‘Diabetes gave me the kick in the ass I needed’ – Independent.ie

Posted: March 2, 2020 at 4:45 pm


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was surprisingly nervous when I attended St Michael's Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, for my first appointment with my diabetic consultant last week. I had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in mid-August of last year and although, as those of you who have read my previous columns know, I made lots of changes to my lifestyle and diet, I wasn't entirely sure it was going to be good enough.

I was also conscious that the blood test which would be central to this visit measures your blood sugar levels over the previous three months; three months that included Christmas and my birthday. On both occasions, while not going entirely mad, I did break some rules. There was some chocolate and some pudding and some custard and some cake. Oh, and some of the most delicious dessert on the planet - the chocolate bombe. My weight loss of just over a stone-and-half had stalled over the festive season and so I was bracing myself to be told that although I had done well, I would need to go back on medication to ensure my blood sugars were kept in line.

Before being ushered into the audience with his holiness the consultant, I saw the archangel Anne, the diabetes nurse who has been so helpful and supportive. Before she even took my weight or blood pressure, she congratulated me, telling me that I had "knocked it out of the park". My blood-sugar levels were excellent. And I cried, just a little bit.

The relief of knowing, definitively, that my hard work had paid off was enormous. And so, I more or less floated into the consulting room where his holiness was flanked by two trainee doctors, one on each side. It was like arriving before a very serious interview panel, when you already had it on good authority that you had the job. But then he told me something that I really didn't expect to hear. I have successfully put my diabetes into remission and all that's needed from now on, is a six-monthly visit to my GP for a blood test to ensure that I am keeping up the good work.

My cholesterol has gone up, however, so I need to take statins, as with my weight loss and healthy diet, it is assumed that this is genetic and not something I can manage alone. But this fact didn't overshadow my great joy and relief. It was a good day.

Unfortunately, putting my diabetes into remission doesn't mean that I can return to being the dessert-diva-cum-couch-potato that I was. My new lifestyle is for keeps, something I realised right from the start.

Looking back over the last five months, I realise that my 'journey' wasn't about a diet or exercise plan. It wasn't about wearing a yoke that told me to move, or counted my steps. It wasn't about signing up for a boot camp or any other punishing-sounding activity. It wasn't even about following any particular diet plan, be it fasting or keto or whatever and yes, I did research them all. No, the secret was finding what worked for me and what I felt I could do forever. The advice of the dietician and archangel Anne was all I needed.

Cutting 'obvious sugar' was straightforward. No more scones, cakes, desserts, sweets and chocolate. But learning that carbohydrates were also a source of sugar was a revelation. I love pasta, rice and potato and my portion sizes were mental, the blame for which I lay at the feet of my brothers who, when we were growing up, never seemed to have enough on their plates.

Too much carbohydrate combined with my allergy to exercise was disastrous. So, from the get-go, I halved the amount of pasta, rice and so on that I was consuming.

Changing my eating habits wasn't easy. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was my attitude to food, which more accurately could be described as my food obsession. I thought about food a lot. I comforted and rewarded myself with it. It is no longer high up on my list of life priorities.

I also had to recognise the difference between being hungry and experiencing a craving. For example, old me rarely had a lonely coffee. Coffee was always accompanied by little sugary something, which sometimes weren't so little. I have learned to appreciate the taste of good coffee, which up to now had been masked by the luscious delight that accompanied it.

I had been living in total denial about my weight, my fitness and my clearly unhappy body. I had gotten away with it for decades, but I was becoming increasingly unhealthy. Some of the symptoms of my body's unhappiness, such as my sore knees and ankles, were due to my weight and not, as I thought, my age. I was beginning to avoid doing certain things because I couldn't and that bothered me. I nearly got stuck in a bath in Copenhagen two years ago but still I didn't take steps to get fitter. I had great intentions but I never followed through. And now I look back and realise that while some of that was due to laziness, it was also due to fear. Fear of failure. It's much easier to say "I am not bothered" than do the hard work involved in getting healthier.

Diabetes delivered me the kick in the ass I needed and I am determined to keep it at bay. But since sharing my story I have been baffled by a number of people who have been in touch because of a loved one who won't take the disease seriously. Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease. Perhaps because it doesn't have any really obvious symptoms that we don't give it the respect it deserves. I think many of us think that sure it's grand, you take some medication and you will be fine.

But unmanaged diabetes leads to too much sugar in your blood which impacts organs. And that damage is irreversible. By the time you have problems with your eyes or kidneys or heart, it's too late.

I mentioned before that I was a 'happy fatty' but now I wonder. I wasn't too bothered about how I looked because I have always relied more on my 'big' personality. But I wasn't happy when my weight caused me to be breathless when walking, or meant that I avoided stairs and low chairs that I couldn't heave myself out of easily.

But the magical thing is that as soon as I made real, lasting changes towards a healthier lifestyle my body reacted positively and the benefits become apparent.

We went away to a spa for my birthday and for the first time I didn't request an extra-large robe. And getting off the low beds in the relaxation room was not something I had to make a few attempts at. I like this new me. This new life.

I met an old friend last week who I haven't seen in months who said, "I can see old Barbara again" and he was referring to the 1980s version. That will do me just fine.

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'Diabetes gave me the kick in the ass I needed' - Independent.ie

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March 2nd, 2020 at 4:45 pm

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