A Journey Towards Better Health
"Sugar...ahh honey honey...you are my candy girl....and I'm in love with you!"
One of my favorite oldies was playing in the background as I found myself totally lost in my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe's.
There I was walking around the aisles, and it felt like an entirely different store from the one I had shopped in for so many years. My usual routine included loading up on their cracked sourdough bread, a couple of different breakfast cereals, 1 % milk, thin crispy crackers, thinner crispy pretzels, fruit jelly candies. I also included the sweet and sour teriyaki chicken and some vegetables, various types of rice dishes, a bottle of Reisling or Merlot, and whenever I felt like indulging myself, I'd get those luscious dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
But I had just heard some devastating blood sugar numbers from my cardiologist, and knew my diet was about to undergo a radical makeover.
When I look at this old shopping list now, I'm beyond amazed at how much sugar and/or carbohydrate there is. In every single item. As I am beginning to learn, even the milk had sugar in it. My shopping list now is so different, it seems someone else wrote it.
My mother, perhaps.
For nearly a month now, I have been on an entirely new journey - a journey toward better health. (I confess, it isn't because I am so virtuous. It's because I don't have any choice.) I always took my health for granted and assumed that I could do as I pleased as long as I used common sense. Now I have learned that as we grow older, we need to pay careful attention to what we eat, whether or not we get enough activity and exercise, and host of other issues. I gave lip service to the idea of eating healthy, watching my weight, and staying in shape.
But in reality, I was going downhill and entering very dangerous health territory.
How about you? Do you read health articles and listen to good advice from nutritionists, Dr. Oz and your guides here on Health Central, and think just looking and listening is enough? Perhaps it is easier not to even think about it. Life is complicated enough, and you grab a coffee and a scone on your way to work, a candy bar in the afternoon and don't forget the glass or two of wine with some chips and dip once you're finally able to put your feet up and watch some evening TV. The treadmill will have to wait for another day.
If that sounds familiar to you, you're just like me. To make matters worse, I took one small step for womankind 2 years ago on my front lawn and managed to break my ankle and wind up in a boot with crutches. Never one to argue with fate, I sat down and didn't get up and moving for a few months. Larger portions and more treats made me feel better about my unfortunate accident. An event like this can be just what we don't need... to tip the scales, to add the pounds, to raise the numbers on all of the blood tests.
I can blame the shape I found myself in on my unfortunate accident. But what about before, and since, then? I finally had to face the music when I got some recent numbers from my cardiologist. My blood sugars were too high and my A1c (a test that monitors your average blood sugars over a 3 month period) had doubled - skyrocketed! I officially had Type 2 Diabetes. Add that to a recent recurrence of atrial fibrillation and some other issues, plus a looming "Big Birthday," and I realized "Wow! You've gone from a healthy active woman to an old, sick one!"
What was I going to do now? To tell you the truth, I felt overwhelmed and like giving up. Really, was I going to be able to change my diet that radically? Would I have to start taking yet another medicine to add to the ones I already take? My doctors kind of sent me out on my own to deal with my new diagnosis and I had to wait a few weeks to see a specialist. So I began searching everything I could on the internet, and it soon became apparent that my good common sense was all I needed--at least to start.
Cut out sugar as much as possible. Cut down on starchy carbohydrates like white bread, rice, potatoes and of course my favorites - cookies, cake, pies, anything from the bakery - and fill up on fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. But even the fruits had to be carefully chosen - you can have that banana, for example, but you want to choose one no larger than 6 inches and if you have half of it, that's even better. Grapes are sugary. Carrots and tomatoes are sugary too, and they're vegetables!
(One thing is still true for diabetes and pretty much everything else. An apple a day DOES keep the doctor away!)
Tomorrow I see my endocrinologist (who specializes in diabetes) for the first time. So I will have much more to share with you about how to prevent diabetes, how to be sure you are not becoming pre-diabetic, how to live with diabetes and manage your blood sugars, what kind of medicines are available to help you, and tips to help you live a healthier, happier, longer life. Your blood sugar affects just about everything, including your mood and how you think. And it is never to late to get smart. I just had a "big" birthday and I'm as motivated as I can be.
If you, like me, have heart disease or heart conditions, then diabetes becomes a complicating factor. I'll be talking about all of these challenges in future columns and I'll be sharing my experiences and thoughts.
And, also, my Trader Joe's New and Improved shopping list for better health and lower blood sugar!