Discovering the Diabetic Diet – What The Hell Do I Eat?

Discovering-the-Diabetic-Diet

With having recently being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (see this post for full details), one of the many things in my life that had to change was what I eat.  Because of my previous bad experiences with diets I had avoided going to the doctor even though I knew I had crossed the line into diabetes.  I was scared that I could not sustain a diabetic diet and that I would fail as I had with every other diet I had been on.  I eat a fairly healthy and varied diet and as a cook and a foodie I thoroughly believe in trying to eat as much fresh food as possible and cooking from scratch wherever I can, but this diagnosis meant that I had to be more vigilant, stricter with the ingredients that I chose to cook with.  Quite honestly, I had no idea where to start.  I have preconceived ideas about what a diabetic diet looks like:

  • No Fat
  • No Sugar
  • No Salt

Basically bland and unappetising.  These three ingredients are what give food flavour and mouth-feel and isn’t that the reason we enjoy food?  This seemed devastating to me.  I am a foodie.  I love food, I love cooking and experimenting with food and I work in the food industry.  I couldn’t imagine having to forgo delicious food for the rest of my life.  I know this seems shallow and irresponsible, but the majority of my life revolves around food.  I work with it every day, I blog about it, I pin it and obviously, I eat it.  Yes, I’ve dieted before, in fact I’ve tried them all and having to restrict certain foods has always been the hardest thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat much fast food/junk food, but it is the other types of food that are restricted.  I love fresh fruit, but some diets tell you to restrict fruit, some even say to cut it out altogether.  I also like red meat, rare and juicy, a lot of diets tell you to avoid red meat.  There are diets that tell you to only drink powdered shakes and low card bars and cookies but these always contain chemical ingredients that go against my belief in lots of fresh food and leave a bad taste in my mouth.

My doctor didn’t give me any guidelines as to what I was to eat, just a phone number to ring to sign up for some education classes.  I am a bit of a nerd so the first thing I did was go to my friend the internet.  Now the internet is the type of friend that pretty much tells you what you want to hear, whether it is the truth or not.  I’m sure there is some sort of study that shows that the answers we get on our search engines has a lot to do with our previous searches, our interests and our social media accounts.  I can’t prove that of course, but I do believe that to get to the real answers we want, beyond our biases, we need to ask questions a whole lot of different ways and go beyond the first page of search results.  There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and I am an advocate of not believing everything you read.  Every so called “fact” and “claim” needs to be backed up by two, three or more supporting facts and claims.  I also don’t put much stock in personal testimonies of products because I know how easy it is to fake them.  It would be therefore hypocritical of me to let you read this blog and think of it as gospel truth.  I am not a scientist, doctor or other medical professional.  All I have is my own experience and my own research. I encourage you to do your own research and see what answers you find that work for you.

The more research I do the more I am finding that different things work for different people and this is not wholly unreasonable.  Our world is small now but not that very long ago it was quite a bit bigger.  People groups had widely varying diets depending on where they lived.  Before we were able to transport food products across country and across the sea, people had to eat seasonally and regionally.  Now our cultures are merged and food is a lot more readily available in and out of season and we think that there must be a single solution to the health problems we face.  I don’t agree.  I believe, from my own experience and from the experiences of others, that our bodies are so intricately complex and diverse that it only makes sense that we need multiple solutions.  When I was younger I thought that if I ate exactly what my skinny friends ate then I would be skinny.  It didn’t work.  Their metabolic rates, hormone levels and other complex inner workings were different to mine.  Why are some children naturally slim or even super skinny, and others are more robust and fatter?  It is a question which has plagued me my entire life and the only logical solution I can come up with is that we are not all cut from the same cloth.  The extension of that answer is that different bodies respond differently to the food they ingest.  But as I said earlier, I am no doctor and the real answers to these questions are beyond my limited understanding.

So armed with nothing more than my wits and my cynical scepticism, I entered the fray of the Google search.  I have long since held to the belief that the “Food Pyramid” that we were taught as children is baloney.  Unfortunately too many hands were in the pie that created that particular piece of nutritional information and what was originally meant to be a good thing was basically hijacked by special interest groups who had billions of dollars invested in the food industry (wow, that did sound cynical).  If you are interested in finding out more about how the Food Pyramid came about here are some links:

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/09/invented-food-pyramid/ – This is a clear explanation of how the food pyramid came about

http://www.liftbigeatbig.com/2012/11/a-history-of-food-pyramid-corporate.html – I don’t completely agree with everything written in this post, but it has some very valid points.  I especially like the sentences relating to farming cows on pastured land and feeding them grass instead of grain.  I have issues with the way we farm our meat sources, but that is a topic for another post.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_guide_pyramid – From Wikipedia

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/ – This is the Harvard version of the food pyramid and a bit of explanation about how it came about.

You may notice that I didn’t include any positive links about the food pyramid.  That is because they all come from sources that have significant resources invested in it.  When you put money on the line, of course you are going to back it up. (Again the cynic in me).  If you are interested in that information (and you should be to get an unbiased view), a simple Google search on the food pyramid will give you ample results.

So with my aversion to the food pyramid idea, I cautiously began my research in the most obvious place – Diabetes Australia.  I have to say I was disappointed.  I was looking for a simple eating plan, something to get me started so I knew what foods to eat, when to eat them and approximate kilojoule intakes.  None of that was available on the website (well none that I could find anyway).  There were a few recipes, but not nearly enough for me to create a lifestyle from.  They have information regarding the food groups and how that relates to diabetics, but that didn’t actually help me determine what I should eat, how much I should eat and when I should eat.  I suppose that is what the education appointment is for, but I had a whole week and a half before I could attend a session, so what was I supposed to eat in the meantime?

I knew I had to cut out refined sugar so that is where I started.  Apart from the obvious sugary foods, there is also hidden sugar in a lot of packaged foods, so they all had to go.  I made the decision to only cook with fresh/frozen ingredients – no more bottled sauces/marinades/salad dressings, no more recipe bases or packet mixes.  I also knew I would have to avoid refined carbohydrates and other high glycaemic index foods.  Bread is my weakness.  I love bread – fresh bread, thick bread, toasted bread, bread rolls.  I have avoided bread for a lot of my life because a. I know I have a weakness for it and b. I always feel clogged up when I eat too much.  My compromise is to only eat good quality bread that is full of whole grains and rye.  The reason I mention bread is because I also realised that I would need to start eating breakfast before I went to work so that I could take my medication.  For most people this is not a big deal, but for me it meant having to get up at 3:45am instead of 4:00am and finding something that I would feel like eating at that time of the morning…toast and vegemite was the answer.  Yoghurt and muesli are also good breakfast foods.  I make my own toasted muesli using coconut oil, honey & maple syrup so I know the fat and sugar content and I only use Greek yoghurt.

So this brings me to a whole other issue…the times that I eat.  As I mentioned, I start work early, so usually I don’t eat until 9:00am or 10:00am, and then I would struggle to eat lunch but by 3:00pm I would be ravenous and then at dinner time I wouldn’t feel like eating and then I am in bed by 8:30pm.  Now I had to eat before 4:00am so I could take my tablets, which meant lunch that I was hungry again by 10:00am or 11:00am.  Not wanting to eat lunch this early, I have been making myself a superfood smoothie.  Smoothies can be a bit of a trap for the uninitiated.  If you are purchasing them from a café or shop, they can be full of hidden sugars and fat.  A lot of places use packet mixes for their smoothies, but we never have.  I have experimented with a lot of smoothie recipes and have come up with one that I find delicious and also healthy.  Based on Coconut water, I add Acai, blueberries, banana, yoghurt and rolled oats.  I also add some supplements – Supergreens powder (a mix of spirulina, wheatgrass, chlorella and barley grass) and Macca Powder.  This smoothie lets me get through until about 1:00pm when I then have lunch.

Lunch has always been a tough one for me, I never know what to eat.  If I was working from home I would normally eat a frozen meal, but with my decision to not eat pre-packaged food I had to go to the trouble of making something.  Chicken and salad sandwiches and tuna and salad sandwiches have become my go to, but it also means I am now eating more bread.  It’s a quandary!  For now, I am doing it, sometimes swapping the bread for a wrap, and I am monitoring the effects on my body.  I am making sure there are plenty of salad ingredients on my sandwich so that my body is getting more vegetables than bread, so hopefully this will be successful (so far so good).

I still have the 3:00pm blues.  I don’t know what it is, but everyday around the same time I get the urge to graze.  I have curbed this to some degree by having herbal tea – Lemongrass and Ginger.  Surprisingly this has been very satisfying both physically and mentally.  I also find a banana helps.

This brings me to dinner.  There have been both positives and negatives with my new eating resolves.  The positives are I get to experiment with fun ingredients and have produced some really delicious meals.  The down side is that it means I have to cook every night.  No more lazy night dinner, no more take away and, thus far, my husband has been too intimidated by the rules to attempt to cook.

So this is a start.  More fresh fruits and vegetables, more fish, less carbohydrates, no refined sugar.  I think the biggest change for me has been to eat intentionally…to pay attention to what I am putting in my body, not to eat automatically, but to enjoy my food, savour it and to listen to the cues my body is giving me – paying attention to how my body reacts to the foods I eat.  To date I have found the transition fairly easy, a few headaches to start with as my body adjusted, but generally I have felt pretty good and I have lost weight (nearly 6 kilograms in four weeks), can’t complain about that.

Crispy-Skinned-Salmon

Crispy Skin Salmon

Blue-Grenadier-en-Papillote

Blue Grenadier en Papillote

Crispy-Skinned-Duck

Crispy Skin Duck

Homemade Muesli

Homemade Muesli

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Being Brave

fear

On Monday I went to the doctor.  It has been a long time since I’ve seen a doctor for something other than an immediate need (i.e. cold/flu, injury).  I don’t like going to the doctor.  I don’t like the waiting, I don’t like trying to explain my symptoms and I especially don’t like the inevitable observation that all doctors make when they look at me.  I am overweight, I know I am overweight but they always think it is necessary to point it out to me.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to lose weight.  As with most people who are overweight, I have tried a lot of things and have spent a lot of money trying to lose weight.  Unfortunately losing weight isn’t as easy as most people make it out to be.  That may sound like an excuse to you, and maybe it is, but it is my experience and it is all I have to go by.

If you have never had a serious weight problem then you may not understand how hard it is.  We are told by our culture that the way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more and it sounds like a simple thing to do, skip the chocolate or the chips and go for a walk.  Believe me when I tell you that I have tried this approach and although it may work for a little while, it has never been a long term solution for me this is one of the reasons I went to the doctor.

When society looks at a fat person a number of assumptions are immediately made

  1. They eat too much
  2. They only eat junk food
  3. They don’t exercise
  4. They are lazy
  5. They don’t care

Every person who is overweight has a story…a fat story.  You see me walking down the street and you immediately judge me by what you see, but you don’t know my story, you don’t know how I got to be this size.  You may think it is just that I am lazy or have no willpower or maybe you think I’m irresponsible or maybe you think that I just don’t care about what I look like.  None of those are true about me.  I don’t eat a lot.  I start work at 4:30am most mornings and usually don’t eat until about 11am or so.  I don’t exercise as much as I’d like, but I spend a lot of time on my feet and I generally work about 60 hours a week.  I have the occasional chocolate binge (no more than the next person), but the majority of my food intake is fresh, home cooked meat and vegetables.  Before you judge me, you need to know more about me.  Every fat person has a story about how they got there, some of it may be over eating or lack of exercise, but I can guarantee you that it is more complicated than that.

This is my Fat Story.

I was a chubby kid, from as far back as I can remember, and I always got teased about it.  I was teased by kids at school, by my brother and by some of the adults in my family.  When I was ten years old I was introduced to my first diet…Limits Biscuits.  These were calorie controlled, meal replacement biscuits.  They were these little packets of three biscuits and this was a meal.  I had one packet for breakfast and one packet for lunch…at school.  I had to eat these biscuits in front of all the kids at school.  If being a fat kid wasn’t embarrassing enough, I then had to subject myself to the ridicule of eating diet biscuits in front of everyone.

I didn’t lose much weight on these biscuits, but I did lose self-esteem.  I was ten years old and instead of being taught how to eat a healthy balanced diet, I was taught to restrict my food intake and I was taught that food was a reward.

When puberty hit, my body changed and I lost all the “baby fat” that I was carrying.  I wasn’t stick thin, but I was in a healthy weight range, unfortunately I couldn’t see that.  To me, I was still fat.  By the time I had reached High School I had developed a very unhealthy attitude to food and an unrealistic view of my body.  I tried every fad diet that was published in magazines, I tried laxatives and I tried diet pills.  I was also on a perpetual cycle of alternately starving myself and then bingeing.  My goal was to be anorexic.  I desperately wished that I could just stop eating and each time I caved and had to eat something, I felt that I had failed which further eroded my self-esteem.

When I look back now, I can’t believe how blind I was.  No, I was not a waif, I had curves and hips and breasts, but I was not fat.  I was a dancer and danced at least five times a week, more during concert time.  I played netball and rode my bicycle and did school sport, I swam, I did aerobics and I walked everywhere.  I was a very active teenager but still I felt that I needed to starve myself.

By the time I left school, I had realised that the starving/bingeing wasn’t working, but now I had another problem.  I was no longer doing the same level of activity that I did while at school.  I was working forty hours a week on a trainee wage ($115 per week to be exact) and I couldn’t afford to go to aerobics or dance classes.  I still walked everywhere (because I didn’t drive), but I noticed that it was harder and harder to keep the weight off.  I was skipping meals and still hoping that I could slide into being anorexic.

I soon met my {now} husband and I still struggled with my body image, but being in a committed and happy relationship meant that I wasn’t as strict with my food intake and slowly, slowly the weight crept on.  I remember a friend’s mother’s asking me if I intended to lose weight for my wedding.  It always amazes me how people feel they have the right to comment on your body or on what you are eating or on what is in your shopping trolley.

About twelve months after meeting my husband and about twelve months before we got married, I injured my back at work.  I was unable to work or do strenuous exercise and so I ate.  I know I am an emotional eater, always have been.  My bingeing was almost always triggered by stress or emotional upheaval.  I used food to reward myself, to soothe my hurts and to dampen down feelings that were too hard to deal with.

I fell pregnant on our honeymoon and I had horrible morning sickness for about six months.  You would think that throwing up just about everything that you eat (morning sickness being a misnomer because I had it all day long) would make you lose weight.  Not me.  I even had a doctor at the Pre-Natal clinic tell me that it was ok for me to diet while I was pregnant.  I didn’t ask him if it was ok, he just volunteered the information.  This was a doctor that knew nothing about me except what the scales said.  I had never seen him before and I never saw him again. (The pre-natal clinic works on a rotation.  You don’t have an appointment with a specific doctor, you just get whichever doctor is available when your name comes up on the list).

After my son was born, I struggled to try to lose the baby weight.  I just couldn’t budge it.  My life seemed to be spiralling out of control.  My husband and I were not getting on, we had financial pressures and I just couldn’t cope.  I was finally diagnosed with post natal depression and started medication.  But I still couldn’t lose weight.

Two years later and I fell pregnant again.  Same horrendous morning sickness but this time it was coupled with extreme back pain.  I was confined to bed for the last ten weeks of my pregnancy – it makes it hard to exercise when you are not allowed out of bed.

After my second son was born, I was determined to lose weight.  Every morning I would take him in the pram and we would walk about five kilometres and I started dieting again all to no avail.  I didn’t lose a single kilogram.

It was around this time that I noticed my menstrual cycle was getting longer and longer.  My period had always been irregular, but now I was going months without one.  The first couple of times I panicked that I might be pregnant.  After my husband got the snip, I stopped worrying about it and just enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to go through the pain and discomfort every month.

I went back to work and tried unsuccessfully to lose weight.  I felt like I was on a perpetual diet.  I didn’t drink soft drink or juice of cordial, I didn’t eat anything unless it was considered a “diet” food.  I strictly watched my portion sizes and I went for walks most mornings before work, but the weight still crept on.

I happened to be at the doctors on an unrelated issue when I mentioned to him that I hadn’t had a period in about twelve months.  My explanation was that since I was overweight, I assumed that it had screwed up my cycle.  He said to me that it may in fact be the other way around – that I was overweight because of something to do with my hormones.  He sent me for tests and I discovered that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and I was insulin resistant.  There is continued debate about whether PCOS causes obesity or whether obesity causes PCOS, but insulin resistance definitely contributes to obesity and makes it extremely hard to lose weight.  This explained so much to me.

So my doctor prescribed some medication, told me to see a dietician and off I went.  The medication made me sick and I couldn’t take it and the dietician was no help.  Her advice and the recommended food was what I was already doing.  Finally I had a diagnosis that helped me to understand what was happening to my body, but there was still no cure.

I think at this point I just kind of gave up.  Occasionally I would be motivated to try again and start a diet (I’ve tried them all), but ultimately it feels like I am fighting a losing battle.  I am relatively healthy (even though I am deemed to be morbidly obese) and don’t get sick all that often, I am able to function in my daily life, so I just plod along, resigning myself to the fact that I am going to be overweight for the rest of my life.

Then I decided that I should go to the doctor and have my insulin resistance checked.  It had been a few years since I’d had the test (see, I really don’t like doctors)and I had noticed a few sugar related issues popping up in my life, the most difficult one was that of being so incredibly tired all the time.  I pretty much already knew what the test results were going to be.  Type 2 Diabetes.  I knew that Type 2 Diabetes was just a matter of time for me, both my parents have it and several other close relatives also have it, but I was hoping that I could just ignore it.  No such luck.  The doctor was surprised that I had been as well as I had due to the high test results that came back.  So I am now officially a diabetic and I can no longer stick my head in sand and ignore it.

I am still trying to process what this means for my life ahead.  I know at the moment I am feeling guilt and shame.  Could I have prevented this?  Am I a victim of genes or am I responsible for developing this disease.  I know the current cultural norm is to view people with Type 2 Diabetes with disdain; if they had only tried to lose weight they wouldn’t be sick, but I hope that you, the reader, will see that I have in fact tried to lose weight – for my whole life.  It amazes me that we have a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry and yet we also have the highest levels of obesity.  Which came first?

I recently stumbled across a Ted Talk that tackles the question of whether Type 2 Diabetes is a cause or a result of obesity.

http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_attia_what_if_we_re_wrong_about_diabetes

I hope to journal my diabetes journey here as way for me to work through my own issues and also to maybe help someone else who is walking the same road.  Thanks for listening

Michelle xxx