Among innumerable, debilitating health conditions Type 1 Diabetes is one of the worst.
Because it is an autoimmune disease and cannot be cured.
Side effects of these viscous disease include, but not limited to:
- Thirst and dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Dry warm skin
- Nausea and vomiting and stomach pain
- Deep and rapid breathing sometimes with frequent sighing
- Confusion and decreased consciousness
And can culminate to neuropathy, heart attacks, strokes, hypo- and hyperglycemia, kidney damage, infertility, blindness and even amputations and early, painful death.
For decades doctors have believed and told their patients that there is NOTHING, outside of insulin injections and minor dietary modification, that can be done to control T1D symptoms and progression of the disease.
Good thing that they are wrong!
Because it is possible to live a healthy, fulfilling life with Type 1 Diabetes, if you do certain things.
Today I have a guest, who is also my dear friend, who has lived with T1D for 35 years successfully.
You will LOVE hearing her success story–how she is able to live a full life, without usual T1D symptoms, because she decided not to fall victim to diabetes, and took charge of her well-being through diet and lifestyle modifications.
Enjoy her interview!
Darlene (aka Simply Darlene) leads a simple life as a wife, momma, homemaker, teacher, country girl, and a Type1Diabetic advocate. In these tangled inter-webs she is a storyteller, photographer, poet, and wordsmith at www.SimplyDarlene.com She is on Twitter and Instagram under the handle SimplyDarWrites.
How to Live a Healthy Life with Type 1 Diabetes
I’m detouring a bit from Elena’s normal health improvement by veganism interview mode by basically sharing a written story with you. It’s a tale of my health-related journey.
At the age of nine, in 1981, I was diagnosed as a type-one, insulin-dependent diabetic (T1D). At that time, urine testing to determine glucose levels was the norm—rather than the much more accurate and simple, finger-stick blood glucose testing of today. Upon my diagnosis, I was hospitalized for one week, during which time the medical staff stabilized my blood sugar levels, and taught me about my disease, including how to manage it with urine testing and insulin injections. In regard to lifestyle and/or diet, I only was instructed to cut out all sugary foods (cookies, donuts, candy, soda, and the like). Although my new medical management and dietary changes were major adjustments at first, I managed. And, grace be to God, I’ve never been hospitalized again due to any diabetic-related event.
In addition to having a great diabetic specialist whom I saw once every three months, I was meticulous about my own self-care; and, in junior high and high school, I educated my friends, teachers, coaches, and sport referees about my condition, and the possible emergencies I might face. And, as advancements were made, I adjusted my treatment and monitoring to include finger-stick blood glucose testing and at least four insulin injections a day (with two different types of insulin). I kept up-to-date with T1D care by subscribing to diabetes-specific magazines, as well as by attending a few classes.
Because of what I learned on my own about the increased risks for diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol, and how I pieced together parts of my individual health puzzle, in high school I stopped eating red meat and hot dogs. Imagine – I did all of this as a teenager, and long before the World Wide Web’s instant-access information! And, I’m thankful (although I was still a meat-eater at the time) that my family was poor—it forced us to grew vegetables that we ate fresh and put up for off-season months, raise chickens for both eggs and meat, and my mom rounded out our freezer with venison.
I was in college during the 1990’s. And, after a horrid case of food poisoning due to contaminated chicken where I was hospitalized for several days, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian—I cut out all meat, but I continued to eat eggs and dairy products. At this point, I saw minimal health improvements, but since my diabetic specialists said that my chronic disease management was good, I continued along this path for a few more years. This is the era I refer to as The Junk Food Vegetarian Years. I didn’t eat meat, but I consumed a lot of processed foods (like fake, store-bought burgers) and pre-packaged, microwave meals.
I earned collegiate degrees in School and Community Health Education, Athletic Training, and Elementary Physical Education, and soon after graduation, I worked as a health consultant in association with a health food/nutrition shop. Part of my ongoing, on-the-job training included a lot of reading (I had access to new books released to the health and wellness market) and I participated in non-credit, continuing distance-learning education from Bastyr University (in Washington state). During these years in the alternative medicine industry, the more I learned, the more I fine-tuned my diet. I became a vegan—no meat and no dairy products. When asked what I didn’t eat, I responded with, “If it ever had a momma, got squeezed out of a momma’s teat, or plopped out of a momma’s egg-layer, I don’t eat it.” For me, humor helped bridge the gap and provide instances of dialogue about the Standard American Diet (SAD) versus a plant-based diet.
My health improved drastically due to the absence of dairy, eggs, and processed foods. I found almost immediate relief from what I figured was lactose intolerance, and I experienced a reduction of seasonal allergy symptoms. Over the next few months I also noticed a major decrease in acne outbreaks, as well as an increase in energy. Also during this time, my husband and I were literally days away from an appointment with a fertility specialist when I discovered I was pregnant. We’d been trying for almost ten years! And, as I learned, in-person and through consultations with my diabetes specialist, the longer a T1D waits to become pregnant, the harder it is to achieve pregnancy.
Although we were over the moon with joy and expectation, my pregnancy was hard, hard, hard. As a T1D, a lot of challenges exist – blood sugar swings and increasing insulin levels due to hormone fluctuations, a higher risk of cardio-related birth defects for baby, and a high chance of early labor induction and/or a C-section, to name a few. This is an entire book unto itself, but suffice it to say, my son was born via emergency C-section. Even though a vegan, my recovery was long and slow.
Fast forward a couple of years, and after suffering a health crisis that included seemingly un-relatable symptoms of dizziness, tinnitus, bloating, lethargy, and pain; months of seeing several specialists; biopsies and colonoscopies and scans and blood tests—I thought I was going to have to live with the demise of my hard-fought, good health. But, out of desperation I saw one more practitioner, recommended by someone who knew someone.
Upon meeting, this doctor looked at my tongue, held my hand in his as he looked at my skin and took my pulse, scanned my countless labs, and said, “You have food allergies. That’s it.” His assistant drew a couple vials of blood and then the doctor spent the next hour educating me on health reclamation through a primarily plant-based, whole foods diet. I didn’t dare interrupt him to inform him of my knowledge; because, I was intrigued by his in-depth understanding of diet, and his willingness to treat me as a whole person with health complications—rather than a patient to be scooted through his door as fast as possible.
One of the most amazing things about this doctor was when I stopped at the front desk on my way out and he said, “Here, take all of these books with you. They are my gift to you. I want you to be well. I’ll see you a couple more times, but I don’t like repeat patients. Your health is in your hands.”
I looked at the receptionist. She winked and nodded her head in confirmation as I walked out with an armful of books, including “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Caldwell Esselstyn, and “The Okinawa Program” by Willcox, Willcox, and Suzuki. I’d already read several of the others he gave me so I handed those back for his next patient.
And, it turns out, he was correct. I had food allergies—not the instant anaphylactic reaction type, but the delayed onset symptomatic sort. The things I was most allergic to were the things I ate the most… pineapple, bananas, garlic, legumes, wheat, and beans. I was baffled about what my future diet would look like, but I also was grateful to finally have an answer, and a remedy to my current health maladies.
At the same time, a young gal at church was eating a raw food, vegan diet. I was somewhat skeptical, but I watched her health improve, and her vibrancy increase. As I adjusted to my newfound dietary restrictions, and even though I found immediate relief from the symptoms I noted earlier, I knew there was more I could do to improve my health. So, one morning I decided to go 100% raw. I didn’t ease into it – I wanted firm boundaries. I ate a lot of salads and apples that first week until I borrowed a couple of how-to and recipe books from my friend, including one on green smoothies.
I immediately I felt great and my overall health improved. I ate a simple raw food diet of mostly salads, sliced fruits and veggies, handfuls of soaked and dried almonds, sprouted seeds, and I drank a green smoothie everyday for breakfast. I had more energy, my skin became totally clear, my hair and nails grew strong, my energy levels were high, I lost weight, and my body shape changed. I remember one time when a stranger stopped me in the parking lot and said, “You know, your skin is vibrant. You look so young. Yet, here you are with a child (he was about four at the time). What are you – like twenty?” I was thirty-five at the time.
And because of these dietary changes, my need for insulin was cut back to almost nothing.
By the way, it was during this time when I was teaching a class on green smoothies that I met Elena! It was great to meet a like-minded, plant-based, whole foodist. Encouragement and community is key – not just for dietary and lifestyle changes, but also for all of life!
After one year of making virtually two meals (one totally raw for me, and one wholefoods with cooked options for my husband and son) for lunches and dinners, I added some cooked foods back into my own diet. I also was able to eat all of the foods (except for wheat) that were on my delayed reaction allergen list. As it turns out, the copious amounts of green smoothies had adjusted the hydrochloric acid levels of my stomach, thus eliminating my allergy issues.
And to this day, some ten years since I went high raw vegan, I function best, both with my blood sugar levels and with my overall health, when I eat my cooked food(s) for lunch. I allow myself one cup of cooked – be it brown rice, quinoa, lentils, sweep potatoes, or beans.
It’s not been all rainbows, smooth skin, and skinny derrieres. Shortly after regaining my health with the high raw diet, my family endured five moves in three years. During the last leg of our relocation saga we lived very rustic for a few months (meaning, we camped and had access to a hose for running water); and although I’ve always maintained a vegan diet, I was not able to maintain a high raw diet—and my health eventually suffered for it. My energy levels decreased, and I gained some weight…although not horrid things, they were annoying because I was used to high-energy, vibrant health.
We currently live in a rural area that’s an hour away from stores that routinely stock quality, fresh, organic produce. It’s been a struggle at times to maintain the dietary style that works best for me; and, when I fall away from the high raw diet, my body wonks out. So, I’ve learned to stock the freezers with greens (for smoothies and soups), dehydrate and freeze seasonal fruits, and to chop and freeze veggies (for soups). I eat an extremely high raw diet during garden season, and I amp up green smoothies during autumn and winter to offset my increased consumption of cooked foods.
And even though both of my fellers are meat-eaters and are okay to consume wheat products, I still prepare whole food, organic meals for everyone. I buy everything from grains to peas to lentils to beans in bulk from a monthly food delivery system; once a month my husband treks into the big city for organic produce and meats (for the fellas); and as needed, we shop at a tiny (and expensive) food co-op to fill in the gaps.
Now, to clear-up some everyday “diabetes” confusion, here’s the standing in line at the post office, short, simplified, conversation version:
Type-two diabetes accounts for over 95% of diagnosed “diabetics,” and for the most part is self-induced due to poor diet (SAD) and a sedentary lifestyle. The pancreas makes insulin, but the body is resistant and confused about how to best use it.
Quite to the contrary, type-one, insulin-dependent diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s insulin-producing, pancreatic beta cells were attacked (most likely from a virus and/or a genetic predisposition) and destroyed; and as a result, the T1D person does not produce insulin – and never will. There is nothing a T1D person could have done to prevent the disease; there is nothing a T1D person could have done to cause the disease.
Insulin is a hormone; it’s like a key that unlocks the cell doors so glucose from digested food can enter and be metabolized (for energy, for proper working of all body cells). Without insulin, undiagnosed T1Ds are “starving in the land of plenty” – the body’s fuel/glucose is there, it’s just unusable. And this starts up a vicious cycle of signals being sent to the body’s thirst and hunger centers telling the person, Hey! You need to drink and eat a lot more! This is the reason why, when I was diagnosed at the age of nine, that I could out-eat any grown man at the table, but I never gained weight, in fact, I lost so much weight that I looked like a walking skeleton with skin stretched tight.
So, people with type-one diabetes, like me, take multiple insulin injections per day and/or use insulin-infusion pumps, check blood glucose levels with up to ten finger-prick tests and/or utilize a continuous glucose monitoring system, and constantly obsess about everything, including (but not limited to) dietary intake, exercise, stress levels, hormone balance, and illness.
For me, one of the most crucial components of living with an autoimmune disease such as T1D, is my body’s ability to consume, utilize, and process food—not just to survive, but to thrive! In order to keep my insulin requirements low, and to keep my blood glucose levels from fluctuating so much, I eat a whole food, high raw, low (but not paleo-crazy low) carbohydrate, processed-free, vegan diet.
I eat to live. Period.
Despite the differences between type-one and type-two diabetes, I believe that a dietary style similar to mine would benefit persons with T1D and persons with T2D. In fact, there’s virtually every medical and physiological reason to believe that a T2D can take control of his/her eating plan, increase his/her lifestyle exercise habits, and kick that T2D diagnosis to the curb!
And for T1D? Well, I’ve been a diagnosed insulin-dependent diabetic for thirty-five years, and glory be, I have not suffered from any diabetes-related ailments and/or conditions. My doctors may not be onboard with promoting my eating style to other patients, but they tell me to keep up whatever I’m doing because it seemingly works wonders.
Elena – thanks for having me! I hope your readers realize that oftentimes the road to great health is a long and winding journey with all manner of speed bumps and detours. No matter if a person is dealing with an autoimmune disease, a chronic ailment, an acute health crisis, or is just ready to take their health to a higher level, there are a few things to remember. Move forward – whether it’s by a lot, or by a little – every single day. Keep informed and up-to-date with health advancements. Because as that awesomeSauce doctor said to me, “Your health is in your hands.” And, plug into a like-minded, online community and/or an in-real-life friend to encourage you along the way.
I know you enjoyed Darlene’s story. If you have T1D or T2D friends or family–you must share her story with them, to give them hope for a better future.
I will talk to you all next Monday!