Tuesday, March 12, 2013


When Mark pushed me to have Bisi go gluten free, his goal was to get her into a “honeymoon” period, where the pancreas starts working again—though not perfectly—after diagnosis. The theory, in layman’s terms, is that the hard-working pancreas has given up the ghost, but then revives a bit after getting the rest that outside insulin injections provide. Not all people enter a honeymoon period, but the majority do; in one study  of 103 children under 12 with T1D, 71 had a honeymoon. In the hospital, Bisi’s doctors told us that a honeymoon period could last for a couple weeks, or months, or up to a year. Very rarely, they emphasized—strongly—does it last longer than that, and the diabetes honeymoon, like all honeymoons, inevitably ends. 

Bisi started off at 4 units of Lantus a day—that’s one shot of slow-acting insulin that lasts about 24 hours in the background. She also receives Humalog, or fast-acting insulin, with her meals. In the hospital, to be conservative, they started her off at one unit of Humalog for every seventy carbs she ate. Over time, this ratio was adjusted downward, to a low point of 40 or 45 carbs per unit of insulin. Meanwhile, after some night-time lows, they adjusted her Lantus downward from 4 to 3.5 to 3 units a day.

We stayed at these numbers for maybe 6 weeks when suddenly, she started having unexplained lows. In particular, I remember one morning when we went to Gloucester for a hike. Bisi had had no Humalog with her breakfast, and we’d given her a yogurt snack, which is normally enough to keep her blood sugar adequately high, even if she’s active. At lunch we tested her, and she was 55. Fifty-five!! She’d never gone so low before, and for a diabetic, anything below 70 is considered worrisome. (Her range is supposed to stay between 80-180.) The honeymoon had begun.

The thing is, it turns out that the honeymoon is actually pretty stressful. As Bisi’s diabetes nurse educator told me, “A honeymoon is a terrible name for it.” For the next while, we felt like we were constantly chasing Bisi’s lows—she’d have a series of lows, and we would reduce her dose. She’d have more lows, and we’d reduce some more. Slowly, by half units, her Lantus dose went from 3 down to .5; then it went down to a “small” half unit—this is such a tiny amount that it’s not even a real measurement on Bisi’s syringes.  Meanwhile, her carb ratio went up, to a high of 60 during the day and 45 for dinner (many children need more insulin to cover their carbs at night). There have been a couple of weekends—times when we’ve been very active, when Bisi hasn’t eaten many carbs, and when she perhaps has had a low-grade illness pushing her blood sugar down—where she hasn’t needed insulin at all. On those weekends, what a huge relief it’s been to not worry about Bisi going low when she’s skiing or playing for hours at a water park—because she had no insulin in her system, there was no danger of her going low. It’s been a relief for Bisi, too. Not long after she was diagnosed, I asked her whether having diabetes was better or worse than she’d thought it would be when we first learned about her regimen. “It’s worse," she told me. "I didn’t know I’d be getting so many shots.”

At her peak, right after diagnosis, Bisi was getting six insulin injections a day (plus all the blood tests). Now, she still gets the blood tests, but she usually gets a maximum of three shots a day.

Once Bisi started honeymooning, we looked into other ways aside from the gluten-free diet of pampering her resurgent (though still very weak) pancreas. Her endocrinologist suggested we give her vitamin D, since there’s evidence that high vitamin D levels can extend the honeymoon. A relative who’s also an endocrinologist suggested that she take omega 3s. An herbalist suggested that she take fenugreek, burdock, and nettles to strengthen her pancreatic function. They won’t cure type 1 diabetes, he told me, but he believes that herbs like these can extend the honeymoon. Preserving the honeymoon is also a reason why we’re keeping Bisi relatively low carb—we don’t want to overtax her pancreas. 

Are we beginning to sound like kooks? Sometimes I wonder. But from other parents I’ve talked to, the highs and lows of diabetes are much more difficult to manage once the honeymoon ends. At that point, from my understanding, when the pancreas stops working for good and insulin needs are much higher, you are subject to higher highs, lower lows, and more dangerous swings between them. Even though I’ve complained here about having to get up in the middle of the night to test Bisi, those parents of children with diabetes whose honeymoon is over have to get up far more than we do—their kids are low, then high, then low again. If that is our future with Bisi, who can blame us for trying to delay it for as long as possible? (Sometimes the testing process at night goes perfectly, Bisi doesn’t wake up, and her blood sugar is at a comfortable 150. Other times, we have to poke around a while to get a big enough drop of blood. On one such night, Bisi roused slightly and said something that sounded like “Fooooouk.” “What did you say??” I asked her. “Foooouk.” I’m still not sure what she was saying, but if she was dropping the f-bomb, who can blame her?)

So we live in dread of what we’ve been told is the inevitable end of her honeymoon. Meanwhile, Bisi’s pancreas is sputtering along—I picture it as like the Vespa I once rode in Sicily—sometimes it’s speeding along faster than you’d expect, causing lows, other times it decides to conk out, causing highs. In the five months since she’s been honeymooning, we’ve thought the honeymoon was over several times—usually after holidays, when it is very difficult to limit her sugar intake because desserts are plentiful, and everyone around her is eating a lot of them. But, like the little engine that could, to use another metaphor, each time she starts producing a little bit of insulin again and her blood sugar levels go down.

Yet, according to at least one prominent expert in diabetes, Dr. Richard Bernstein, the end of the honeymoon period is not  inevitable—though it’s very, very likely. Bernstein, a type 1 diabetic, is the inventor of the basal/bolus method of injections that Bisi and many other type 1 diabetics now follow, where you have one long-lasting “basal” shot each day (Lantus), and then other, short-acting “boluses” with your meals (Humalog). Bernstein was diagnosed with T1D at age 12, and became a doctor in his late forties so he could better understand the disease that he felt was killing him through its complications. He sharply improved his health by switching to a low-carb diet to normalize his blood sugars. In his book Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, he writes,  “Based upon my experience with the fair number of type 1 diabetics I’ve treated from diagnosis, I’m convinced that the honeymoon period can be prolonged indefinitely. The trick is to assist the pancreas and keep it as quiescent as possible. With the meticulous use of small doses of injected insulin and with the essential use of a very low carbohydrate diet, the remaining capacity of the pancreas, I believe, can be preserved.” The problem, Bernstein explains, is that by the time someone has been diagnosed with T1D, at least 80% of their beta cells, the ones that produce insulin, have been destroyed. So all Bisi has to work with for the rest of her life are the less than 20% that remain. What’s more, high blood sugar levels are thought to be toxic to these beta cells, so unless you are able to keep very tight control of your blood sugar levels, these cells will burn out one by one.

Bisi is maintaining good blood sugar control; her last A1C level, a measure of how much sugar has been in your bloodstream over the past three months, was 6.3, whereas the target for someone her age with diabetes is anything below 8. (A child without diabetes should have an A1C between 4 and 6 percent.) But she is not maintaining the sort of tight control Dr. Bernstein is talking about—we just don’t feel like that would be sustainable for a young child. Her growing brain needs carbs, and she needs to have the freedom to eat more than just vegetables and protein. If she were old enough to choose to take such an approach, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t feel right to impose it on her. So for now, we’ll see if we can walk the fine line of protecting her remaining beta cells, while giving her enough of what she likes to eat. It’s hard not to have a tiny bit of hope that the honeymoon will continue and continue, but we also need to prepare ourselves that it won’t. Like a real honeymoon, we’ll try to enjoy it while it lasts.

Honeymoon Sundaes

Okay, neither of these really qualifies as a sundae. But both are relatively low carb, yet delicious enough to feel like a special dessert.

Sliced strawberries, topped with whipped cream (heavy cream that you whip up yourself, not the stuff in a can), flavored with a tiny bit of honey.

Frozen blueberries with ½ and 1/2, with a little bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top.


  1. I have always felt that caring for a child with diabetes would be more stressful than caring for one's own diabetes. It's so hard what you all are going through, Katie.

    Remember that when the so-called honeymoon does come to an end, you and Mark will be so much more knowledgeable than when all of this began. In that sense, things will be easier. Also, I had many more lows on insulin by MDI (multiple daily injection) than I do on the pump because the dosing is so much more precise, and you can scale back basal insulin according to exercise, activity, stress, illness, etc. My point is, it's very hard right now, but it really will get a little easier. Right now you're still in the early stages of an intense learning period.

    Also, a comment on Dr. Bernstein. I'm writing a post about him now because his work has influenced how I eat and I've seen real benefit. I feel strongly that the very low-carb diet he recommends seems radical only because we live in a culture that consumes far, far more carbohydrates than is healthy (for anyone - diabetic or not).


  2. HI Katie - so happy to find your blog! It seems we are on the same path. It has been refreshing to read your story and realize someone is thinking exactly the same things that we are...

    Our 7 yr old daughter was diagnosed with T1D just this past October. We have been dealing with all the same issues - she is in honeymoon and we too are searching for ways to hopefully extend as long as possible - read Dr. Bernsteins book - lots of research - struggling with the standard diabetic diet they suggest (really 180+ carbs per day for a 50lb diabetic kid??) - read the same cookbook in horror too - listed to countless people say just dose for what she wants to eat?? really I didn't let her eat everything and anything she wanted before diabetes why would I start now? - learning that control is really good and consistent meal plans work - gluten free seems to help (my idea not my husband, so I am the nut here!) - watching people who really do not understand roll there eyes (pretty sure most think we are off the wall a bit) - constant search for food that will work and be healthy and yummy to a 7 yr old!- searching for non-sugar options...

    Hang in there! Can't wait to see your next post and would be happy to chat further.

    1. Carri--I am so sorry you are going through this too. How is your daughter doing? How are you doing? I would be glad to talk offline (message me on Facebook). Where are you guys living these days? I would love to connect, since it helps to talk things through, and sounds like we have a lot in common in terms of our approach.

      Best, Katie

    2. She is doing pretty well all things considered. Amazing how kids adapt....parents?!?!? not so sure. Believe it or not I have yet to join Facebook. My husband has an account and I will have him reach out his name is Bryon. It would be great to share ideas and stories with another family dealing with the same issues.
      Looking forward to chat

  3. From one kooky parent to another... I remember those honeymoon days well. We were torn between wanting it to end so we could assume full insulin responsibility and wanting to keep her pancreas functioning in whatever small capacity it could. After three years now, I'd say not having to compete with her body has been better for us than trying to figure out her bolus and basal while on the honeymoon. You're on the right track in my opinion by paying very close attention to the impact food has on her BGs. That more than anything, as Bernstein would likely agree, is the key to keeping her safe.

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