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6 Truths About Diabetes

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Are you a Diabetic? If you have had a recent diagnosis, I would like to welcome you aboard! I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1999 and it was devastating. I focused on what I couldn’t eat, couldn’t do, the insulin that I would need for the rest of my life, I missed the blessing for many years.

I knew that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) eat sweets. I learned quickly that breads and pastas, beer and sodas were a terrible choice. Pizza? Forget it. The American diet of burgers and fries, of pasta meals and breadsticks was not for me any longer. I cried about it. I felt angry, then furious. I tried to cheat, but I just felt awful for several days each time. I knew I needed to come to terms with my diagnosis, I just was too angry for too long. Until I started searching for a way out of the sadness...

I listened to people with other diseases talk about how they refused to be defined by their disease. I tried that for a while, but it did not serve me well. I have Diabetes. I am a diabetic. It determines everything that I eat, how I prepare foods, and what I need to do each day in terms of exercise, meals, and what I take with me when I leave the house. Diabetes effects where I can eat out, what I can order, and what I drink. There is virtually no part of my life that is untouched by Diabetes. That is why, instead of trying to not be defined by Diabetes, I own it.

I am a diabetic and I am in control. I can choose what I eat to keep me as healthy as possible. I can choose to exercise everyday to maintain a steady control of my weight, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. I control my diabetes; it does not control me.

Within that ownership, there are a few truths about Diabetes with which I have come to terms. I had to rethink food and redefine my relationship with food. It’s not an easy task because so much of our social life is linked with food and drink, but I do like living and if I’m not careful with my food, I won’t live long.

Truth #1 - Excellent food is not sweet.

Most people, when first diagnosed with Diabetes wonder what they could possibly have for dessert. Instead of thinking about all the other foods that impact blood sugar levels (i.e. bread, pasta, soda) they look to the sugar-free dessert books. That is a natural tendency, but also a mistake.

Instead of focusing in on only sugar-laden foods, we also need to educate ourselves on the foods that are turned into sugar in our body. Namely, wheat. Bread, pasta, creamy gravy, and crackers are not sweetened foods, but your body will react similarly to them as if you had eaten a piece of pie.

Finding a delicious meal plan that works for every diabetic is not easy. Many experts will tell you that you can have a little pasta, a little rice, a little dessert. And maybe your system can handle that. But if you are a Type 1, it's better to avoid them at all costs. Once I figured this out, I was more willing to give up on finding desserts and learning how to make amazing meals that worked for the whole family.

As I worked through maintaining good blood sugar control, I was surprised to discover that I lost my taste for sweets. Apples are overly sweet and chocolate cake tastes gross to me now. Excellent foods are deliciously flavored, high in nutrients, and leave me feeling satisfied and healthy. (Don’t misunderstand…the cravings for sweets ebbs and flows, just like any former addict will attest. This is where the power of prayer and the gift of fortitude come into play.)

Truth #2 - Not All Carbohydrates Are the Same.

When I was first diagnosed, the dietician trained me to dose my fast-acting insulin to the number of carbohydrates (CHO) in each meal. Every diabetic has a different level in insulin needed to counter

Protein Bowl. I skipped the rice.

the effects of the sugar in the food, for me it is essentially 1 cc of insulin per 15 grams of CHO.

When I ate a sandwich, even with one slice of bread, the CHO load was 22. I took 1.5 cc’s of insulin, but after two hours, my blood sugars were still well over 250. When I replaced the bread by putting my ‘sandwich fixings’ on a salad, even 1 cc of insulin is too much. When I added a sliced apple to that meal (an apple is typically about 15 CHO), the insulin worked perfectly. Two hours later, my blood sugars were at 115.

What’s the difference between the CHOs of bread and those of an apple? Bread is not grown on a tree, a vine or a bush. It is ground grain, altered, mixed with other ingredients, and baked. An apple is an apple. The human body, especially one under the struggle of diabetes, knows what to do with food in its natural form, but has less ability to manage the complexity of processed foods.

For me, when I do have some processed foods, I take more insulin to counter the effects. Finding this balance of how much to take for different foods is difficult. Sometimes I win, most often I don't and my levels soar. I save those extra injections for very special occasions.

Truth #3 - The more insulin you inject, the more weight you will gain.

This is actually the formula for gaining weight:

eating foods that require insulin + lack of exercise = weight gain.

There is an excellent article here that explains this much better than I can.

Truth #4 - Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed. Type 1 Diabetes can be managed. Both can be blessings.

It is absolutely possible for someone with Type 2 Diabetes to change their diet, increase exercise and within a few months, not have Type 2. Type 2 is a choice; or sometimes a consequence of medication. The cure for a Type 2 is a life-style choice, one that will help people overcome obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and possibly cancer. Why would you NOT cure your diabetes?

Speaking personally, because the injectable insulin is synthetic, I prefer to take as little as I possibly can. This means that I eat low-carb, I exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and I drink quite a bit of water. I also test my blood sugars often and adjust my insulin dosage to match. The better I eat, the more I exercise, the less insulin I need. That gives me a more control over my situation, it keep excess weight off, and keeps me alive a little bit longer.

Truth #5 - Healthy Eating Takes Time

There are actually two truths here: 1) It takes time to adjust to eating healthy and 2) it takes time to prepare healthy foods.

Let’s attack the first truth first. Making any change to a lifestyle habit takes time. Changing the way we turn to food in times of stress, distress, and at any moment that our expectations don’t meet our reality is a real obstacle. There are so many articles on the Internet and in books on this, I won’t spend much time on it here. The truth is, you will need to be incredibly strong, focused and motivated to make changes to your lifestyle. I highly recommend prayer and a supportive friend or team of friends to help.

The second part of eating healthy is the fact that it takes time to prepare healthy foods. I can go to the store and purchase all kinds of pre-packaged food that is delicious and ready to eat, but that is how our society got fat in the first place. It’s time to go back to the basics.

What are the basics of food? If you can grow it, pick up, shoot it, or find it in nature, it’s basic. Our culture is not a hunter-gatherer system, but if you shop the perimeter of your grocery store, you can find the same items. Look for food in its most natural form. Meat (not processed meat), cheese, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, oils, nuts, seeds.

First, along with the idea that changes are necessary to your lifestyle to improve your health, give yourself a month of NOT eating out. Plan your meals. (Here is a link to a pre-made meal plan for Type 1 Diabetics that also has your budget in mind.)

Next, plan time to prepare the food. Picture opening up your refrigerator on Monday morning to a stack of pre-cooked and ready to warm-and-eat meals that will keep you satisfied and on track all week. That can be a reality when you invest Saturday mornings to: shopping, pre-cooking meat, chopping vegetables, preparing sauces, and boxing up your food for the next week. This is time well-spent for a healthy body that will give you more time to live.

Second, embrace this challenge. Cooking can be wonderful fun. Crank up the music, find a friend or two, and start exploring new recipes that follow this basic format of eating.

You will undoubtedly come across a recipe that calls for pasta. Instead of reaching for a gluten-free pasta, which is incredibly high in carbohydrates and will do more harm than good, stay basic and turn to a vegetable. Zucchini can be grated into zoodles or sliced thinly, salted and dried to replace lasagna noodles. Eggplant can do the same. Cauliflower can be riced or mashed like potatoes. Will it taste the same? No. Will you feel better? Absolutely. And after a while, your taste will prefer the vegetable option and your energy and digestive system will thank you for forgoing all the processed foods. Again, it’s a strength of mind issue. Stick with it. Don’t be afraid of the change in taste.

When you do eat out or go to a friend’s house for dinner, stay strong. Here’s a story…A dear family member struggled with alcoholism. He made great strides toward recovery and is now leading others along the same path. His success is amazing and I am so very proud of him. Along that road to recovery, family and friends did not drink around him, which eliminated the temptation. People don’t do that with diabetics. They continue to bring dessert and pasta and sweets to every event and lament with you, “Oh, I’m so sorry you can’t have any. Having diabetes must be so hard.” Yes it is. Thank you, very much. The truth for me is very few people helped me through this the way alcoholics are helped to overcome their addictions. It’s up to you to come to any social situation prepared. Bring a safe dessert. Mix up your own low-carb drinks. Order a salad without croutons, or order a really nice cut of meat with roasted or sauteed vegetables when you go out. Have something safely sweet for yourself when you get home. Stay strong and remember that tomorrow morning when you check your blood sugars, you will feel a pride in yourself that will last much longer than a piece of cake.

Truth #6 - Exercise Every Day for at least 30 Minutes

Exercise is the magic for a diabetic. Well, everyone benefits from exercise, but diabetics, especially, because getting the heart pumping helps maintain healthy glucose levels. Walking 30 minutes a day and a quick pace will shed extra pounds, tone muscle, and help prevent heart issues that are so common to Diabetics. Find a personal trainer and have a weight lifting program designed specifically for you. Join a gym, gather friends to walk together, play pickleball, hike on nature paths, swim…just choose a variety of activities and do something every day.

A final word: Being diagnosed with Diabetes is a big deal. It is natural to feel afraid, frustrated, and angry. This truly is a process that requires time to mourn. Go through those steps while you educate yourself and become your own expert on your health. Please let me know how I can pray for you or if you have any questions. Working together with people who are struggling through the same issues is the best way to succeed!

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