What is Prediabetes: Reversing My Diagnosis Thru Lifestyle Changes
I had heard of diabetes my whole life, but I didn’t know there was something called prediabetes. Growing up I had couple of friends who had type 1 diabetes, but type 2 wasn’t common . After my doctor told me few years ago, that I was prediabetic, I thought “who are you talking to?”. I had spend my whole life believing I was eating healthy enough, and sweet treats were rarely served in our home. Matter of fact, so rare that all my friends and family know that I don’t like making dessert. But my blood work wasn’t lying, and I saw the doctor’s concern. He kept talking about insulin resistance and the function of my pancreas. I had no idea of what he was saying. The big question that kept going thru my head was “how can this be?”. My weight was in the normal range, I had no family history, and I was physically active. I had no choice (of course we always do), but to follow doctor’s orders. Which was making additional changes to my lifestyle.
Following doctor’s orders always seems so much easier when you are in their office (at least for me). It really didn’t hit me until I got home. My problem was, that on top of my new diagnose, I was already struggling with few other health issues . One more thing, just added frustration and discouragement. I really didn’t want to have to read more labels and make more adjustments. That’s when I had one of those moments (neither first or last), where I yelled out – Why me??? Then I stopped, and the thought came to me “why not you?”. I realized, that I needed to change my thoughts to being more grateful instead . After all, I was lucky enough to live a place, where I had access to medical professionals. I decided that if I gained more understanding about my condition, then I would know how to manage it.
My learning Curve
First I had to really understand what type 2 Diabetes is, because prediabetic means that the sugar levels are high, but not high enough. I understood the high blood sugar content (that’s why I was shocked), but I didn’t know much about the hormone called insulin and the meaning of insulin resistance. I slowly started grasping some of the causes and problems, that were creating the sugar overload. My doctor explained, that I needed to get handle on and avoid Type 2 Diabetes at all cost. I’d be lying if I said it all made sense at first, or that I did awesome right away. I had to learn to be accountable and gain deeper understanding, before I was able to, not only reverse my numbers considerably, but also maintain them.
Causes and Prevention
Commonly insulin resistance is caused by several factors coming together, such as age, genetics, weight, lack of exercise, smoking, unhealthy stress , poor sleeping habits and even ethnicity. At the time I had no idea that the list was this long. Since then I have accepted that there is nothing I can do about my genetics, my age and my ethnicity, but I can control and manage the rest. The first thing I had to do, was take a honest look at my own individual choices and circumstances. I knew that weight wasn’t my biggest issue and I didn’t smoke. I had to deal with not only changing my diet some more, but also to handle my stress and poor sleeping patterns. According to Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 of 3, in the US, are prediabetic. But unfortunately about 90% of these people are unaware. It is unfortunate, because if detected early enough, one can prevent not only type 2 diabetes (which often time is irreversible), but also potential stroke and heart problems down the road.
Insulin problems and production starts in the pancreas, where the hormone called insulin is produced. The insulin acts as a gate keeper or a key, to open up the gate of the capillary cells. The sugar that gets pumped into these cells, then are used as energy to help with the function of the organs and the brain. In other words, insulin is a good and vital hormone which helps with making sure our bodies are functioning properly.
Basically insulin resistance means to be resistant to the insulin hormone. Specifically, that the gate (the insulin hormone) does not open up properly, it resists. Because of this malfunction, the sugar has no where to go, so it stays and floats around in the blood stream, resulting in high glucose levels. How does the body react to this error?, the pancreas starts pushing out more of the insulin hormone, thinking it can do the job better. Consequently higher levels of insulin, lead to higher resistance. Initially, at this point, our body may be able to override the resistance, but with time it gets harder and harder. This is the point, where it’s easier to stop the pattern, and avoid diabetes. Pretty much for me, finding out that I was prediabetic was just a red warning light to make additional lifestyle changes.
First thing I had to do was literally cut out ALL visible pure sugar. That part was the easiest (Not easy! just easiest) for me. No sweets and treats (as if I could have much before 🙁 ) Before I had a chance to tell my doctor my dislike of honey, he said “No sweeteners, like for instance honey, at all”. He explained that cutting out large amounts were more important, than assuming that a product was good for you. He gave me an example, that it would be better for me to eat 1 teaspoon plain sugar than 1/4 Cup honey (yuck, honey again!).
This is when things got trickier. I was already reading labels due to my food sensitivities , but I had really not paid to much attention to sugar content. To my disappointment, I learned pretty quick how poor and unacceptable a lot of the common foods that we eat have become. Everything I touched from cold cuts to condiments to “healthy cereals”, were loaded with sugar. Pretty much everything that wasn’t raw, had sugar in it. I also noticed that when it came to sugar content, natural or organic did not equate to less sugar. Eating out got really difficult (here I thought it couldn’t get worse). Everything has sugar in it. I’d ask for gluten free, dairy and egg free and yet still somehow, end up with high sugar content food. I started ordering simple foods like, a grilled chicken with minimal seasoning, salads with no dressing. I also began carrying around a real small bottle of olive oil when we’d eat out (I still do – I’ve had people give me the look, like what are you doing?)
Naturally Occurring Sugar
This was my big problem. I knew fruits and grains are good for us, but I needed adjustments . Any grain I ate had to be whole (like for instance brown rice and quinoa). With carbohydrates, it is crucial to eat quality and unrefined whole grains, in order to avoid sugar spikes . I also had to cut out potatoes and (my doctor told me that fresh out of the ground are less starchy, so occasionally I could indulge) replace it with sweet potatoes, due to its low glycemic index (which meant no french fries). The only fruits I was recommended were berries and some green apples.
Fats and Dairy
I Recently read a study where they found that polyunsaturated fats are more beneficial than saturated fats in reducing risk for diabetes, in addition to eating whole and unprocessed foods. So limiting dairy, especially milk can be of great benefit in controlling sugar levels. My assumption of the importance of replacing all saturated fats with poly- and monounsaturated fats like, olive oil, fish, avocado and seeds, was confirmed.
What to Eat
You may be wondering at this point, what can you eat? You can eat a lot of good stuff. In fact, once you replace sugary and processed foods with better choices, you may ask yourself “where have you been my whole life?”. Pretty much following a Mediterranean diet with lots of variety of vegetables, including some treasures like leeks and butternut squash. Whole grains, legumes , nuts and seeds. And focusing on lean protein and healthy oils. Enjoy berries in variety, both frozen and fresh. The more colors in your diet, the better for you. At the time I asked my doctor about smoothies. His advice was to try to eat vegetables and fruit whole, if possible. Smoothies can be okay but some recipes contain high amounts of carbohydrates, that is why it is always important to check with a licensed nutritionist or doctor. The one natural sugar that I eat is Monk Fruit. This natural sweetener is becoming more available in grocery stores. Just make sure it’s pure. I came across some with dextrose in it and it was nasty. But like any food, there is always chance for sensitivity to it. It has zero glycemic and calories.
More than Just Foods
It became more important for me to make sure I was getting some form of exercise. I’ll probably never become the person who goes to the gym, but I love walking, especially if it’s in a garden. So I started walking more outside. Taking walks in the nature. Even though I work in an office (self-employed), I started standing up frequently and taking breaks by walking in place. Whatever you enjoy and works for you, that’s the most important part, if you’re going to stick with it. Aerobics, dance (you and your own blue-tooth), running, jogging, gardening, biking and everything else that makes you get off your comfortable chair.
Sleep and Stress
Making adjustments and learning to manage my stress and sleep, became an important factor in controlling my glucose levels. Managing stress can be a challenge, especially if the reasons are out of one’s control. And sleep can be tricky if you work at nights or have a young child. In my case it was surgical induced early menopause that threw me for a loop with sleep apnea. Regardless of our individual circumstances, it is important we keep in mind that we have to do our best to prevent further misery. Making lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise will definitely help in this area as well. But perhaps even a hobby or reaching out to a listening ear can be beneficial. Occasionally we may have to take few supplements to boost and help us.
Be Nice To Yourself
Cutting out sugar “Cold Turkey” style can be really hard. Not sure if there is a better word than HARD. I thought the initial weeks, I was going to go crazy. I think my dreams consisted of sugar and food. My body went thru withdrawals, but after few weeks it got better. My cravings subsided and I actually got to the point that any small bite of sugary food would make me gag, want to throw up. Today, I do eat more fruits and some white rice occasionally, but I am very careful. It’s important to remember to be nice to yourself and realize that we’re just all humans, trying to do the best we can. Sadly enough, if we allow too much of the sugary stuff in our lives, our body’s will crave more and more, to the point of long-term negative impact in our health.
By changing my habits and making lifestyle adjustments, I achieved more than preventing diabetes and other future health problems. I also lost 10 lbs, even though I wasn’t trying (that’s a lot for me, I’m only 5’1) and my energy went up. Even my gut and mental health improved. It wasn’t easy and it took six months before I started seeing any changes, but it was and is worth it. I know for some (if not everyone) the price for good health is really high, but no money can compensate for bad health. It’s been some years now since my change of lifestyle and habits, I honestly can see the correlation between smart choices and not so good ones in my overall health.
“Health Is Like Money, We Never Have A True Idea Of Its Value Until We Lose It”