Sadly, like a large percentage of other Americans today, I am diabetic.
This (above) is me: a woman who is at a higher risk of developing heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and a host of other problems (no, you don’t have to be overweight to be at risk).
I tried to deny it was the case for a couple of years. It was easier to deny with the last (6th) pregnancy, because I knew that when my 4th and 5th pregnancies ended at birth, my sugar levels had dropped and returned to normal levels. After the pregnancies were over, I didn’t have the same insulin resistance as I had while pregnant. I wrongly assumed the same would be true with my 6th pregnancy, but I was seriously mistaken.
When you’re waking up with a blood sugar level of 195 in the morning, you know you are not just “pre-diabetic” anymore.
After all of the abuse my body has taken throughout my childhood – with probably 90 percent of my diet being carbohydrates- and coupled with the fact that my dad and grandfather both have had diabetes…my body has finally said, “enough”, and what it used to be able to fight, now it cannot. I am insulin resistant.
I had passed my gestational diabetes test with flying colors within my first 3 pregnancies (when I was aged 19, 21, and 25), . But by the time I reached my 4th pregnancy at the age of 30, I was told I was gestational diabetic. I didn’t understand how this could happen. At the time, I knew nothing about the effects of carbohydrates. In fact, I would have been hard pressed to even tell anyone what a “carb” was at all.
With the threat of having to begin using insulin injections if my blood glucose levels didn’t go down, I began using the government recommended diet- which was really easy, since my diet basically followed this guideline anyway.
The dietitian at the hospital had advised me to eat 3 meals per day, at 30 carbs each…then to also have 3 snacks per day, totaling 15 carbs each. That is a total of 135 carbs per day. But this only made my blood sugar go up, not down. (It doesn’t take much to realize why- since the definition of diabetes is carbohydrate intolerance!)
Determined not to have to go on insulin injections, something I have seen my father and grandfather do my whole life, I decided to research and see what I could find. After spending day and night on the computer, I finally realized that the only way I was going to be able to do it would be to cut sugar out completely. That included things that convert to glucose in the body, such as potatoes, rice, flour, etc.
I cannot even describe how difficult this was to do. The only carb that I allowed myself to eat was beans, since it had fats and proteins in amounts that somehow did not spike my sugar as much as other carbohydrates. The first week was definitely the hardest. I had “carb flu” for about a week. I suffered with dizzy spells, feeling lethargic and fatigued, extreme irritability…and desperately craving ANYTHING with sugar or flour in it the entire week…after that, it became much easier (except at potlucks, where I would cry as I watched others eat what I was not able to).
One very difficult thing for me was avoiding bread. Before this, my life revolved around breads, and it was a staple in our home. Whether in the form of homemade breads that I made on a daily basis, to spaghetti noodles and other pastas that we used in literally ever meal we ever had before.
To try to think of what could be made without bread, but still be filling for me and the kids, was so difficult for me to know. I didn’t have many resources (most diabetes websites aren’t any help at all!). It didn’t help that James, my husband, was not in the least bit interested in following a low carb diet…and the kids weren’t too happy with the idea either. I also felt deprived by getting rid of rice and potatoes, two of my favorite fillers. So many times I would have to make my family something that I really wanted to eat, but I had to snack on almonds or eat deviled eggs instead and just watch them wistfully.
But the results were fantastic. I saw my sugar levels drop, drop, drop till they were at acceptable levels, and I indeed did not have to take insulin! My doctor had me chart my results each day, and I did. Sometimes I recorded my sugar levels up to 10 times a day (not because she told me to, but because I was curious how different foods affected my body). I also had other results that were wonderful…I was becoming more fit. (Not only had I reduced my sugar intake, I was exercising on the treadmill 45 minutes a day). I felt stronger, more energetic! I painted murals in the last two months of my pregnancy, and felt like I had more energy than I had ever had before.
The best part about this was that after I had my baby, I lost my baby belly within a week of having him. My stomach was completely flat. I had never experienced this before…I usually looked 6 months pregnant for a while after having a baby, but not this time. My belly was gone- I remember thinking, “Really, the carbs were the reason…not the pregnancy?”
Sadly though, after having my baby and realizing that my blood sugar levels were normal again, I felt like I could eat carbs again. After all, my doctor said so.
So I allowed myself to eat bread, pasta, rice again. Not as excessively, but since sugar is more addictive than cocaine (no joke!), once I started eating it again, it was harder to say “no” when opportunities would present themselves again.
A year and a half later, I was pregnant again. I knew I probably had gestational diabetes again. I asked the doctor to please test me earlier rather than later, since I probably had it. (I thought I wouldn’t have the will power to go on the diet if I didn’t know for sure I had a problem). Her response was that no, I didn’t have the risk factors (being overweight, I guess?) for gestational diabetes, so she would wait till I was 6 months.
At 6 months, she tested me and lo and behold, I was gestational diabetic. She advised me to go on the same diet I had been on last time, if I wanted to avoid insulin injections. So I did the same thing with that pregnancy, and ended up keeping the levels down in the same way. Again, after she was born, I lost all my baby weight. My glucose levels were back to normal. I decided this time I was going to stay on the low carb/high fat (ketogenic) diet…and I did. For a while. Until about a year later, I had a little piece of a biscuit and thought to myself, wow…that was so delicious. A little bit won’t matter. Then later, “a little bit more of this or that won’t matter”. And soon, a little bit was a little bit more, and the addiction had gotten me back again. Not quite as bad as before, but bad enough.
Then, I became pregnant again and got back on track- again. But this time, when I delivered him, I noticed my blood sugar levels did not return to normal. My grace period was over. They were doing the same thing they did while I was pregnant. I would wake up with 150-190 blood sugar level, and have to work hard to bring it down…then during the day, if I kept moving, I could keep my levels down around 100, but if not, a lot of the time they would linger around 150, which is very dangerous.
Even a little bit of sugar has this effect. I don’t buy flour. I don’t buy sugar. I don’t buy bread (except for the kids). My meals are mostly low carb, but the little bit of sugar that I do eat has a tremendous impact on my body.
And when we go out to town, it’s almost impossible to eat low carb without spending a fortune…so sometimes I have given in and had a hamburger, minus one bun…which is very bad for me because unfortunately even just 15 carbs is too much, and spikes my sugar.
For a while, I decided to go into denial mode. “Oh no, I’m not diabetic. I’m pre-diabetic and it’s not really that bad.”, or “as long as I don’t buy a monitor and see the effect, it isn’t happening. After all, I can’t FEEL high blood sugar spikes…I’m fine!”.
Eventually I started to notice I was getting jittery or dizzy when I would have something with sugar in it. Anything with flour did it the worst. I decided to get a monitor and check again. Maybe my levels would be okay, I thought. Maybe it’s something else. But it turned out, my glucose levels were really high, dangerously high, and that was the moment when I realized, I have to do something. I have to admit this is a problem, and I need to actually deal with it.
So that is the point I am at today. And sometimes I find it extremely hard to say “no” to anything that spikes my glucose levels. If someone offers me bread, ice cream, or anything like that…it’s basically like offering whiskey to an alcoholic. It’s very hard to resist. But I am getting better at it. It makes it easier on me as long as I don’t BUY sugar or anything that converts to glucose in the body. That way I am not presented with temptation.
As long as I keep my sugar intake down, my levels are usually good enough to pass and not require insulin. I also have to force myself to be active. It’s amazing how just 15 minutes of cardio can dramatically lower my sugar levels.
I realize that I could be taking insulin injections – but I also know that sometimes it can cause you to become lax with your diet. It can make you say, “I can eat this much sugar, and just adjust my insulin, and everything will be fine!” I don’t want to do that, because I know ultimately, that doesn’t really help me. I have seen people who are diabetic take too much insulin, and pass out because they worked a little bit and it brought their sugar levels too low. I don’t want that to be me. I want to eat only foods that help my body, not hurt it. But I’ll need support. It’s not always easy. Fortunately, I have a husband (who now is on the diet himself when he’s home with me) and children who are very supportive!
I want to also mention that my first gestational diabetic pregnancy, I didn’t realize how many delicious things you COULD eat on the low carb diet…I only knew what I COULDN’T eat. Once I realized that you do not have to suffer, and that there are so many ways to enjoy food without having the junk, it made the diet a lot easier to manage.
I’m going to start posting some low carb recipes here when I get a chance, in case anyone else is in the same situation as me, and would like to help themselves naturally. I’ll also try to post research and other things that might be helpful.
Also, I highly recommend this documentary.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts! Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you have any personal stories, advice, or tips to share?