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

I’m back…

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My blood sugar hit 11.7 mmol today. It’s been a while. I mean a long while. Since starting Insulin in 2014 and simultaneously going low carb I’ve had excellent control. A high for me was about 9 mmol. In the last two years, even that was pretty rare.

The control I’ve had over my numbers has been directly related to a huge amount of food restriction. A.K.A living on eggs, non-starchy vegetables and avocados and olive oil for the last 6 years. When my husband would ask, “How is your dinner?” my standard reply was, “the same.” I could make breakfast, lunch or dinner in 15 minutes tops. Eating to live, and fine with that. Worth the sacrifice if it meant staying healthy.

Don’t get me wrong low carb works. It totally works. The question is… is it healthy and sustainable? I have been low carb for 6 years so it’s doable but healthy?anna-pelzer-IGfIGP5ONV0-unsplashHealthy is having a rainbow in your diet. Healthy is as much emotional satisfaction as physical satiation. Healthy is enjoying food, being social, being able to go out and pick something off the menu without guilt or fear. Healthy is putting the meal together and then trusting that what you inject will do the job. I’m not talking eat whatever you want and cover, rather eat whole foods that please the eye and the pallet. Know you are taking in life sustaining nutrients and that your body can take it in, digest it and distribute the energy accordingly.

This is the basis of a yoga practice, absorbing prana from food, the atmosphere, anything you consume. If our own energy is scattered, stuck or overly dogmatic, we can’t absorb prana which in turn builds Ojas, the basis of our immune system.

In Ayurveda diet should be mitahari, which means balanced. Eating whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables etc. Everything according to your type incorporating the six tastes of sour, salty, sweet, bitter, pungent and astringent.JMFO1826Before my diagnosis I was able to follow an Ayurvedic vegetarian diet ad infinitum. After diagnosis I found myself narrowing my diet according to what I felt sensitive to or what I thought wouldn’t cause a high blood sugar. Eventually I was so afraid of going low I stopped trying. I told myself I couldn’t have mung beans or quinoa because it was too confusing to dose for. I couldn’t have fruit because I would spike. My list of excuses was long. My openness and availability to try something new was zero.

In the last few years I’ve started each year with a diabetes goal. In 2018 it was braving meal time insulin (up until then I managed on a split dose of basal with severe carb restriction). In 2019 I worked on healing my gut. My 2020 goal came out of months of feeling helpless around the situation we are facing on the planet and watching two documentaries Cowspiracy and The Game Changers. Discovering that animal agriculture is one of the main contributing factors to climate change and seeing how athletes were able to maintain a vegan diet and increase their performance, made me question what I was eating and why.

To be honest wanting to go vegan was a total heart longing. I’ve never liked the feeling of eating animals (as a kid, I used to pretend to eat my pork chop and when no one was looking I’d push it into a napkin and then excuse myself and flush it down the toilet) so it made sense to stop.pexels-photo-3669638The big question for me was how. How could I make the transition from keto to vegan smoothly? Was it even possible? While I was mulling over the what and how, a T1D friend sent me a PM about a new program she was on which was high carb, low fat and and how successful it had been. She suggested I try it.

I balked at the idea. Then another T1D I follow on Instagram shared his story of going from keto to vegan.  His story was inspiring and confronting. I had to ask myself, what was my excuse really? Was I going to be terrified of carbs and insulin for the rest of my life? What was holding me back?

Doing some deep soul searching around these fundamental questions forced me to take stock of the times in my life where I’d faced a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. I reflected on giving birth. That was terrifying, yet I did it. I thought about how I managed during 9/11. How when I thought I couldn’t handle the shock I actually rose above it and made it through. Even after my diagnosis I was able to eventually find a way to acceptance. I also thought about the beach. Here in South Africa the water is beyond cold. Going in takes a certain kind of bravado.IMG_0674That’s how I decided to approach this new and exciting chapter in my diabetes management. If I didn’t jump in, I might regret it. If I did, hopefully I’d feel refreshed and invigorated.

Five weeks on from transitioning to a plant-based diet. I’ve introduced a huge range of foods, with hardly a hitch in my digestion. The big challenge has been to experiment with insulin to carb ratios to find what works best when. I’ve also had way more highs and lows then before. I’ve had to be courageous while watching that straight down arrow on my freestyle libre. Patient when I see a spike.

My insulin needs have completely changed. I need less basal; more bolus and I am becoming more and more sensitive to insulin. I’ve also had to slowly build my daily carb intake working my way up to about 250 carbs per day. That’s been hard, but I’m getting there. I’ve also rekindled my passion for creating recipes. I’ve made hummus, nori rolls, veggie burgers. I’ve been eating heaven in a bowl for breakfast. Smoothie bowls with dates and figs, bananas and papaya. I now look forward to eating and cooking. I’m excited to try things like beets, leeks, peppers again. I feel like every meal is a party. One I get to have for myself.

The best side effect of my new diet is increased energy and decreased aches and pains. When I step on my mat I feel open, balanced and clean from the inside out. It feels like I’m back.IMG_1095If you’d like to find out more about a plant based whole food diet check out this brilliant new book, Mastering Diabetes

If you’d like to have more one on one support to make the transition I highly recommend Drew Harrisberg from www.drewsdailydose.com