My family loves to eat. In-laws that join our gang marvel at how we discuss what we’ll be having for lunch during breakfast and what’s on the menu for Christmas Eve while we’re enjoying our Thanksgiving turkey. We really like food.
In 1999, when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, my diet was heavily Southern-inspired and included things like biscuits and gravy, cornbread, fried chicken, country ham, hushpuppies, chicken and dumplings, and barbeque (I ate as Southern as I could considering I was living in Boston at the time!). I had no idea how much my diet was going to change.
My primary care physician immediately referred me to a diabetes educator, and thank goodness for that. I learned the exchange system to help me eat a balanced diet in proper portion sizes. I checked my blood glucose when I got up in the morning and again before I left work. I lost about 35 pounds in the first eight months. For several years, I never had a blood glucose number out of the range I set.
Then, life happened. I got divorced, moved to Baltimore, went back to school, and changed careers (not in that order). I was living alone and working at home, so I ate out a lot for the social interaction. I slowly started to gain weight. I wasn’t as methodical about checking my blood glucose, and when I did, I wasn’t always in range. With everything going on in my life, it took a while for “find a doctor” to move up in priority on my to-do list. When I finally went to a new PCP, she started me on metformin. It worked like a charm. I was back between the lines.
I met the love of my life and got remarried. For the first time ever, I was feeding kids. Fortunately, my stepchildren are pretty adventurous eaters and aren’t opposed to “healthy” foods. I did, however, start cooking a few things I had been avoiding like pasta and potatoes. (My stepkids still ask for my legendary “cheesy potatoes” when they visit.) My blood sugar started creeping up again, and I put on a few pounds. Then I found a wonderful endocrinologist who coaxed me back between the lines by advocating exercise. I joined the YMCA and faithfully worked out several times a week doing both aerobic activity and resistance training.
and just like my diet, the blog has evolved over the years to help me stay between the lines.”
After both kids graduated from high school, my husband and I left the whirlwind of Washington, DC, and moved to a much quieter life on the Outer Banks of North Carolina (OBX). While fresh seafood was abundant, fresh produce was not, as the island wasn’t big enough to support any farms. My husband and I started working with a local nonprofit to get a farmers’ market going on the island. Part of the job was to encourage farmers on the mainland to make the weekly trek to our market, which was no easy task. Eventually, we started a community garden and sold the produce we grew there. We also made friends with a town further inland that had a 17-acre garden, but no access to fresh seafood. Swapping foods worked out for us both.
While living in the OBX, my blood glucose was on a roller coaster. Unhealthy fried food was everywhere! Mainly to keep myself on track, I started the Diabetic Foodie blog in 2010, and just like my diet, the blog has evolved over the years to help me stay between the lines. At first, I could eat up to 60 grams of carbohydrates at a meal and still keep my blood sugar in range. Now, it’s about half that amount.
Six years after moving to the OBX, we relocated to Chapel Hill, NC. After a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) diagnosis, my new PCP there encouraged me to adopt a vegan, gluten-free diet. My liver labs improved dramatically, but my blood sugar started to creep up. I assume this is because most plant-based proteins like beans and lentils also contain more carbohydrates.
Frustrated with the situation, I found a new endocrinologist who told me to stop beating myself up. “Diabetes is progressive,” she said. “Sometimes you can do everything ‘right’ and still not get the results you want.” I felt better … and worse. My endo started me on Victoza and within a few weeks (after I got over the nausea), I was between the lines again.
Now, I’m back living in the place where I grew up – Richmond, VA. My brother, his wife, and their three kids are nearby, and my parents visit often. I struggle with high fasting blood sugar (the dawn effect), but otherwise, I pretty much stay between the lines. My diet includes mostly vegetables, fruit, chicken, eggs, seafood, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, and dark chocolate. I’m not vegan or gluten-free exclusively, but I eat that way often.
My family still loves to eat. We’ve just expanded our repertoire to include healthier foods. But I’m sure this Easter we’ll talk about what we’re going to serve when we all get together to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Shelby K has lived with type 2 diabetes since 1999 and is the author of The Diabetes Cookbook for Electric Pressure Cookers and The Pocket Carbohydrate Counter Guide for Diabetes. She founded Diabetic Foodie, featuring diabetes-friendly recipes and tips for people who want to eat healthily. She loves food, hence her motto: “A diabetes diagnosis is not a dietary death sentence.” Shelby leads two DiabetesSisters PODS Meetups in the Richmond, Virginia area and is a member of the American Diabetes Association’s Virginia Advocacy Council.