Oh, Crap, I Have Diabetes: A Quick-Start Guide

Diabetes is a tough diagnosis to swallow. It means changing your whole lifestyle, which can be daunting. I’ve compiled a few tips to help you figure out where to begin. One of the things that was hardest for me to wrap my little perfectionist mind around was that there is no such thing as always “getting it right.” This is a process. Some things you need to get a handle on as quickly as possible. Other changes will develop over time as you learn what works for you and your body. But here are 10 relatively easy changes you can make in those first few weeks after diagnosis (or, for long-time diabetics, right now if you haven’t already!).

Things I Was (Mostly) Already Doing

1. Don’t Drink Your Carbs–I like to eat. I mean, food can be fantastic, even (and I might even say especially) on a diabetic diet. So if I have a choice between awesome food and some syrupy beverage, I’m choosing food, hands down. Cut out regular soda, sweet tea, coffee with sugar and juice immediately. That’s right–the juice has to go, too. These are all carb-loaded empty calories, and dumping them will free up a lot of room for the good stuff. You won’t even miss it, I promise. And with all the great sugar-free alternatives out there, you have no excuse for clinging to that Coke can.

2. Don’t Drink Your Carbs–No alcohol. Sorry, guys. It’s nothing but sugar, and it will cause you nothing but trouble. My rule is no alcohol at all, but you could possibly get away with the occasional small glass of wine. Just don’t forget to include it in your carb count. And consult your doc.

3. Dump the White Flour–In very un-PC terms, “White ain’t right.” No white bread, no white pasta, no white flour. The whole-wheat versions taste so much better anyway and are widely available. Plus the added fiber will help slow down your carb absorption, minimizing the blood sugar spikes.

4. Find Exercise You Actually Like–I hate the gym. I don’t understand why anyone would run anywhere unless bears were chasing them. And I never learned how to ride a bike. But I’ve always loved dance, so when I discovered a passion for belly dance six years ago, it was love at first sight. If you don’t like your exercise routine, it will always be like pulling teeth. But if you’re doing something you love, you may just forget you’re getting a workout at all. Think outside the box if the gym doesn’t do it for you. Try fencing, hiking, Zumba, chasing an unruly two-year-old (maybe you can borrow mine for a couple of hours!). And, hey, if running from imaginary bears works for you…go for it!

5. Pack a Lunch–Restaurant meals are notoriously high carb, high sugar and generally bad for you. Save the eating out for special occasions and make packing a healthy, low-carb lunch a priority. Bonus: your bank account will thank you.

Mostly Painless Changes I Made After Diagnosis

1. If You’re Going to Eat Something, Add Protein–If your breakfast usually consists of a cup of yogurt, add some turkey sausage on the side. If you’re grabbing an apple for a quick afternoon pick-me-up, have a slice of cheddar to go with it. Like fiber, protein will help slow down your carb absorption, meaning you can enjoy your yummy food without stressing about your blood sugar.

2. Discover the Joys of Alternative Flours–Almond flour is the food of the gods! I’ll prove it in the coming weeks with some yummy recipes. From biscuits to pancakes to cakes and cookies, you can use this low-carb, high-protein wheat alternative to help keep some of your favorite foods on the menu. Also check out coconut flour and flax meal.

3. Make That Exercise You Love a Priority–It’s the easiest thing in the world to drop off your to-do list. You got up early, got the kids to school, worked all day (and maybe it was a rough day), cooked dinner, did a little housework and now you want nothing more than to curl up on the couch and not work, not think, not move for the rest of the evening. But you need at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week…more if you can manage it. You’ll see a huge difference in your blood sugar numbers. Schedule it in just like anything else, and don’t even entertain the idea that exercise is optional. Play around with different times of day–I do better with a post-dinner workout, but maybe you’re an early bird or perhaps your lunch break offers the opportunity to get out for a walk.

4. Save Your Carbs for the Stuff You REALLY Love–So, sure, you’ve always eaten a baked potato alongside your steak. But if the thing that really gets your motor running is the promise of a couple of almond flour chocolate chip cookies after dinner, go ahead and ditch the boring stuff. You get a certain number of carbs per meal…don’t waste them on food you’re just programmed to eat.

5. Embrace the Super Dark Chocolate–Technically this belongs above in the “things I was already doing” category, but it’s good advice either way. Hankering for a chocolate fix but the ugly truth about carb counts in sugar-free candy got you down? Never fear, the 85 percent cacao is here! Four squares of this extra dark chocolate only contains 15 grams of carbs, which means you can almost always squeeze in a square or two to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of a meal. Bonus: Lots of fiber, antioxidants and iron wrapped up in a decadent little bittersweet package.

What quick and easy changes have you discovered to help you maintain a Sugar-Free Sweet Life?


How It All Started, Part 2

Evidently I was still technically conscious for another 24 hours or so after arriving at the hospital, although I remember none of it. During that time I repeatedly told my husband to go away, talked completely out of my head and asked my mom if I was going to die.

Deep in the throes of diabetic ketoacidosis and severe dehydration, my body was going nuts. ICU doctors whose faces I don’t recall still recognize me when we’re out and about from time to time. My case was so severe and so completely odd that I’m probably going to end up in a medical text book, if not as the inspiration for an episode of House. It didn’t seem to matter how much insulin they pumped into my body, my blood sugar levels would soar just minutes later. My pH levels were such that few people live to tell about. I developed some sort of mystery infection the doctors were never able to diagnose. At one point, I had no fewer than 12 IV bags going…probably hundreds over the course of my stay. On the brink of respiratory failure with fluid in my lungs, I was sedated and intubated. My boss asked the doctors if they could back those drugs up a couple of days so that I wouldn’t remember her asking me to update the Web site.

The dreams were definitely trippy. I dreamt up hospital art installations that looked like the Gates of Mordor and some sort of weird 80’s-style, acid-wash-and-neon, pointy moving blades…thing. And I distinctly remember wondering why a hospital would display such depressing artwork. I dreamed about my husband’s boss coming by to visit, doctors removing a chicken egg from my arm and an entire tree made out of snow, which, my husband later said, “must have been slap full of Whos.”

The final diagnosis was type 1 diabetes. That’s right, type 1. It’s not just for kiddies, my friends.

So, needless to say, these were scary times. Many people end up with a diabetes diagnosis with no real sense of the ramifications. Sure, the doctors tell them they could go blind or lose a leg if they don’t take care of themselves, but that seems like an imaginary closet boogeyman. It’s easy to pick up another Twinkie when it’s all theoretical. Me? I almost died. There’s no questioning how serious this disease is. So I’ve changed my lifestyle. And that’s where you come in, dear readers. I’m here to talk about how I manage my diagnosis in hopes of helping you manage yours.

I have a couple of ground rules, though:

1. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m just a girl with diabetes. What you read here is what works for me, but PLEASE run any changes in your diet/lifestyle by your docs first.

2. Take care of yourself the best way you can.

Welcome to the sugar-free sweet life, ┬ámy friends! We’re gonna have a great ride.

How It All Started, Part 1

See, it was a hot Saturday in August. I was sick. Really sick. I didn’t even know how sick.

The week had been going badly, overall. First, my two-year-old son was diagnosed with hemophilia. Talk about a major blow. No family history, nada. We were still trying to grasp the ramifications when he came down with a stomach virus, no doubt picked up from the floors of the children’s hospital as he sped down the halls on a ride-on fire truck and flirted with the nurses. Clearly, a little clotting problem is not going to keep him down. My husband caught the bug in quick succession, but thanks to the can of Lysol I carried everywhere with me and the fact that I had scrubbed the skin off my hands with antibacterial soap, it looked like I was going to escape unscathed.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

When I woke up somewhere between Friday night and Saturday morning, I pretty much wanted to die on the tiles of our bathroom floor. And I never, ever, I mean never wanted to see Thai food again. Ugh. So I spent a lot of time crying into the toilet that day. And the next.

Monday morning I told my husband we had to go to the hospital. Something was not right with this stomach virus from hell, and I hadn’t kept down so much as a glass of water since dinner on Friday. When I found that I couldn’t even get out of bed to get dressed, I told my husband he had to call an ambulance.

In the meantime, my boss texted me:

“Hey, I know you’re out sick today, but do you think you could maybe update the Web site from home?”

“Um, no, on my way to the ER. Sorry!”

The paramedics took one look at me and pulled out a blood glucose meter.

My blood sugar was 469.

For those of you keeping score, the normal range is between 80 and 120.

We headed to the hospital, lights and sirens blaring. I remember being in the hallway of the ER. I remember a nurse checking my blood pressure. I remember one of the paramedics coming by to tell me they were going to take care of me. And that’s the last thing I remember, for more than a week.