CW/TW: Discussion of diet/weight loss culture, and my personal history with that.
It’s not possible to have a clear understanding of my journey in dealing with diabetes without knowing about my history of dieting and my recovery from weight-loss dieting (which I consider to be an eating disorder). I have decades’ worth of scars and feelings about that – which I am forced to acknowledge and confront as I deal with my diabetes. There is a vast difference between my blood sugar control program and my previous attempts to control my body size – and yet, there are also some areas of similarity where the emotional impact feels too close for comfort and I have to deal with that too.
A brief telling of my history: I started dieting when I was a skinny 10 year old athlete, trying to get thinner. It was a life-consuming obsession for me until my early 30’s, when between having a baby and losing my dad, I gained almost 100 pounds. During that time, I found the size acceptance/fat liberation movement. I started making my way toward a healthy relationship with my body. I mostly stopped dieting (I had a few slip-ups along the way) – and I came to love and have compassion and appreciation for my body at any size, fatter or thinner.
I was exposed to HAES ® (Health at Every Size®), promoted by ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity and Health) – and I learned to put my focus on health rather than weight as I considered my life choices. I threw away my scale and learned to be in tune with my body’s signals: when I was hungry, when I needed to move and be active, when I needed to rest. There were a few times when I got caught up in a “lifestyle change” – and those times led me dangerously close to my former weight loss obsession days. In fact, I went all in at one point, lost a bunch of weight – and my belief is that this weight loss directly contributed to losing my gallbladder (it’s rare that people tell you about the dangers of weight loss dieting – they are worth considering!). The weight, of course, came back. That was okay with me – I just wanted to feel healthy.
I was healthy and active and fat for many years. All of my health indicator numbers were good. My very complicated (and often emotionally painful) relationship with food and my body had shifted to a place of peace and simple pleasure. I was so grateful to not have to worry about food, but just to enjoy it when I was hungry or felt like partaking of something. That happy world came to a crashing halt when I received my diabetes diagnosis. I knew I didn’t want to go on medication if I could avoid it, but my relationship with food became complicated again – and decades’ worth of feelings about deprivation and denying myself foods I enjoy came back into play. Even though this program has no emotional connection to weight for me, I still regularly have to deal with some challenging emotions and triggers because of the similarity to weight loss dieting (counting carbs, basically cutting out whole groups of foods, etc.).
When I first read Dr. Hyman’s book (TW/CW: he uses the word “diabesity”, which I find offensive and annoying as hell, he also has a strong focus on weight – but I took the information I needed and left the bias and BS, although I can certainly see how it could be triggering. Unfortunately, that is the general reality in the medical field and trying to get useful information is nearly impossible without wading through the ignorant bias against fatness), I followed his program very carefully. As time went along and I read other things, I made some small adjustments to make it work for me, including adding a little dark chocolate into my daily regimen. I later experimented with some protein bars and protein powders for convenience and some variety. It didn’t take long to get my blood sugar back to normal and keep it there. I felt mostly good, but at times, I was bored with my food and sad that I couldn’t have bread and some of my other favorite foods. I felt angry that I couldn’t just eat “normally.” But I stuck with it because what other choice did I have? I couldn’t allow my diabetes to spin out of control. I was fearful of going anywhere outside the lines of the strict program I was following.
I was doing well for a little over 18 months, when I developed a pain in my right side that the doctor couldn’t figure out. That pain was quite alarming to me. It plagued me for weeks. I was so annoyed because I was doing everything right (!!!) – this wasn’t fair! A friend, who’s a retired nurse, suggested that it might be a kidney stone, and that perhaps drinking a beer would help me to relax and feel better. I was desperate, so I tried it. It did actually help a little – and it didn’t hurt my blood sugar! Because I tend to be an “all-or-nothing” type of person, that opened the door to increasing forays into the world of foods and beverages which I hadn’t allowed myself for so long. The pain disappeared and I felt significantly happier in general. I felt so much better, actually, that I wondered if maybe I’d been missing some important nutrients by completely avoiding grains.
I monitored my blood sugar as I went – and it seemed to be holding pretty steady. The pandemic hit and it became a little harder to stay on my program. Long story short, my blood sugar started rising a little, but I was feeling good and I was happy to be having pizza and beer once in a while (etc.), so I ignored it. Rice, corn, potatoes, bread – all of the carbs I’d been avoiding – started becoming a normal part of my daily food intake. And then one day, I woke up feeling awful and my fasting blood glucose reading was 145. That was just a few days ago. Now, here I am trying to figure it out and get my blood sugar under control again.
I know the steps, but I need to make it long-term livable for me too. I need to find the balance that will allow me to control my blood sugar without feeling deprived and unhappy about what I eat – and without causing myself nutritional deficiencies. I’m not happy if I can’t ever have, for example, bread, or lasagna, or a burger with fries. I’m also not happy if I’m feeling light-headed and nauseous because my sugar is too high. I want to be happy and healthy! And I remain committed to not going on medication. So, this dance with diabetes continues for me. It’s not all smooth and easy – and I am far from perfect at it. I’m still figuring out the balance, but I feel hopeful. I know that I have some leeway – I just need to be mindful of how far from the original program I stray. It took many months of being pretty careless before I really paid the price. It’s daily decisions that add up over time, not every single meal. I know this – now I just have to do it – in a way that supports my emotional and mental health as well as my physical health. Physical activity has been an important factor too, which I was very consistent about before the pandemic and have struggled with since the pandemic. I need to make that a priority in my life again too. I’ve got this!
Disclaimer: Please be advised that I am not a medical professional nor a dietician. This site is not in any way, shape, or form providing any sort of diagnosis, advice, cures, or recommendations for medical or dietary treatments. I am simply sharing my own journey and experiences. Nothing I say is intended to replace proper medical care.