When Katie Peterson was diagnosed with diabetes in January 2010, her doctors weren’t sure exactly how to define her. Twenty-six years old, slim and fit, Katie didn’t necessarily fit the profile of someone with type 2 diabetes. Yet she also didn’t have the typical characteristics of type 1, as she was able to better control her blood sugars through exercise, diet, and oral medications for more than two years. Her first doctor diagnosed her with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), a not always well-understood third form of diabetes that shares characteristics with both type 1 and type 2; her current endocrinologist believes she has been living with type 1 all along. From a practical standpoint, though, it didn’t really matter. From the moment she had her blood sugar tested in a Los Angeles urgent care clinic in January of 2010, Katie’s life has never been the same.
At the time of her diagnosis, Katie was working at a public relations firm in Los Angeles, interested in going back to school for a graduate degree, but unsure what to focus on. “I looked at everything from communications-focused MBA programs to women’s studies – I was all over the place,” she explains. Katie, who grew up on a free-range turkey farm in Minnesota, always had been interested in food; she’s a self-proclaimed strong believer in “eating well, avoiding processed foods, and building a sustainable food system.” But it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with diabetes that she realized food was what she wanted to professionally pursue – and that it was time to act on that dream.
“Being diagnosed with diabetes made me realize that there’s so much that I can’t control in life,” says Katie. “But I’d always wanted to go to grad school, and I really feel like my passion is food. So I decided, what the heck – I’m going to quit my full time job, move across the country, and do it.”
She applied and was accepted for a master’s program in gastronomy from Boston University, which she started in September of 2011. “We did a little bit of everything,” she says, describing a curriculum that ranged from anthropology and history of food to nutrition, food writing, and culinary arts. While her former co-workers knew about her diagnosis, Katie kept her diabetes mostly private at school – a challenge in an environment where food was the constant focus of attention. “The problem with the gastronomy program and diabetes was that it pulls people who are really good cooks and bakers,” she explains. “At every class – I’m not kidding – we’d have a snack break, and someone would pull out cookies and brownies and cupcakes.”
But at the same time that she was quiet about diabetes in her real life (“My classmates probably just thought I didn’t like sweets”), Katie decided to seek support online. Shortly after her diagnosis, she started a blog called 1 Little Prick and a Twitter account (@1littleprick) in hopes of meeting some other people with diabetes. And she did. “It turned into an awesome way to meet people,” she explains. “It’s become an outlet that’s really helped me.”
Katie graduated from the program in August 2012, and now is back in Los Angeles, working for a San Francisco-based company called Fork in the Road1 that sells sustainably and humanely raised meat from family farmers. “It’s funny, because even though I grew up on a turkey farm, I never imagined I’d work for a meat company,” says Katie, who is now the director of field marketing. “But the first time I saw their ad, I thought, ‘Wow, this is right up my alley.’ And the more I looked into it, the more I realized it was what I believe in and support.”
When she’s not traveling for work meeting Fork in the Road’s farmers in person, Katie loves cooking. “Sometimes I think it’s completely bizarre that I love food so much when I have diabetes,” she says, “But cooking is really therapeutic for me. I find it really relaxing to be in the kitchen – I can eat really well and enjoy food, and knowing what goes into the recipes helps me have better control of my blood sugar, too.”
In the future, Katie hopes to continue to use her awareness of nutrition to encourage people – with and without diabetes – to eat sustainable, healthy, delicious food. She also wants to keep advocating for people living with diabetes. “I feel like I’ve gained so much knowledge and support from people with diabetes,” she says. “I hope to do the same for others, too.”
Catherine Price is a freelance journalist and type 1 diabetic who has written for The New York Times, Slate, Popular Science, and O Magazine, among others. She blogs about diabetes at asweetlife.org and you can follow her on Twitter @Catherine_Price. Catherine is currently working on a book about the history and science of vitamins, to be published by the Penguin Press. Price is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
1Fork in the Road is a registered trademark of Fork in the Road Foods, LLC.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience