In May of 2018, at the age 51, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. In this article I would like to share some personal experience with you. Living with Type 2 Diabetes and learning how to make the right nutritions choices isn't always easy. Here is my journey...
At the time of diagnosis my HbA1C was 68 mmol/mol (8,4%) and I had symptoms such as frequent urination, tiredness, and a general sense that I was not well.
I went to see the doctor about my frequent urination because this is also a symptom of Prostate Cancer. At the time, there was a big push in the UK about men not getting examined for this condition.
Many things came together
During this period of my life, I was not in a good place mentally. Various factors including the loss of my job of 28 years, my wife’s diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and financial challenges had left me feeling very low. Looking back, I think it was these events, that happened in 2013 and 2014, that were my tipping point into Type 2 Diabetes.
By lucky coincidence, at the time of my diagnosis there was a big push in the UK to promote the growing concern of Type 2 Diabetes and obesity. My BMI at this point was 39. There were 3 TV documentaries I remember that focused on the link between Type 2, obesity, and the impact that carbs have on blood sugar levels.
I had become an obesity statistic
When I was told that I had become an obesity statistic I felt very ashamed and embarrassed but was immediately determined to do something about it. I was also a little scared, my Grandad had died from Type 1 diabetes at quite a young age in the early 1970’s and my Nan had lived with Type 2 for the last 2 decades of her life. When I began to realise what the long-term health impacts would be if I didn’t take action it was a shock to the system – I could experience anything from a stroke or heart failure, to loss of vision or amputation.
My health team did provide me with lots of information about nutrition and I also attended a training session where Type 2 was explained in more detail and a dietician provided information on all the major food groups and how they impact blood sugars. There were conflicting messages from the media and health teams – the big push in the media at the time was that carbs were not good for you and should be removed from your diet.
I had used food as comfort
The dietician's advice was much more focused on a balanced diet that included all of the food groups, including supposedly “evil” carbs. They distinguished between good and bad carbs and explained that carbs play an important role in fuelling our bodies.
Historically, I had used food as comfort for many years, to relieve stress. I went through a very long period of my life where sleeping was very difficult.
I would wake up and go downstairs to eat, just to take my mind off the stresses of work and everyday life. This became habitual and worsened after I lost my job. I was frightened that I would not be able to provide for my family.
So, loaded with a mountain of information I set off at speed to start the process of gaining back control of my blood sugars and BMI.
Structured blood sugar testing helped to see if I was on the right track
For approximately 4 months I removed all non-essential carbs from my diet (bread, rice, pasta, cakes, potatoes, sweets, snacks etc.) and introduced other food and better carbs. I still ate fruit, vegetables and salads and combined these with chicken, eggs, fish, pork, and nuts etc. I combined this with a new exercise regime which I’ll discuss in another article.
During this time, I did monitor my blood sugars very frequently, normally while fasting in the morning, half an hour after breakfast, half an hour after lunch and half an hour after dinner. I was able to get a feel for what foods impacted me and which one’s didn’t. It was also reassuring to see if I was on the right track.
The impact was immediate, after 4 months my BMI had dropped to 30 and my blood sugars had dropped to an HbA1C of 34 with the help of a daily dose of 500mg of Metformin. I had significantly reduced my calorie intake to achieve this and I averaged about 1250 calories per day. The timing was excellent, summertime in the UK was unusually hot and dry that year, which always has a positive impact on my wellbeing. The hard part was going to be maintaining it through the cold, dark winter months.
As the winter of 2018 approached, I became less disciplined with food choices and counting calories. Again, it had been historically typical of me to lose weight in the summer and gain it all back in the winter. I did however, for the first time in many years maintain my exercise routine.Come wind, rain, or shine I would be out walking significant distances. This habit remains today!
When my annual diabetic review was scheduled in April of 2019, I was a little nervous, but I was pleasantly surprised that my HbA1C was still out of the diabetic range, with a reading of 43.
Balancing nutrition and exercising is key
As time ticked on, I developed a routine that included more and more intense exercise and trying to eat in a healthy and balanced way. Dieting can become obsessive, and I have strong beliefs that restricting food, any food is not sustainable. My current method relies heavily on consistency and forgiving myself when I have a bad day.
Here is my current meal routine:
- Breakfast – Jumbo Porridge Oats, made with Almond Milk, Flaked Almonds, and a Banana
- Lunch – normally egg and mushroom based, with maybe some wholemeal toast
- Dinner – Protein, Veg/Salad, and a friendly starched based carb
This approach ensures that I am not hungry, not obsessing about food and combined with my exercise regime has successfully controlled my blood sugars. So much so, that I was able to come off medication in October of 2020.
What frustrates me now more than anything is my poor body image and my BMI. Despite my very best efforts my BMI has still not dropped down to the magical “25”. I hover between 30 and 32. It sometimes has a very negative impact on me because all my other health measures are good. My resting heart rate, recovery from exercise, blood pressure, and cholesterol are all normal or excellent.
I do not cut things out but enjoy all kinds of food in moderation
The other point to make here is that I’m not a Saint. I try to do everything in moderation, I still drink alcohol but not beer, mainly Red Wine these days, because it has less of an impact on my blood sugars. I still eat the occasional cake or chocolate, but I think at present I have the balance right.
I certainly think that my exercise regime, which now includes running, has helped me to include good and bad carbs in my diet without impacting my blood sugars. I do think about what the future holds and whether in 10 years’ time I will have the same commitment I have now. I don’t dwell on it, but I am conscious of it. Without a doubt, I can run faster and longer when I have consumed more carbs.
For me, food choices are much harder to manage than exercise
In summary, I find that food choices and intake are much harder to manage than exercise. There are so many choices in so much abundance and many of those options are processed, cheap and carb based.
As humans our instinct tells us to consume carbs and sugars in all their forms, it is part of our survival instinct. Learning to gain back control of the beast is not easy but with smart thinking it can be achieved.
My 10 tips that have worked for me personally
- There are no miracle potions or cures
- Don’t be overly restrictive
- Consistency is key
- Eat food that satisfies your appetite
- Educate yourself on food groups
- Forgive yourself for those bad days (you will have them)
- Understand which carbs work better for you personally
- Find a method that works for you
- Share your story, inspire others