Diabetes, an opportunity, to understand our health and our food


The blog can be about any of the below
  • Learnings of a work in progress diabetic patient
  • How to tame your diabetes?
  • Diabetes caught me by surprise
  • Diabetes, an opportunity, to understand our health and our food
  • Count the Sugars, Count the Steps and Count the Carbs
  • My new status – I’m Type II Diabetic
I learnt quite a bit and am still continuing to learn about my health and my food – thanks to my newly acquired health status “I’m Diabetic”. The following is my learning and my experience, sharing only to help create awareness about our health and our food.
The Countdown:
For a very long time I had told myself that my countdown would never begin and as a matter of fact this thought never ever crossed my mind, until one day, which not only broke my confidence or over-confidence, but did it so in a very crushing way.
It was a chance walk-in to an impromptu blood checkup and what I was told at the end of it had left me in utter disbelief and shock, like Bachan dying in Sholay, the first time I saw this movie as a kid, I couldn’t believe myself. I was told that my readings were either too high or too low and the machine was not able to capture it. I was asked to get a proper blood work done asap.
A week later I did do my blood work and while I recovered from Bachan’s death since I told myself that he died in the very end of the movie and he had saved everyone else, so it was ok – he died a heroic death, I couldn’t recover from the results of this blood work. I was stamped “Type II diabetic”.
Still not convinced, I went for a third check up and the same result. My A1C count was 7.6 and thus began my count down.
For the next 3.5 months, it’s all been about counting steps to make sure I’ve enough physical activity, counting my blood sugar levels to understand the diet that suits my body and counting my calories to not indulge in over eating or to avoid starving.
Half way through this journey, I found the combination of diet and lifestyle that suited me the most and at end of this 3 months when I went for my the 3 months blood work, my A1C count was recorded at 6, which as per the American standards is border line diabetic. So in 3 months I went from type 2 diabetic to now being border line diabetic. While diabetes may not be life threatening (if not ignored), it certainly is life changing and below is what and the how of what transpired in these 3 months.
Self realization and Acceptance:
I’m not overweight or underweight, I was just about the optimal weight. I had a decent physical activity with about 25-30 minutes of walk on a daily basis and I was never a heavy eater either. So it was only natural that I was in denial for the first week or two. But it dawned on me that denial was no way helping me to fight diabetes. So instead of trying to find reasons (which eventually I did – my grandmother was diabetic), I tried to take charge of things and tried to find what it takes to treat myself.
Understanding diabetes: 
It’s very important to educate ourselves with what diabetes is and what it’s ill effects are, so proper attention and care can be given. No one (including the doctors) knows our body better than our own self. So first the basics.
What is A1C count?
The carbohydrates we eat gets converted into glucose. The pancreas which produce insulin absorb this glucose and convert it into energy. In some cases the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin to absorb all the glucose or there is so much of glucose in excess that the insulin cannot absorb all the glucose. The former is type 1 diabetes and the later is type 2.
So what happens to this excess glucose. It gets attached to the red blood cells. These cells last for a maximum of 3 months and after that new red blood cells are formed. A1C count is this the amount of glucose in these red blood cells.
What is Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and Type 2 is where the body has excess glucose and the insulin cannot absorb all of it.
Type 2 can be controlled by a change in lifestyle which includes the two E’s a eating and exercising
Type 1, unfortunately, would need inducing insulin into the body to control the blood glucose level.
Ok, now that we have the basic understanding of the diabetes, this is what I had done in the last 3 months.
Diet:
Cut down what you can but first find a good substitute.
  • I cut down carbohydrates i.e white rice and chapati (made of wheat flour). I substituted this with quinoa, equivalent of one of the Millet family member.
  • Increased the protein intake – egg, chicken, fish and pretty much all the green leafy vegetables.
  • Nuts soaked in water – a handful of them twice or thrice a day.
The specifics:
So what did my typical breakfast, lunch, evening snack and dinner?
Breakfast: Oat Meal with walnuts
Tea: Less milk and no sugar. The weekend masala chai with jaggery powder as a substitute
Lunch: Either chicken or fish or egg or dal
Evening Snack: Nuts, green leafy vegetables
Dinner: Dal with Quinoa or simply Sambar, dal etc. If I still was hungry I would eat an orange.
Physical Activity: 
Mine is a typical desk job i.e sitting in front of the computer. So there was not much I could change there. It would have been great to have a treadmill fitted with a computer, but we are not there yet.
I have a daily commute that involves walking a little to the bus-stop, catch the bus to the train station and then a 5 min walk to work once I get off my destination. I modified it slightly by getting off a stop before the destination and also catching the train back home from that stop. This gave me a good 40 mins walk in total. And I did the same with my bus commute and gained another 20 mins from that. All in all a 60 minute walk everyday.
What about Medication?
I was put on medication immediately. This, however, didn’t go well with my body. I started getting migraines. I then informed the doctors and I stopped the medications.
Counting the blood sugar:
Striking gold – getting the right combination:
I got myself a gluco meter and for the next 3 months it became my best buddy. It became such an integral part of my daily life that even my 3 year old started reminding me that I should check my blood.
Why is this important?
It’s very important to know how our body reacts to the food that we are taking. For instance, I was told Roti is a good substitute for carbs but when I checked my blood sugar after eating the Roti, it was unusually high, almost touching 200. I had eaten only 2 roti’s that day.
On another occasion, I ate the dosa made of moong dal and my blood sugar were in the normal range. So that became my weekend special, in fact I used to look forward to this delicacy.
One habit i refused to give up was the weekend masala chai. What I did give up was the sugar in the chai and substituted it with Jaggery powder. My blood sugar levels after the chai was also in normal levels.
So after experimenting this for about 2 weeks, recording the blood sugar levels after every food intake, I was able to get a better control of what I should be eating and roughly how much I should be eating.
The confusion, the chaos and the frustration: 
It wasn’t like I had figured out everything on day 1 or even day 15. There was a lot of uncertainty and lack of understanding that set me back. Since I had cut down everything in a dramatic manner, it took a toll on my body.
This coupled with the medication, my daily commute and not to forget the increase in physical activity, meant my body had no energy.
There were days when I struggled to even get to work and days when I almost passed out. These were early days of not knowing how to react to me being diabetic and may been my own refusal to accept that this could even happen to me.
After 3.5 months when I went for a doctors check up, my doctor told me that she was really proud of me, these are excellent and my readings were excellent. She further add d that whatever I was doing, I should continue doing that. I said, “I just listened to my wife and did everything she wanted me to do”.
The doctor said, “Ok, then keep listening to your wife and I will see you in a year from now for the regular annual check up”.
Like I said earlier, I’m a work in progress diabetic patient, but in short below is what I learnt in this process of taming my diabetes.
TypeII
The Do’s:
1) An annual check up is a must.
2) Knowing our food:
Our body is extremely complicated starting from the DNA’s to the cells to the muscles to the neurons to the arteries to the heart to the kidneys to the brain to the eyes to the skin to the senses, there is a lot goes on inside our body. For all these body parts to work in peace and harmony day in and day out, they need everything (proteins, carbs, fat, nutrients, vitamins etc.) in the right proportions. Anything we eat in excess is bad or just eating any one is also bad. It has to be a healthy balance. After all we are what we eat.
3) Physical Activity:
Our body is at our healthiest best when everything inside our body is working like a well oiled machine and physical activity is one effective way to keep our body consistently working. Activity can be working out in a gym or simply walking/running outside (if you are an outdoor person like me). Very often we complain about lack of motivation to not indulge in these activities but I think there is nothing more beautiful than the way our body works and I don’t think there is no further motivation needed to keep this thing of beauty alive and kicking.
4) Avoid Medication: If it’s type 2, then we have a choice of not using medication and instead make our bodies fight back on its own. Of course, please keep your doctor informed.
The Don’ts: 
No need for panic: Diabetes is not life threatening (if not ignored), but it’s definitely life changing and life changing for good.
Nothing dramatic:
There is a great need to cut down on the carbs intake and also increase our physical activity, to manage the blood sugar levels but this doesn’t have to be done on day 1 itself. Let this be a gradual change and must be done in congruence with how our body is responding.
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