share meals. Works great with a toddler in tow. I usually finish Bean’s vegetables and take a few bites of her mac n cheese. Then order an entree salad. I’ve also shared with my spouse. Unless ordering specific items from counter service, meals are large enough to feed two.
  • Check menus beforehand. Menus for all restaurants in the Resort can be found online with a simple Google Search. Here is one example.

Some Resort Favorites for Dining as a PWD

  1. Carnation Cafe (Disneyland) – great comfort food selections, but they also have salads. Breakfast and lunch are great. Make reservations around Parade Time.
  2. Jolly Holiday Cafe (Disneyland) – The Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup combo is my go-to, but they also have salads and other low carb options. (Chicken salad for example.)
  3. Storytellers Cafe (Grand Californian) – They have a great breakfast buffet with several lesser known characters walking around. But, the nice thing about buffets is that I can pick out specifically what I want how much of it. So pile on the eggs and bacon or grab a mini Mickey waffle. Breakfast goers can also show their receipt at the Grand’s California Adventure gate and get early access.
  4. Bengal BBQ (Disneyland) – everything is on a stick! Lots of lower carb & protein-friendly options here. Plus, it’s counter service, so it’s quick and usually not crowded.
  5. Hungry Bear Restaurant (Disneyland) – Salads, wraps, and sandwiches. It has weird hours, so head there for lunch.

*You may notice that there aren’t any California Adventure restaurants listed. I’m sure there are options available, but M and I are so rarely in CA to eat meals, that I don’t really have a favorite. We mostly just get snacks, coffee, or alcohol while there.


Finally, Treats in the Resort that are Totally Bolus-Worthy

Disney with T1D - Food, Beverage, and SWAG Boluses

  1. Dole Whip (Disneyland) – Right by the Tiki Room. Pick the line inside the Tiki Room entrance. Much shorter. Also, it’s essentially Pineapple Fro-Yo served in a portion large enough to share. Yum!
  2. Churros (Various) – These carts are everywhere. Follow the smell. But again, split one. One full churro is quite overwhelming.
  3. Potato Soup at Carnation Cafe (Disneyland) – One of my favorites. It’s a fully loaded, creamy bowl of deliciousness. Which stays with me like a slice of pizza. Adjust accordingly.
  4. Mickey Waffles (Anywhere breakfast is served) – As I mentioned, these can be found in smaller sizes at Storytellers, so they don’t have as great of an impact on sugar levels – so long as not all are consumed. Top with sugar free syrup, readily available pretty much everywhere. (Aside – these apparently have a gluten free option.)
  5. Fried Chicken (Plaza Inn/Disneyland) – Fried chicken is tricky because it’s high protein vs. fried, carby exterior. But this stuff melts in your mouth and satisfies even the pickiest of toddlers.
  6. Gingerbread Beignets (or regular ones work too) – Can really only be found around Holiday time, but they come in a set of three, so easy to share.
  7. Bread Bowls at Pacific Wharf Cafe (CA Adventure) – Being a California native, I know how good Boudin bread is. I encourage others to explore the fabulousness of it – just maybe don’t eat the whole bread bowl.
  8. Mickey shaped, well, anything. ‘Nuff said.
Disney with T1D - Food, Beverage, and SWAG Boluses

Om nom nom.

So, hungry yet? Did I miss anything? Tell me below in the comments. Enjoy exploring the different culinary options available in the Resort.

This is also the last installation of the Disneyland with T1D Series. Hope to have helped with planning this great trip. Be sure to check out the Friends For Life Conferences either in Anaheim or Florida if the travel dates align.

PBCx, and Other Childhood Memories

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As I explore the eating habits of a toddler, I am often reminded of the strange, and downright creative, concoctions my parents used to get me to eat something as a child.

Eating was always a crapshoot for me. I’d have my shot of Regular before a meal. Wait 30 minutes, because that’s just how long it’d take for it to start working. (Ish.) Then I’d refuse all food presented to me unless it was covered in cheese. Or had hot dogs. Or… whatever I fancied. My parents would often sit with me at the table to make sure I ate something while I sat and stared into space. Meanwhile, my Regular is working in the background.

However, there were a few surefire things I would eat as a child and they all have funny memories associated with them. Some of which I still rely on today for snacks or hypoglycemic treatment.

Peanut Butter and Graham Crackers. Or the shorthand often found in my old food diaries, PBCx. This was a family camp and summer camp staple for children with diabetes. Somehow, after a long day of hiking, swimming, or campfire activities, this was the perfect amount of short term carbs mixed with a long term fat/protein. I associate this snack with those camps, and the middle of the night checks that resulted in sipping juice from a straw when it didn’t quite work. I still use this snack today as an adult. (Though, it usually just spikes me and keeps me there after multiple corrections.) If my mom didn’t have graham crackers in the house, she usually just gave me a spoonful of the stuff and told me to eat it. (Yup.) Sounds odd now, but Peanut Butter, or any nut butter really, is my go-to for MOTN lows. It fills me up quickly so that I don’t end up eating the entire contents of my fridge.

Ritz Crackers. I have a love/hate relationship with Ritz Crackers. I grew up diabetic in the 80s, where it was commonplace for doctors to say “avoid refined sugar and sweets,” but nothing about other carb sources, like breads, crackers, and cereals. My best friend in elementary school and I would hang out at her house all the time. Her mom kept a jar of Ritz Crackers in the pantry and would always hand them to me for snacks. Nevermind what my friend was having – she always had the Ritz Crackers for me. This thoughtful gesture backfired at my friend’s birthday party – while everyone was served cake and ice cream, I was given the jar of Ritz crackers again. No other options. My mom would sometimes allow me to take a piece of cake and scrape the frosting off. Clearly the Ritz Crackers were far more superior in terms of diabetic care. Who cares if my body processed them the same?

Equal, or the Blue Packets of Aspartame. This was a dream come true to a child who saw sugary treats in all of her friends’ lunchboxes but couldn’t have any of it. Especially since regular Cheerios often found their way into our house more often than the Honey Nut version. Equal went on everything. My Cheerios, fruit, cinnamon and “sugar” toast, Kool-Aid. I even tried to convince my mom to try and bake with it so I could have “sugar free” cookies. (Because, child logic.) These days, aspartame in certain forms gives me giant headaches. And it just tastes like metal in its purest form. I do still enjoy a diet soda here and there, but the bulk of my artificial sweeteners are from Splenda or Stevia these days. However, given the recent upheaval over artificial anything, I am happy to report that I have not sprouted any extra appendages from growing up on aspartame.

Cake Frosting. Gel writing tubes. My mom carried a bunch of these around in her purse for me. They were perfect for treating the hypoglycemic episodes that left me unresponsive. (I had several of those growing up.) They were the same concept as the old glucose gel of the 80s and 90s that tasted like vomit… but they didn’t taste like vomit! They were also cheaper and came in a variety of colors. Nowadays, we have much better tasting glucose  Dextrose gels and tablets. But I also still keep cake frosting in the pantry for this reason.

Sugar-Free Candy. Since we just celebrated Easter, I was reminded of all of the sugar free candy that well-meaning relatives would give to me so I could enjoy that holiday with my cousins. There were sugar-free chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and a litany of other selections. Any PWD will tell you that these items are the bane of our existence and we’d much rather just have the regular stuff and give the appropriate amount of insulin for it. Not only would you be led under the false premise that these items would have no effect on your blood sugar (I always got hit later), but then half way through the bag of jelly beans, you’d end up with the worst stomach cramps known to mankind. (Thanks to all the sugar alcohols and lactose.) My mom used to keep my sugar-free chocolate bunnies in the fridge and allow me small bites every so often. (Which is all I could take because a cold chocolate bunny is impossible to eat.)

Well, damn. Now I’m hungry.

Starving for Enlightenment

These basal tests are really starting to get to me. On first glance, it feels like a carefully planned eating disorder. You skip meals, poke yourself repeatedly for blood, and then binge because you’d skipped a meal, thus throwing the rest of your day off because you are correcting your indulgence. Because diabetes management relies on discovering patterns and adjusting accordingly, each test requires at least 3 attempts per time of day. (Unless the basal rates are perfect the first go-around.)

There are four tests you can and should take: overnight, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If the test fails by having the blood sugar go too high (over 250) or too low (under 70), you repeat the test the next day or whenever convenient to see if a pattern arises. Adjustments will be made and tests are to be repeated to try the new basal rate or to get more conclusive results.

Yesterday was my second dinner time test since before Christmas. On my first attempts, I decided to try gluten free meals for both tests I took. Bad idea. Apparently gluten free meals don’t hold the same carb breakdown as non-GF meals, so my insulin dosage at lunch sent my sugars plummeting around 3:00 pm. I was advised to eat “real” food at lunch and try the test again. (Or just food I would typically eat, rather than stuff I was experimenting with.)

On these last two tests, I tried two variations: first day was quinoa and some Indian spinach curry and cheese, second day was a plain ol’ PB sandwich on wheat. I survived my 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm checks, which means my lunch dosage is as it should be. On both days, however, precisely at 6:15 pm, my blood sugar dropped to 63 and 65 mg/dl, respectively.

A pattern! (And the test is over… I can have dinner after all.)

Not only did this tell me something was wrong with the basal rate at this time, but it also explained all of the strange issues I was having in November and December. During those months, I’d get off work at 5:00ish, go grab a Subway sandwich, and eat dinner before my 6:30 pm dance lesson. Shortly after eating my sandwich or during the lesson itself, I would plummet down to hypoglycemiaville. (Which made spinning and learning choreography that much more complicated.)

My CDE and I were trying to adjust my dinner bolus rates to account for my activity levels in the evening. Hmm. Maybe we fixed the wrong thing.

Now that we have a pattern, we’ll probably adjust. Which will then lead to another round of testing to see if the adjustments succeed.

Sigh.

These tests aren’t for people with active calendars. During these tests, you are supposed to keep activity, stress, high fat foods, (life), to a minimum because, as all PWDs know, anything can have an effect on blood glucose control. Never mind that you aren’t eating anything for about 8 hours straight. (Or trying to.) Since I have a lot of evening plans, explaining that I need to skip dinner three nights in a row is impossible (which is why I didn’t test during the holidays). Not doing any exercise for three nights in a row is also impossible. If you are female, you can pretty much forget testing one week out of the month.

I am still struggling with my morning rates, so there are a couple of skipped breakfasts in my future. Possibly even an overnight test because I’m not quite sure if that’s effecting my mornings. (Which equates to getting up at midnight, 2 am, and 4 am.) All in the name of science, I suppose.

As much as I hate starving myself repeatedly and the wrenches that get thrown into plans when I can’t pass, the results are quite enlightening. I just wish there was an easier way to see if you were administering the correct doses.

Just a Little Bit

When ever I read that certain foods are okay in moderation (either for pregnancy or diabetes), I’m always reminded of that How I Met Your Mother episode where Lily’s OB answers her diet questions with, “Just a little bit.” And then Ted and Marshall essentially go bat shit crazy, convinced that Lily’s doc doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

The list of food restrictions for a pregnant woman is fairly decent. No soft cheese (feta, blue, basically anything that tastes good), raw fish and sushi (sad face), lunch meats need to be warmed up or avoided, cut back on caffeine, alcohol, and other strange toxins that could affect your health, or your baby’s development.

As a diabetic, that list seems to double. In addition to avoiding foods, I need to eat even smarter than I have before. Say good-bye to mac n cheese, cereal with milk at breakfast, and that slice of birthday cake for a really long time. Especially for me, since any amount of refined sugar seems to send my blood sugars into an upward tailspin.

After reading blogs, forums, emails, and news journals, I’m damn well convinced I’ll be eating the same thing for 40 weeks straight. And there are women out there that go to great lengths to avoid these foods and complain about it for their entire pregnancy.

But some perspective: when I told my mom this weekend that my cousin couldn’t have the lunch meat in 80% of the prepared food for the baby shower, she looked at me like I had three heads. What do you mean she can’t have lunch meat? We all ate cheese when we were pregnant with you… why can’t you now? It’s just a little bit!

So I guess that’s the question. What if you really just craved a turkey sandwich? It’s not like you are eating the whole package at once. And is that any worse than eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with pickles?

Everything is fine in moderation has been drilled into my head since I was a kid.  Our parents did it. Why the sudden fear now?

An Anamoly

Well kids, I’ve stumped another diabetes professional. That increases my count to about 5 people that really have no idea what to suggest to help me counteract the extreme postprandial readings I experience, mostly after breakfast and lunch.

Backstory: I’m not a textbook diabetic. I’m sure many people can argue this, but really. I’m so not! It’s not that I’m insulin resistant – it’s just that the meds that are supposed to peak at 15-30 minutes usually peak at an hour instead. Thus resulting in an epic spike an hour to two hours post meal, and then an epic drop to normalcy around the three hour mark. This of course hurts my chances of ever maintaining a controlled rise. My doctors have tried cocktails of insulins to try and counter the spikes, which typically only left me crawling on the floor asking for juice to pick me up from hypoglycemia. But – perinatal docs all want me to have my postprandials at 120-140 during pregnancy… which is my struggle.

So today I saw a dietitian that specializes in mostly GD, but also works with T1s and T2s during pregnancy. I figured she’d have a better idea or different suggestions on how to get her patients to stop spiking.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: So I have been micromanaging my eating habits and blood sugars lately and I’m not seeing a difference. I’ve got dinner down, but breakfast is hell. I’ve tried just about everything humanly possible with the exception of starving myself.”

D: Well, maybe you shouldn’t have any milk or dairy at breakfast.

Me: I don’t.

D: Well, have you tried complex carbs and under 30 grams.

Me: I have. Sometimes I just have 15 grams.

D: Are you consuming about 8-10 grams of protein as well?

Me: Sometimes more. I was given a rule of thumb to try a 1:2 ratio between protein:carbs.

D: And you still spike?

Me: Every time.

D: …

Me: …

D: I have no idea. Maybe you should talk to your endocrinologist.

Me: <ragequit>

I’ll give it to her though. At least she’s being honest and was extremely happy that I’m trying to figure out what the hell is going on BEFORE we start trying to throw pregnancy into the loop. But as a dietitian  she couldn’t really advise me to increase my already, crazy high, insulin ratios. (1:4 most times of the day.) And bonus – apparently this clinic appointment was 100% covered by my insurance so I didn’t need a co-pay to get more non-answers.

However, I apparently gave my perinatal the impression that I had no idea what I was doing, carb wise. Though I’m pretty sure I told her that I’ve tried everything and that my docs at the previous hospital pretty much threw up their hands and said “no idea!”

Next week, I meet with the endocrinologist  who can probably hook me up with a dietitian that, you know, works with diabetics. (Concept!? Amazing!)