Photo credit: Focal Flame Photography.
It was only a little over a year ago that I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
This first year of my diabetes diagnosis has been as tumultuous as anyone could imagine. In those first three months my entire view of the world suddenly changed - or so it felt. A couple months prior, I had just finished my third Ironman distance triathlon to add to a resume full of endurance endeavors. I considered myself a very healthy individual.
Endurance sports had given me mental and physical balance. Long runs and bike rides provide a solitude and freedom for me to decompress. The black line on the bottom of the pool was a like a magic eraser for the world's stresses. Reflecting back, what on earth did I find stressful back then? Life was good. I lived relatively carefree and easy. Every time I left the house I'd slap my pockets... "Wallet, keys, phone and go!" If I forgot any of those items it was only a minor inconvenience.
How My Life Changed with Diabetes
Obviously things are different now. Not that life is totally free of stress, but those initial months of adjusting to living with diabetes were the most complicated and stress-filled months of my life. Suddenly everything I did seemed to require conscious awareness.
I could no longer risk being unprepared. Life was no longer simple. Leaving the house required knowing that I had everything I needed for my diabetes management. Riding my bike or running isolated trails alone were no longer wise ways to relieve my stress. The fear of becoming hypoglycemic and unable to treat myself while alone outweighed the reward. While I was figuring things out, riding, running and swimming actually increased my stress due to the careful attention to detail required to complete the activity safely. Exercise was no longer carefree.
For my first three months I was on multiple daily injections of basal, long-acting insulin and meal-time, rapid-acting insulin. My health and athleticism made me highly insulin sensitive. Considering that I lived alone, I was fearful of going low and woke up many times per night to ensure that I counted everything right. As a large and powerful athlete, I burn a lot of energy rapidly. The more I burned, the more I needed to replace. With those large meals, the risks of both high and low blood glucose levels increased.
Taking My Diabetes by the Reins
My choice was to nail every calculation for the rest of my life, ease back on the endurance sports and live a very simple life - or find another way. Early on in my diabetes diagnosis, I learned that I needed to be my own best advocate. Initially my LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes of adults) was misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Initially I was told it would be a year before I'd be ready for an insulin pump. I was unwilling to accept both of those assertions. I aggressively pursued what I trusted was right for me then and decided to continue with that mindset.
One of the blessings of being diagnosed with diabetes as an adult and starting fresh is that I had an amazing skill set to work with. I was already athletic. I already had a passion for food and preparing my own meals. I had eight years of biochemistry research experience prior to my foray into my career as an Endurance Coach. The science behind diabetes wasn't as intimidating as it would have been without that knowledge. I am also strong-willed, highly motivated and willing to question authority.
I began my journey as a person with diabetes with the naiveté that I wanted to cure myself. I fully understand the reality of that statement, but much like a child, I didn't know any better than to dream big. At 34 years old I find myself feeling like a child yet again. Children question everything - so do I.
Through continual exploration I found a way that worked for me. I read endlessly on the topic of nutrition and found the benefits of the low-carbohydrate lifestyle fascinating. The fine-tuned insulin delivery of my Omnipod® insulin pump and its ability to bolus at increments of 0.05 U enabled me to consume smaller amounts of carbohydrates. My Omnipod provides 10 times the precision of the insulin pen I had been using for injections in 0.5 U increments. And the fact that my pump is tubeless is ideal for my athletic needs. My Omnipod has enabled me to control my blood glucose with extraordinary success.
Starting A Low-Carb Diet with Diabetes
Eventually my low-carbohydrate lifestyle transitioned to a low-carbohydrate ketogenic lifestyle. A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein and low-carbohydrate diet. The "K word" is the boogieman of the diabetes world, but after careful consideration and research, I informed my nutritionist that it was an option that I was going to pursue. I didn't ask for permission, I asked for understanding. I accept sole responsibility for my health. What I put into my body is my decision. I respect the advice of my diabetes care team, but I also accept the risks as it is my life at stake. I accept the skepticism; it is only through my own skepticism of the current paradigm that I was willing to take this calculated risk. My health is my highest priority, because it is the foundation upon which the rest of my life is built.
A well-balanced ketogenic diet is not for everyone, but it works for me. It requires a significant investment in learning and it influences my food choices greatly. Many people may find the food choices limiting, but for me the food choices are not only delicious, but incredibly satisfying.
The benefits have been amazing. Rock solid blood glucose stability! My A1C is already down to 5.6% from 11.2% at the time of my diabetes diagnosis. I just completed my first Ironman with diabetes with blood glucose levels ranging between 90 and 130 mg/dL. To date, I have not experienced any severe hypoglycemic events. Through allowing my body to adapt to using ketones as fuel, I have been able to turn "the boogieman" into an incredibly stable fuel source.
I don't really eat enough carbohydrates worth counting in a meal. The carbohydrates that I do consume taste sweeter than they used to. A carrot is delicious, a strawberry is heavenly. My body easily fuels itself from body fat reserves when needed, and as a result, I rarely experience hunger or cravings. My body is less inflamed. My flexibility has increased. My aerobic capacity has increased. My allergies have been eliminated. My mind and thinking are clearer than ever. I don't blame anyone if this sounds too good to be true, but this is my experience. I am still careful and carry emergency carbohydrates for lows, but am rarely required to use any.
As for the greatest benefit of all? I am once again free to enjoy the long bike rides, trail runs and swims without stress. As the duration of my workout grows, my stability actually now increases. I have peace of mind and a renewed trust in my body. For me the benefits outweigh the costs.
For me this is worth it.
For me. That's who I'm doing this for. This has been a challenging year for me. A year in which I was internally focused on learning to trust my body. From here on out I hope to have a more outward focus. I hope to share my diabetes successes with others. I'm ready.
NOTE: Information posted on Podder Talk is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider for questions and guidance on managing any health-related issues.