The missing piece

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When I started writing my book, Yoga for Diabetes in 2015 I knew I wanted it to be something that would be a game changer when it came to diabetes management. If I couldn’t cure my diabetes at least I could use my lifelong passion and knowledge of yoga to manage it and share those life skills with others.

I was diagnosed in 2008 but didn’t start writing the book until starting insulin therapy in 2014. I wrote the book without having fully experimented on myself. Up to that point I didn’t need insulin, in fact I was in denial about my diabetes. However, I did have a deep understanding of yoga and Ayurveda and how potent this combination is in managing any health challenge. Especially in mitigating stress, balancing the nervous system, working with mental and emotional health and overall immune resilience.

How to put insulin into the mix was my personal nemesis, and even though I offered a chapter on insulin and exercise in my book. I was an “insulavirgin.”

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It was after launching my book and connecting with other Type 1’s that I popped my cherry. I decided that injecting once a day and having okay levels (my HbA1c at the time was around 7) wasn’t good enough. Why not at least try having some insulin with meals? Maybe it would make a difference?

Living with LADA ( Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) means diabetes has been a slow progression for me. I still produce some insulin. I had a lot of anxiety around increasing my insulin use and dosage and at the same time I kept questioning myself, “why stay stuck with what I felt was an “okay” HbA1c?” Surely, I could do better.

I took the plunge with some help from Gary Scheiner, author of “Think like a Pancreas”. Gary suggested I start small and take insulin after each meal. We worked out that I’d need about one unit of insulin to cover thirty carbs and that I should start with half units. I was already on a low carb diet sticking to around thirty carbs a day, so I wouldn’t need much insulin at all. Less insulin, less risk of lows.  My diet at the time consisted of eggs, green vegetables, pumpkin, carrot and avocado. I was so embarrassed to tell anyone that I only ate seven foods. I am not exaggerating S E V E N!

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Being on a full insulin regime even on such a restricted diet was amazing. I was able in a year to reach my goal of having an HbA1c of 5.5. I felt like a champion. There were other days though that I felt a sense of hopelessness. Was this my diet for the rest of my life? Living on seven foods because of gastric distress and food sensitivity? Being afraid to eat for fear of low or high blood sugars? Feeling a literal fear of food?

I’m nervous to share how defeated I felt around this aspect of my diabetes management. I had authored a book all about how to bring yoga into daily life, how to find the perfect practice, how to manage stress, how to live well with diabetes and here I was stopping myself in the one area that’s the foundation for everything.

Nutrition.

When people would ask me what sort of diet I was on I’d change the subject or suggest eating for their Ayurvedic constitution, but to be honest because I couldn’t or rather wouldn’t follow my own recommendations keeping quiet was the better option.

Everybody is different, every body is unique. We eat according to taste, conditioning, circumstance, and what we feel works best for us. Whether you are low carb, keto, paleo, AIP, high carb, standard American, or Australian Diet etc. there is no one size fits all. Or so I thought.

My breaking point happened on an innocent outing to our local farm stall for some Haloumi cheese. Something I indulged in every now and then because it was low carb/high fat and isn’t Haloumi the best taste ever?

I was in my car, cheese on the passenger seat, when I saw a newborn calf still covered in afterbirth being transported in a pickup truck. The mother cow was running after the truck trying to get close to her calf. She was obviously very distressed, her body still raw from giving birth. The farm handlers seemed completely unperturbed by what they were doing. It was just a normal part of farm life. The babies were separated, fed and then sold for veal, while the mother was kept for milking. I felt my heart ripping out of my chest. It was one thing to read about animal cruelty or factory farming, it was another to witness it with my own eyes. As I drove home, I made myself a promise, even if I am afraid of going low, afraid of getting sick from foods, afraid of trying something new, I couldn’t live this double life any longer.

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My will to align my lifestyle with my heart had to be my priority. It was time to step up and drop all animal products and embrace a whole food plant-based diet.

They say it takes seven different influences to make a change for the better. I think of that moment at the farm stall as number seven. I had already heard about going high carb/low fat/plant based from a fellow T1D yoga teacher, I’d seen a fellow T1D fitness and nutrition coach document his journey transitioning from keto to vegan, I’d watched several different webinars and documentaries with the founders of the Mastering Diabetes Program and I had started to struggle with my levels after almost every meal, needing more and more insulin to cover the same thirty carbs a day.

I think of the day I changed my diet as a crucial turning point in my life. Like the day I decided to move to Australia, or the decision to travel to India to meet my now beloved husband. There was a feeling in each of those moments. Something indescribable and deeply exciting.

Starting a plant-based diet hasn’t been a walk in the park, I’ve been lucky to have an expert diabetes and nutrition coach to walk me through some sinkholes and to cheer me on. I started by letting him know I was basically sensitive to every food imaginable and he started by saying “start with what you think you can tolerate.” Then when I had awful symptoms he’d commiserate and suggest they might go away as my body made the switch out of ketosis. “I believe in your metabolism, that it can kick back in and do its job. The more foods you can tolerate, the more diverse your diet, the more your body will thank you.”

Never were these words truer.

I don’t think I fully understood what he meant until I read Fiber Fueled by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. This book is the bible for anyone wanting to go plant based. In just a few short chapters Dr. B makes the case for a diverse plant-based diet. Did you know that that out of the 400,000 plants on the planet, 300 of them are edible? And that we just eat a small percentage in our standard American diet? Or that there are 40 trillion microbes in our gut micro biome? We are more microbes than human. Did you know that these microbes feed on fiber? The more fiber we have the healthier our gut, our immune and nervous system. When we get into mono foods, or food restriction we deprive our microbes and that’s why we get gut dysbiosis. I.e. gut issues like leaky gut. He even explains how autoimmune disease and gut health are intrinsically linked.

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Since going 100% plant based I’ve noticed huge changes. My thyroid levels have normalised, I’m extremely sensitive to insulin, I’m eating up to 45 different plants in a day. My tolerance of foods has improved, my digestion has improved. My little arthritic aches and pains have disappeared. Besides all the physical changes, it’s my relationship to food that has excited me most.

I am finally loving cooking and creating meals again. Exploring recipes, trying new foods, incorporating miso, seaweed, legumes and grains. Nothing in excess with no restrictions. Managing my diabetes in the mix of eating this way takes dedication. I track my food in an app, I keep tweaking my insulin to carb ratios and checking in with my coach when things start to go awry. As I learn to feel my body in this new way I’m surprised at how easy it is to have steady levels and maintain a healthy Hba1c.

It took a long time, nearly 20 years for me find the answers I so desperately needed to get well. Now that I’m here it’s like the last few moments of finishing a puzzle.  There’s a sense of excitement and expectation and WOW that’s it, I finally found the missing piece!

If you’d like to find out more about Dr. B and his book you can go to his website or order the book here

With great respect…

rachel

What can you eat?

Nine days in to 30 days of writing for Diabetes Awareness Month and today’s topic is diet.  I can’t keep count of the number of times I’ve been asked, ” What can you eat?” It’s actually a loaded question because the answer from a person with diabetes would be, “what can’t I eat?” As long as we know how many carbs we are ingesting (everything from veggies to fat to protein breaks down into a carbohydrate in the system) we can eat whatever we like based on our insulin to carb ratio. I.e how much insulin is needed per carbohydrate. Do the math and presto every food is available.

But that doesn’t mean I choose to eat whatever I want.

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Since I was little I’ve been a fussy eater. I didn’t like green vegetables, any kind of meat,  or corn on the cob. I can remember being at the dinner table and slowly scooting portions of pork chop into a napkin when no one was looking and then excusing myself to hastily flush it down the toilet.

In my late teens I was put on a strict candida diet which meant no dairy, sugar, fruit or fermented foods. Not being a huge fan of animal foods I became a vegan.  My strict diet was hard to maintain during pregnancy so I reluctantly ate fish, chicken and eggs, but as soon as I could I went back to my vegetarian ways.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008 I had already started eating foods that resonated with my constitution. Being a fire type, pitta in ayurveda, I avoided nightshades and spicy food and instead focussed on cooling foods with sweet, bitter and sour tones, pulses, avocados, whole grains, roasted veggie salads and gut healing protein smoothies. As my initial diagnosis wasn’t clear (they weren’t sure if it was type 2, type 1 or even diabetes) the only change I made to my diet was to eat low glycemic foods and to add fish, chicken and eggs back in.

At that stage I was eating linseed/soy bread, enjoying oats, quinoa, low carb fruits like blueberries and strawberries and lots of different kinds of veggies, soft cheeses like paneer and ricotta. I still dabbled in eating pasta and pizza as long as there was a good quantity of protein in the mix. I never ate packaged or processed food even if it was a ‘healthy’ packaged food. I’ve never been able to deal with fillers and preservatives.

Once my levels became unmanageable my doctor suggested I look at the ketogenic diet. That was in 2013. Keto was just getting popular and having tried everything else bar insulin, I enjoyed the strict discipline of dropping all carbs. At that stage my diet was mainly eggs, some fish and green veggies like chard, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, fennel, cauliflower, avocado, ghee and the same soft cheeses. My doctor expressed concern that it was too narrow a corridor of foods. So did I, it seemed that blood sugar wasn’t my only issue with what I ate, I also had a lot of trouble digesting foods. Later I found out that the pancreas also helps with digestion and that sometimes it doesn’t work as well as it should in people living with diabetes. Eating the same foods over and over was actually making me sensitive to the only foods I could tolerate. A never ending cycle.

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Thank goodness I went on Insulin after a proper diagnosis in 2014. It has opened up my diet to include more foods again, even though I’ve stuck to a low carb vegetarian diet. It’s so much easier to cook the same meals at the same time each day, to take the same amount of insulin and know exactly how my body will respond. My friends wonder why I don’t get bored, or ask me if I feel like I’m missing out and my answer is always the same. Eating in a way that keeps me calm and balanced is more important and desirable than the headache of eating something that will later cause blood sugar issues or hinder my digestion.

Whether you live with diabetes or not diet is a very personal thing. The body needs nutritious food. It knows what works, how to process it and what to eliminate. All the intricacies of digestion and assimilation of food are out of our hands. It’s up to us to feed the body with nutrient dense foods.

Something I’ve learned to say to anyone who questions why I eat the way I do is this; “I eat to feel well so I can best serve others to feel well too.” 

And that’s that…

See you tomorrow

with great respect…

rachel