Life Lessons about Living with Type 2 Diabetes

John S. Bell Health Guide
  • Last week I noted a few things that dealing with diabetes has taught me over the last few months. This week I will, again without much in the way of organization or order, pass on a few more life lessons.


    Much to my surprise, diabetes has turned out to be quite a good teacher. Before my diagnosis I had pretty much made my peace with the fact that the years ahead of me were not going to be as good as the years behind me. Being overweight and tired was the new normal for my life and there was no reason to expect anything different in the future. Diabetes changed all that. The long slow, but kind of comfortable, slide downhill had turned into a quick drop with plenty of bumps and sharp edges looming along the way. The comfortable rut was no longer an option. Since change was going to come, it might as well be good change. Diabetes as motivation and a life coach; an odd thought, but it has worked for me. I turn fifty-five this year and, just with the changes so far, I am already in better shape than I was at forty-five.

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    I wrote last time about trying to stay positive. It can be hard when you are overwhelmed with piles of complicated information about the care and maintenance of this new diabetic body you have somehow acquired. At first, I thought it was like being stuck forever with an old car from one of those "Rent a Wreck" places. When I thought about it a little more, I remembered a college friend who had a vintage British two seater sports car. He had to spend virtually every Saturday afternoon doing something to that machine, but it drove like a dream. So I decided to stop thinking of my diabetic body as a clunker and start thinking of it as a vintage sports coupe. Sure, it's maintenance intensive, but with a little restoration it can still move fast and take a corner.


    Cars and coaching metaphors aside, there are some other practical things I have learned. First is that however strict you are with your diet, you still need to exercise. When I first started losing weight, I lost a lot of fat, but also lost muscle as well. Cutting down on carbohydrates alone helped my blood sugar substantially, but getting down to normal post-meal readings didn't happen until I started burning glucose through exercise and putting on a little muscle. A second lesson was that for me, at least, the most important part of starting an exercise program is showing up. I would try and justify skipping days by working hard on the occasions I did exercise. The trouble was that I didn't (couldn't) actually work that hard and just once or twice a week did not give me a foundation strong enough to make any real progress. So, six days a week I do something. If time is short, I just hit the treadmill for what time I have. I have started to treat exercise as daily medication and try to avoid skipping doses.


    Something I learned once I started putting in regular gym time is not to use the numbers on the scale as the sole measure of progress. I don't know where I read it, but a great alternative is to get a pair of pants in the size you are aiming for as part of your next goal. I started last summer with a 40 inch waist, dropped to a 38 last fall, and switched to a size 36 in February. My wife gave me a pair of 34 inch jeans at Easter. My weight has been hovering around 175 for a couple of weeks, but those jeans have gone from, "I can zip them up if I inhale really hard and don't breath or sit" to "Hey, these are kind of comfortable." I still weigh myself every morning, but I don't worry much about the result as long as those pants keep fitting better. The ultimate goal is not to hit a number on the scale, but to replace that unhealthy abdominal fat with muscle. I still have a long ways to go, but hey, the last time I wore 34 inch pants, the first George Bush was President.


Published On: April 23, 2010