a reformed diabetic talks about food, fitness training and life after diabetes
Category Archives: Diabetes
The question I get asked the most lately is “What are you doing that’s making such a difference?” (Last night I had someone I know quite well walk by me without saying hello, which was a little odd. She did a doubletake and then told me that she hadn’t even recognized me.)
The short answer: I don’t eat anything that comes in a box or is found in the middle of the grocery store.
Think about it for a second—all the stuff that’s good for you is on the outside walls of the store—dairy, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish. The middle of the store is all the stuff that’s been processed, is full of additives and high fructose corn syrup, or has had any nutritional value it might have contained processed out of it. It’s just twisted that during processing, natural food can lose most of its nutritional value, so at the end of the processing they have to add back in nutrients. Eating through chemistry.
When I decided it was time to do something about my atrocious eating habits, I turned to my trainer. She’d already been where I was at the time. She lost nearly 100 pounds six or seven years ago and has successfully maintained the loss. She taught me how to eat a more whole food, carb-controlled diet. I stopped eating anything processed. I moved to eating grass-fed beef, pasture-fed chicken eggs (what I call happy cows and happy chickens—eating what they’re supposed to eat, outside in the sun). I stopped eating most grains. Cut out bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. I still eat a little bit of brown rice and whole-grain oatmeal. I eat an average of 85 grams of carbs a day. I get the majority of it from vegetables and some fruit.
I eat meat. I eat eggs. I eat butter and cream. All that stuff that’s “bad” for you. I almost never feel hungry. For the most part, I don’t crave sugar or chocolate or junk food. (Although, last night I made dinner for a friend which included this signature chocolate thing I make for dessert. I almost fainted from the smell when I cut open the package of chocolate chips.) Last month I ate a piece of wedding cake at a friend’s wedding. It was the first sugar I’d eaten in six months—I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. I just don’t seem to have that raging sweet tooth I’ve had most of my adult life.
And, yes, quitting all the carbs cold turkey was hard.* Especially the first 3 or 4 days. I basically sat in my living room at night having a battle with myself and trying to ignore the cravings and the late-night grazing habits. But once I started getting some good food in my body, the cravings went away and I started seeing results pretty fast. I dropped 40 pounds in the first four months. I’ve dropped 74 pounds to date from my heaviest weight. Just by cutting out anything that came in a box or had sugar or grains in it and working out 5 or 6 days a week.
My A1c dropped from 7.2% to 6.2% and three months later to 5.6%. My cholesterol dropped from 318 to 236. I have so much energy I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes. And the depression I’ve suffered from since I was a kid—gone. Completely.
*This does come with a word of warning, though. This is something you have to do cold turkey. It’s really not something you can ease into. And it can really mess up a relationship if you don’t warn your partner about what you’re planning on doing before you do it, as well as leaving your friends scratching their heads when you retreat for a few weeks to battle your food demons. (Ask me how I know.)
Wow! I had no idea so many of you would be interested in reading about my adventures in trying to smite the diabetes. Oh, the responsibility. Thank you for all the comments you guys left.
Diabetes Sucks, Part 2
I really wanted to call my blog “Diabetes Sucks” but it turns out that someone had beat me to it and when you Google on that phrase it’s really obvious I’m not the only one who feels this way about having diabetes—doesn’t matter if it’s type 1 or type 2.
Diabetes is one of those diseases that really can’t be managed for you by someone else—no matter how good their intentions. My ex tried for years to get me to eat better, to pay more attention to the diabetes, to gently remind me that I do, in fact, have diabetes—but it usually ended in arguments and pouting because I’ve never liked being told what to do. And I didn’t want to be reminded about it while I was eating a piece of cake, or a big bowl of ice cream or seconds on mashed potatoes. I was happy living in my little bubble of denial.
It’s a really personal disease because it affects so many parts of your life. It can affect how you socialize—whether friends invite you to food-related things or not, whether you participate in potlucks, how far from home you can get without a snack, whether you can have a glass of wine with dinner or not, staying away from the goodies that people bring to the workplace, food gifts from vendors, trying not to hurt your host’s feelings when you don’t eat something they’ve prepared, etc. Your fingers are always sore from the blood testing which makes it hard to do things you may enjoy like playing the guitar, crafts, or doing anything that requires fingertips. If you have squeamish friends, you have to go find someplace to test* and/or give yourself a shot of insulin. So you end up missing out on fun and conversation. You can see why it’s a lot easier to just ignore the diabetes—it’s just a heck of a lot more fun to pretend you don’t have it.
Carbs are the enemy for diabetics. Most people know this. The more carbs you eat, the harder it is for your body to use the glucose, the higher your blood sugar goes, and the more exhausted your pancreas gets. So why the hell do doctors and nutritionists tell a type 2 diabetic to eat 200 grams of carbs a day without the benefit of injected insulin?
I did this for years. Guess what? My blood sugar averages were around 140 mg/dL which does NOT keep you out of the “bad things will happen to you later” level of the game.
My friend and fitness coach Kristn and I had been talking about eating for diabetes and the fact that what I’d been told to do wasn’t working, so she sent me a link to Mark’s Daily Apple where he pretty much laid out why type 2 happens and why eating all those carbs everyday is probably not a good idea. It’s written in laymen’s terms and talks about how the process works and how the excess carbs we eat contribute to type 2 diabetes. I learned more in this five or six minutes of reading than from my doctor, from the nutritionist, or from the 8 or 9 books I wasted money on about managing diabetes.
This got me thinking—I’d already been weightlifting hard for several months with measurable results (albeit no weight loss), but some definite rearrangement of fat. What if I tried to reduce my carb intake and packed on as much muscle as I could in order to increase my insulin sensitivity?
So that’s what started this sort of crazy journey. My initial goal really wasn’t to lose weight but to increase my insulin sensitivity so that my blood sugars would be more level—and lower—throughout the day and to eventually cut down on the amount of metformin I was taking. I figured if I snuck up on the diabetes from a different direction maybe I could beat it into submission.
And honestly, I’d given up on losing weight years ago.
*Personally, I test my blood sugar in the kitchen because that’s where I am when I get ready to eat and I’m more likely to test if the meter’s sitting there looking at me while I’m prepping a meal. Some people might think this is really gross but we’re talking about a drop of blood slightly larger than the head of a pin.
In my last post I included a reference to my A1c test results. I realized that unless you have diabetes you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes.
A1c is short for glychohemoglobin A1c test. It’s a blood test that can tell you what percentage of red blood cells have glucose bound to them at any given time. The test gives a result for about 12 weeks worth of glucose levels and is a reasonable review of how well- or badly-controlled your diabetes is. Non-diabetics will range between 4% and 6%. You’re considered to have good control if it’s under 7%. The lower it is, the less likely you are to suffer from the many lovely complications diabetes has to offer.
Generally, it’s not used for diagnosing diabetes, but they take it after you’re diagnosed, as a baseline. Mine was 9.7% when I was diagnosed, which still wasn’t as awful as some people when they’re first diagnosed, but it wasn’t good. For a diagnosis of diabetes, I believe a fasting blood sugar above 126 mg/dL gets you into the club for life.
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes on January 2, 2001. A heck of a way to start a new year! I weighed 260 pounds at 5’3”. I was just shy of 38 years old. My worst fear had come true—I had diabetes just like my dad.
This blog is about living (or not) with diabetes. For the first two years after I was diagnosed I did exactly what I was told by doctors and nutritionists. I thought I understood the disease because I’d grown up with a diabetic parent. Turns out I didn’t know shit about the disease I have, and neither did the medical personnel I was trusting to help me.
At the end of 2002, I suffered a back injury that left me unable to walk without assistance. I hobbled around for nine months and was at the mercy of anyone who was kind enough to bring me food or make me a meal. The only good thing that came out of it was daily swimming to keep moving. I gained back all the weight I’d managed to lose after my diabetes diagnosis. I pretty much gave up managing it and decided to ignore it for the next three years.
Then about 1.5 years ago I joined a gym, hired a trainer and worked out for a year. Six months ago I decided that I should look better for the amount of work I put in at the gym, so with help from my trainer, I radically changed the way I eat. I’ve lost 52 pounds since October 2007. It’s made a huge difference in my blood sugar levels.
I thought some of the stuff I’ve been doing might be of interest to others. Maybe someone will read this and get something from it, maybe not. But here it is.
Thanks for reading.