Not So Sweet

How much do you know about diabetes?

by Lynne Stamm

I was sitting in my doctor’s office waiting for results from routine blood work. My primary care doctor came into the room, sat down at her computer, and briefly scanned my information.

Swiveling on her chair, she turned to me and said, “So, we need to get you started on a diabetes management program.”

“What?” I asked in disbelief. “What do you mean diabetes management? I don’t have diabetes.”

Grim facts

My doctor showed me the results of my latest blood work, which typically included an A1C test to monitor blood glucose levels. For the past two years my A1C levels had been hovering at pre-diabetic, but I never believed it would ever tip over into diabetes.

Now I was faced with the fact. My A1C, which monitors blood glucose levels over a three-month period, was 6.6 percent. According to guidelines, that classified me as a type 2 diabetic.

Symptoms

I had experienced symptoms over the past year but hadn’t connected them to diabetes. Moments of extreme fatigue I attributed to simply living a busy lifestyle. Extreme hunger often woke me up in the middle of the night. I would eat leftovers or a bowl of cereal at two o’clock in the morning! But I never had extreme thirst or excessive urinating — classic indications of diabetes.

I sat in silence as the doctor gave me the information for a diabetes counselor she wanted me to see. Taking the paper, I walked quietly out of her office.

Learning the facts

As I sat in my car, I ran the word repeatedly in my head: diabetes . . . diabetes. What exactly was this disease?

When I got home, I went to my computer and started searching for information. The website for the American Diabetes Association told me that type 2 diabetes is a disease in which glucose in the blood rises to higher than normal levels. The pancreas produces insulin to combat these higher levels, but over time it cannot produce enough. The body’s cells become insulin resistant and cannot use it properly.

The website also presented some astounding statistics. From 1998 to 2008 the incidence of type 2 diabetes had increased 128 percent; 25.8 million children and adults in the United States had diabetes, with 90-95 percent classified as type 2. Seventy-nine million Americans had pre-diabetes. If the trend continued, one in three would have diabetes in 2050.

Genetics play a part in developing the disease, but obesity or being overweight due to an unhealthy lifestyle were major factors as well.

Dispelling myths

Researching the disease helped dispel some of the myths I believed.

I had believed a diagnosis meant needles and insulin injections, but many patients with type 2 diabetes can effectively manage the disease with diet and exercise. In addition, while eating a lot of sugary foods can contribute to this type of diabetes, it is not the ultimate cause. An overall poor diet in conjunction with a lack of exercise is a big factor.

I reviewed my lifestyle choices and sadly realized that I had contributed to my diagnosis. I did not eat healthy foods all the time, and exercise was not part of my daily routine.

More information

When I went to the diabetes counselor the next week, I learned about the complications of having an overabundance of glucose in my system. These included a greater risk of heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, hearing loss, and neuropathy, which could lead to amputations. I shuddered thinking about the risks.

The good news is that many cases of diabetes, like mine, can be managed with diet and exercise. The counselor told me that exercise makes the cells more receptive to insulin so the body can use it more effectively. Caring for the temple of God — our bodies — in this way is a top priority (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Personal treatment

Every diabetic is different, of course, and requires personalized treatment. I was given a prescription for a blood glucose meter and testing strips so I could check my glucose levels once in the morning, before eating, and after dinner.

I also used a chart to keep track of my glucose levels so we could review them during the next session. I was told to write down everything I ate during the day so we could compare the glucose levels with the foods I was eating.

Exercise and carbs

Over the next few weeks I learned how the foods I ate could cause a spike in blood glucose and what strategies lowered those levels. Walking, or any type of sustained physical activity, is one of the best ways to bring down high glucose levels. Incorporating regular physical exercise also keeps glucose at a steadier level. In addition to walking, bicycle riding and swimming can work easily into anyone’s schedule.

The most challenging lesson was learning about carbohydrates and how to count them. Some carbs break down faster than others. It’s best to avoid simple ones that flood the system with glucose almost immediately, and eat more complex carbs that take longer to digest. Carbs are found in grains, breads, legumes, starchy vegetables, milk and juices, fruits, and sweets.

Carb count

Ideally you should have 45-60 grams of carbohydrates a day. Reading labels on foods helps — even using a free online calculator, Calorie King. Some foods have an amazing amount of carbohydrates. For example, one medium apple, with the skin on, has almost 25 grams of carbs, with 18 grams being sugar, while a slice of whole wheat bread has 15 grams with 2 grams being sugar.

Soda pop is another culprit in diabetes. One can of cola contains 42 grams of carbs! Consuming just one or two cans a day floods the body with unnecessary glucose.

Many diabetics must make dramatic lifestyle changes, like cooking more at home and avoiding the trap of the easy fast food menu. Healthier meals benefit the entire family with more vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Doing this made me feel better and lose weight.

Wellness road

Today I have continued to pursue a healthier lifestyle. I do slip from time to time and indulge in a junk food binge, but I pay the price. I can physically feel the effects of failing to stay on course.

My weight has stayed within a healthy range, and my blood glucose levels are normal. Daily physical exercise is now part of my routine. With God’s help, armed with correct information, I am working each day to stay on the road of wellness.

Living a healthy lifestyle is a challenge in our society, but a worthy goal to pursue if you want to experience the quality of life God intends you to have.