The Importance of Dieting While Living With Type 2 Diabetes
Looking back at the changes in my life since that day at the end of October that my doctor told me that I was now living with diabetes, I realize that I actually have learned a few things about diet, exercise, and about the art of living. In today's column I will try and pass on a few of these lessons in no particular order. There is nothing original here, but even the borrowed insights have been tested by my own experience.
The first insight is that I was already on a diet. It was a diet designed to put on weight and elevate my blood sugar, but it was a diet nonetheless. And I spent a lot of time and money following it. Those all-you-can-eat buffets, Grand Slam breakfasts and frozen pizzas don't come cheap, you know. So, the challenge was not to go on a diet. The challenge was to go on a diet that wasn't killing me one capillary at a time. Put in those terms, passing on the bread basket didn't seem quite so insurmountable a challenge.
That brings up the issue of motivation. Guilt and fear can paralyze as well as energize if not accompanied by hope. I did a lot of on-line research, read others' stories, followed blogs and subscribed to newsletters. The upshot was that I became convinced that it was possible to make real changes. I also learned that while feeling guilty about getting in the shape I was in did not accomplish much, accepting responsibility for my own health did. Sure, genetics and the American food industry played their part in my situation, but it was my own choices accumulating over the years that played a key role. Once I learned enough to know that there were alternatives, the fact that I basically did this to myself was oddly liberating. If I did it, I could certainly undo it. So now I try to, as the song goes, to "accentuate the positive." The negative still comes in handy when I am faced with a freezer full of "buy one get one free" fudge ripples. I just think of all that extra glucose bonding to my red blood cells and slicing through my kidneys like little razors. It doesn't look quite as appetizing after that mental picture. Then I try to remember how good I feel compared to five months ago and call to mind the complements from friends and family that have started coming in the last few weeks.
I have also learned that a diet doesn't have to be complicated. Author Michael Pollan distilled all of his years of research and writing on food issues into seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Now that clearly doesn't give you all you need to know as diabetic, but it is a pretty good start. I looked at the ADA exchange diets and gave up after reading the first few recipes. Complicated formulas don't work for me. I don't have the inclination to weigh my food, check charts or draw up schedules. If you do, more power to you and you have my unfeigned admiration. What works for me is watching carbohydrates like a hawk, avoiding prepackaged foods and putting lots of green vegetables on my plate.
"Quantity has a quality all its own" is a saying that applies to food as well. Some of you may have seen the stories that came out before Easter about how portion sizes have increased over the years in artists' depiction of the Last Supper. It was an amusing study, but highlights how real a problem it is today. Pollan's little book Food Rules, has some good commonsense suggestion for how to eat "Not too much." Personally, I find that portion control is much easier when I cook at home. Fix less, eat less. When I eat out, the tendency to try and get my full money's worth is almost irresistible. Also at home, I don't have that basket of baguettes sitting there during the whole meal saying just one won't hurt (and two or three won't hurt much.)
Next time, still more life lessons on diet and exercise.