My young diabetic friend has come through for me with a very compelling story, detailing just how bad sugar and refined carbohydrates are for us. Just how bad? Six years ago, when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, he was only 23 years old. He was not exceptionally overweight. But how long will it be before the medical community decides that the only way to “cure” his diabetes is with something like bariatric surgery?
About six years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic after a bout with an intestinal infection. At the time, I weighed in about 235-240. As a taller man (6’1”), I had always carried my weight well and it was never really what I considered an issue; I was always comfortable with how I carried myself. However, something had to be done about the diabetes. After finding out, I immediately went to see an Endocrinologist, who prescribed some pills. I also altered my diet somewhat, taking a stab at limiting the carbohydrates in my diet, but not in the strictest sense. I also cut out the sugary soft drinks and switched to the diet variety. This lasted all of about 2 months, when I experienced some financial hardship. Along with having no money, I also gave up control over my diabetes. I just let it go, as I didn’t feel it was “that important.”
Fast forward a couple of years. I work in front of a computer screen every day, and that takes a toll on your eyes - I was beginning to have trouble seeing the screen. As it had been about 3 years since my previous eye exam, I figured I better get them checked. After letting them know I was a diabetic, they ran a whole series of scans on my eyes and found some minor bleeding in the back of both eyes, but it was worse in my right. After trying every lens they had, I couldn’t focus anything in my right eye. They had asked how high I thought my blood sugar was. At the time, I had given my diabetes very little thought and so I told them “Oh, around 250 or so.” They then suggested that I get to my doctor to get my diabetes under control.
So I went. I had to find a new doctor, since I hadn’t been to the doctor in about 3 years. He put me on some pills, primarily metformin, to bring my blood sugar down because it turns out my blood sugar was sitting at around 400. After a month of being on the metformin, my blood sugar had dropped. During this time, I also altered my diet a bit, but again, wasn’t too strict about it. My blood sugar would never come down to a normal level during this time. I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with my doctor, who seemed uninterested in treating me. I found another doctor and began additional treatment. They put me on all kinds of pills for my sugar, trying to get it down to a normal level without altering my diet in any way. I knew that carbohydrates were a problem, but I didn’t understand it fully. I ate more salads and vegetables and fruit but thought, just as everyone else did, that carbohydrates were important to the diet. This is something we’ve been indoctrinated with for the last 50 years or so.
However, during this time I was feeling increasingly worse. I was spending countless amounts of time in the bathroom, my body constantly evacuating itself as a side effect of the medication. I tried cutting out everything I could think of during this time. I was to the point where I was eating NO carbohydrates and was walking at least 45 minutes every day. I couldn’t get my blood sugar down below 150. Also during this time, I dropped a ton of weight. I went down to about 179 lbs (my lowest to date). I reported this to my doctor, who said because of the digestive reactions I was having to the metformin that I shouldn’t take it anymore. The only alternative was insulin. Being the stubborn person that I am, I requested a second opinion.
Enter my current Endocrinologist. She agreed with my primary care doctor. I was not happy about this, but resigned to the fact that I needed insulin and so I started injecting myself daily. They had suggested that I change my diet, suggesting that I eat more whole grains and limiting my carbohydrate intake to about 6-8 servings (a serving consisting of 15g of carbohydrates). I tried this for a while, but could never get my sugar to be at a consistent level (and I was still living in the bathroom). I was up to about 60 units of insulin and not paying that close of attention to my diet, like I really should have been.
As a result of the continual gastric issues and visiting a gastroenterologist, who did virtually nothing for me and found nothing wrong with me (having been scoped from both ends and tested like crazy), I decided it was time to take a different approach. After talking with Jan and Be at work, I decided to give the low carb diet another try. This time, I was going to take it seriously. I closely monitored my blood sugar 4 times a day (before every meal and around bedtime). My blood sugar up to that point was consistently sitting somewhere between 275 and 325. I gave up all refined carbohydrates. No pasta, no bread of any kind, no sugar, no salty snacks (which was my big weakness). As I started down the path, I noticed my blood sugar started to drop and that the amount of insulin I was taking was also dropping. It was August 31st when I started the “diet.” I had a doctor’s appointment six weeks later. By the time of that appointment, I had lowered my insulin 66% (from 60 units down to 20 units…in 6 weeks). I also noticed during this time that my gastric issues had improved greatly, but hadn’t completely disappeared.
The doctor’s appointment: I was actually excited to go to the doctor after all of the hard work I had done to get my blood sugar in order. I was still struggling a little, as I was having several episodes of low blood sugar levels. I mentioned to my doctor what I was doing; she seemed less than thrilled about it. However, after checking my A1C, she smiled. She was impressed that my 3 month blood sugar result had dropped (I was down to around a 6.8 or something). She made some suggestions as to adjustments to my medications, but told me to continue to do what I was doing.
This is where my own stupidity came in. I decided that since things had gone so well, I was going to celebrate by cheating a little on my diet and I had some bread. One thing led to another and I was back to eating my old ways again. I never completely abandoned my diet, but I wasn’t following it as strictly as I should have been. It also comes as no surprise that I felt less energetic than I had when I was following my diet. My gastric issues also flared up quite a bit and I was back to living in the bathroom. My last doctor’s appointment in January revealed that my blood sugar had gone up (no surprise there) and again, they tried to take another stab at solving the gastric issues. During this appointment, I was probably harder on myself than my doctor had been, because I knew what I was doing was wrong, but couldn’t talk myself into changing it.
About 6 weeks ago, I decided that enough was enough. I had recently received a Kindle for my birthday from my wife and I downloaded “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes. I started reading through this book and as I was reading, I came to the realization that what I was doing was working. I knew it was working; I saw it work for me. I then decided on the following Monday to get back on the wagon, as it were. I went back to monitoring my blood sugar as before, 4 times a day. My sugar was sitting around 230 at the time. I was also taking about 40 units of insulin a night. After a week, I was back down to normal blood sugar levels and within range of my 20 unit insulin levels. However, I was still bottoming out. I adjusted my meds again and lowered my insulin even more, taking it down slowly. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been sitting around 15 units every night and my blood sugar levels on a bad day are around 150. These are becoming more and more infrequent, and I’m averaging about 100-115. I have more energy than I can remember having (except for those 6 weeks in the fall) and I feel 100% better than I did. I don’t have nearly the gastric spells that I was having before. In fact, instead of a daily thing, where I was having major cramping and trips to the bathroom that would make even the strongest stomach squeamish, the frequency of my trips to the bathroom greatly reduced (by 75% at least).
How do I do it? For me, it has been a difficult challenge. I’m constantly thinking about how I feel and what I eat. I don’t eat anything without checking my blood sugar first, because my blood sugar levels determine what I eat. I’ve come to find that I’m incredibly sensitive to most carbohydrates, even in fruit and things like sweet potatoes. Assuming I’m my blood sugar is under 100, I can have small amounts of natural carbohydrates, but I still eat no refined carbohydrates of any kind. I try very diligently to come up with new things to try and to limit my carbohydrate intake. For me, reading Taubes book was eye opening, as well as watching the movie “Fat Head.” There is a lot of good information in both pieces that explains the science (which really appeals to my scientific brain).
While you’re reading this, I will have probably already been for my 3 month checkup with my endocrinologist. I’m excited and incredibly curious about this appointment, primarily for my 3 month blood sugar average and my cholesterol levels. Part of me wants my doctor to react the way she did in the fall, only to find out that this way of life WORKS and that everything they’ve been taught about NUTRITION is just plain WRONG.
Thanks for reading.
Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday