Dining Hall Dilemmas: Controlling Diabetes in College

managing diabetes in college

In part 4 of “Dining Hall Dilemmas,” Lauren Tozlowski, a former student at the University of New Hampshire, shares her story about finding the right food options for students with diabetes on campus. 

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 when I was 17 years old. Ever since, my life has changed drastically with learning how to control my blood sugar, count carbohydrates, and inject myself with insulin. Over the years, I have learned these things and much more about myself and my body.

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My college experience was not negatively affected by diabetes. Although there were challenges, I believe I was like any other college student. I went to the University of New Hampshire, and the dining hall was phenomenal. There were so many food choices that I had no problem managing my diet and counting my carbohydrates.

The biggest challenge for me was being comfortable enough to tell my new friends about my diabetes. I am not very open about it, so I usually do not like to tell people who I’m not very close with. I learned that once I became comfortable enough to tell my new friends, they were very understanding and they wanted to know more about diabetes and how they could help. All of my roommates throughout college were great supporters and were always there for me if I ever needed to talk about my frustrations or challenges with diabetes.

For anyone who is a freshman going off to college this year with type 1 diabetes, my advice to you is to not be scared and to be open about it. Everyone in their first year of college is looking for new friends, and usually everyone is receptive to hear another person’s story. You are just like any other college student. You just have to take a few extra steps each day to control your blood sugar.

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Question and Answer

StudentAdvisor: Did you specifically look for a college that would be helpful with your diet?

Lauren Tozlowski: I did not specifically look for a college that would be helpful in my diet. I did not have to talk to UNH dining services about my diet because I did not have certain foods I could or could not eat. For me, it is all about moderation and knowing how to count carbs. However, I know from other students’ experiences with strict dietary restrictions that UNH dining services are helpful in getting students the foods they need.

SA: Did you ever meet with a registered dietitian or nutritionist at college for help planning meals?

LT: I meet annually with a nutritionist in my own doctor’s office over the years, not through UNH. Meeting with the nutritionist was more important when I was first diagnosed with diabetes because that was when I learned how to count carbs.

SA: How were you able to count carbs when choosing food—is that information provided to you in the cafeteria?

LT: I am able to count carbs on my own. It is my own responsibility to have knowledge and understanding of food labels, serving sizes, and carbs. I had to estimate most foods in the dining hall because they do not have food labels. With the knowledge I have acquired over the years, it is pretty easy for me to estimate the serving size I am eating and how many carbs are in certain foods. I also need to know how foods affect my own body. Certain foods, particularly high in fat, affect my insulin sensitivity more than others.

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SA: Did you have to have any kind of “emergency instructions” that it was important for the school or people around you to know (roommates, friends, professors, etc.?)

LT: I did have emergency instructions that I told a few close friends and roommates at college. If I passed out for any reason, I instructed my friends to check my blood sugar immediately to see if I passed out due to low blood sugar or call 911 if they are too nervous to check my blood sugar. If they did check my blood sugar and I was low, then I instructed them to give me emergency glucagon, which will bring up my blood sugar back to normal. I showed my friends how to check my blood sugar and also how to inject me with glucagon. This was a purely precautionary step, as I have never had to use glucagon.

SA: What advice do you have for parents who might be worried about sending their students with diabetes to college?

LT: My advice for parents is to make sure their son or daughter with diabetes has a roommate that understands the emergency situations associated with diabetes. Other than that, I would advise parents to not worry about their child and treat them like a normal student going off to college. Worrying about their child is not going to do any good and checking in with them every couple hours will be even worse. Have faith in your child that they are responsible enough to handle their own diabetic needs (as he or she is an adult at this point).

Read more in our “Dining Hall Dilemmas” series: 

Do you have any stories about how to choose foods in a college dining hall for diabetes? Do you have your own college food story to tell? Share with us below.

Lauren Tozlowski attended the University of New Hampshire from August 2008 to May 2012 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with concentrations in Accounting and Management. She also spent one more year at UNH (August 2012 to May 2013) and graduated with her Master of Science in Accountancy. She is currently a Staff Auditor at Baker Newman Noyes.

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One Comment

  1. Diane Thomas Jan 7, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    This is great advice Lauren, thanks for sharing!