About six months ago, I had a major life changing event. I got diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. This pretty much came at me right out of left field. I wasn’t even aware of any family history of diabetes until I got diagnosed and then went hunting that information down. Turns out, yes, I have a family history. And then some. It seems my cousin has it, and at the time I’d gotten diagnosed, I found out he hadn’t taken care of himself and was about to lose his leg at the knee as a result. Yea, that was the alarm going off on my life.
Growing up, I never was one to worry much about it. I was active, healthy, I hiked, biked, and romped around the country side with wild abandon. Good times. As I got older, and lo, of all the life surprises, got Married, I settled at bit. And then my gut settled with me. And grew.
I got the mid life male spare tire by doing the things mid life men do; I ate Big meals because I was a Big guy. Freebirds supermonster burrito? Yea, you eat ten of ’em you get a t-shirt. I still have about six or so. Do the math. Large Pizza? A nice start to a meal. Tacos? Ten packs. Plural. Lots of fire sauce. Back in the days when I was running 40 miles a week on top of regular PT, eating like that really wasn’t an issue. Hell, back then I needed all that and more to keep myself with the calories I needed to live. Like most Infantry guys I know, I was the bane of anyplace that dared offer the word “Buffet”. “All You Can Eat” to me was a challenge issued and a gauntlet thrown down. Satisfaction was being happily full and having the owner of the establishment tallying in his head exactly how much of his stock I went through for 10 bucks. And crying.
But when I got married, and settled down a bit, while my activity dropped, my appetite didn’t. I’d wolf down burgers and fries and make most drive through meals disappear in sixty seconds or less. I got put on a spot at work for three years where I sat in a guard shack all day doing access control. The result? 245 lbs. That’s what I got up to. I was drinking a LOT of water. At the time, I dismissed it as a hot summer and I was being healthily hydrated.
I also had a monster sweet tooth. It came of coffee when I was in the Army. It came as the old Snickers saying for hikers. I was all for a four snickers hike. Well, I was all for the four Snickers. The hike was getting optional.
And lo, I ended up at the doctor’s office asking about my depression, which had taken a turn for the worse, when I got the news. “Oh, did you know your diabetes is out of control?”
To wit, I answered, utterly flabbergasted, “My what?”
Turns out, I had an A1C of 10%. For the non diabetics, you guys run normal at about 5%. Your blood sugar, when measured, usually falls between 80 and about 120, or even as high as 140 after a really sweet rich dessert. Mine was average around 245, and spiked as high as the high 300s. And I had no clue. None.
So, I did what I did originally with depression. I learned. Did I have a family history? Hell, neither of my parents had ever mentioned it, let me ask my dad.. Oh hi dad, do we have a family history of diabetes? We do? Gee, that’s nice. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME SOONER!?!?! Okay, gotta go deal with this. Love you dad, bye…
I went to my doctor. Guys and gals, I know what a lot of you are going to get. It’s pretty much summed up as the following. “YOU CAN’T EAT ANYTHING GOOD ANYMORE!!! OR YOU WILL DIEEEEEEEE.” Take the doom and gloom and dial it up to 11 or so. My doctor’s a good guy, but he was starting to get those cultist eyes talking about going vegan as a lifestyle choice. He even went as far as to say that I’d find meat “boring” after a month.
Um, doc, I was raised in Texas. You have a better chance of snorting a tornado than you do of trying to convince me that meat is “boring”. Sorry. No. I’m not going on the all-kale-vegan-smoothie-All-The-Time diet. Not for the love of my mother, NO. Ain’t happenin’. Get over it.
Then I went to a dietitian. Wendy’s an awesome dietician and diabetes educator who’s approach was centered more on what I Could eat than what I couldn’t. All you doctors out there? Yea. Get on board with that approach. It works tons better. I don’t care What your silly college said, go with the “You can” approach to this sort of thing. The “You Can’t” approach is going to get you a face full of Firefly Fan going full Malcom Reynolds on you screaming “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do!!” Or if it’s me, It’ll likely get you the “Damnit Doc, I’m a Grunt, not a Cultist whackjob” look. And then I’ll go find a Wendy type doctor and get a second opinion. More like a Sensible opinion.
It also helped that I apparently have a lot of friends who are quietly diabetic. I mostly didn’t know because I didn’t want to. Diabetes means needles. I don’t like needles. Diabetes means not eating anything I like eating. No sweets. No starches. No fatty meats. No burritos. No pizza. If Hell had another name, Diabetes does tend to sound a lot like Diablo. Maybe it’s his condo. I dunno.
They talked me down out of a few panic moments I had when my blood sugar spiked into the 170s and I didn’t know why. I knew what was supposed to be “Normal” by then, but not how to get there, or how to Stay there. Wendy and a few good friends got me on the know. They helped me get adjusted to living with this new thing to carry.
I knew the following: I didn’t want to lose my foot, either of them. I didn’t want to have to be on needles. It was bad enough blood testing six times a day. I didn’t want to have to go on insulin too. Looking at the choice between life with Snickers bars, or life with my wife hiking, I did the utterly no brainer smart thing. I went with my wife and hiking. I found out that I Can eat a lot of the things I used to, I just had to be willing to burn it off. That meant more activity. I got a post shift that allowed me to walk again, and I started right back up.
My wife nose beeped me and got into this too. Allow me to take a moment and brag; My Wife Is Awesome. She got right into living with a diabetic husband and made it her goal to keep me around for as long as possible. She got diabetic cook books, and started bouncing recipes off of me. Remember me praising the “this is what you Can eat” approach? Yea. I lucked out and got the wife who put my nose in a cook book and went “Wanna try it?” I found out that I actually Can eat a lot more than I thought I could. I didn’t have to give up chocolate, just the sugar in it. I can swap potatoes for cauliflower and I can still have Bangers and “Mash”, or Sheppard’s pie. I actually bent and got on a salad a day schedule. I reduced my portions to actually match (as much as I could) my activity. Going to work and going to walk 10 miles? I can have a treat. Going to stay in and play on the computer? Low carb, low calorie. Be good. Christmas dinner? Walk 30 minutes after dinner to burn off the spike.
Between Wendy, Tenaya, and my friends, I got my diet under control. I matched my intake with my activity. I dropped my A1C back down to 5.7. My goal is to keep my blood sugar below 110. Most days, it’s not hard so long as I keep track of what I’m eating vs. what I’m doing. It’s not the end of the world as you know it, it’s the discovery that the world isn’t exactly as you think it was. You just have to learn the balance your body has for taking in and what it uses and what it stores. I lost 40 plus pounds. I went from a size 40 back down to a size 36. It’s possible. It can be done. And I’m not the only one who lives with it as just another thing to carry. Is it an adjustment? Yes, it is. It’s just like any other life adjustment. It’s like growing a bit older, and a bit wiser.