Two years ago, I was 58 years old, weighed 200 pounds and was in a wheelchair because of chronic ankle pain when my doctor told me I had diabetes. Six months later, I was 20 pounds lighter and my blood glucose level had lowered so much that I was considered pre-diabetic. This meant that diabetes was no longer harming my body.
One of the first things I did was to cut out refined sugar, honey and junk food from my diet. This was not easy, as I grew up with a mother whose idea of making you feel better was to give you food like waffles with maple syrup and Sephardi delicacies like zangoola – deep fried pastry filled with treacle – on Hanukkah. But, with the help of a dietician, I lowered the amount of carbohydrates and sugar that I ate. She said that I could have artificial sweetener in my tea, so I decided to do that.
I noticed that food tasted better when my overall diet had very little sugar added. I also made sure to have a lot of vegetables with my meals. I treated myself to a simple spinach omelette with feta cheese and tomatoes almost every week.
I ate strawberries, blueberries and cantaloupe instead of high fructose fruits like watermelon. But I made sure to cheat a bit, too, at least once a week, with a few squares of fruit-and-nut dark chocolate. Whenever I went kayaking and got a good workout for an hour-and-a-half, I rewarded myself with a small chocolate ice cream.
If I can’t see it I won’t eat it! My husband eats ice cream and I asked him to put it at the very back of the freezer so I can’t see it. He also has a special cubbyhole where he puts his snacks that are high in carbs.
I spent some time on the Diabetes Canada website and found a chart there that tells you what food to eat some of the time, what food to eat most of the time and what foods to avoid altogether, which was very helpful.
Going to restaurants is still possible. When I order salads, I always ask the server to leave the dressing on the side, since dressings are sometimes high in sugar. I also found out that all sit-down restaurants have a nutrition guide, which will tell you how many carbohydrates or sugars are in their foods.
The second thing I did was find a diabetes clinic that had a case manager and an endocrinologist that I could see for free. I can’t say how important it was to find a specialist who knew so much about the disease and was so optimistic that I could lower my blood glucose level. He gave me a blood glucose monitor for free for two weeks and, during this time, I found out which foods spiked my levels and which foods didn’t. Everyone is different.
It took about six weeks but after trying three different drugs I was finally given one I could tolerate and that I could get on special authority so I didn’t have to pay for it. My pharmacist insists that it was the drug that lowered my blood sugar level from 6.8 to 6.2 in six months. I think other factors helped, too.
I found that exercising for even 15 minutes a day made a difference in my weight. There are unlimited exercises on the internet that you can do while sitting. And if you Google “exercises for seniors,” you will find many examples.
I started swimming twice a week. Swimming increases blood flow and tones almost all of the muscles in your body. Also, I figured that during the two hours I was getting ready to swim, then swimming, then going into the whirlpool and sauna – if that didn’t take the pounds off, at least I wasn’t eating for that amount of time!
I tried five different indoor swimming pools in Vancouver and they all had lifts that take you out of your wheelchair and into the pool. It’s different at outdoor pools though. It’s best to call ahead and see if they have the equipment that’s required.
I found social media helpful, as well, especially Facebook, since there are a few different pages for people who have diabetes. It was helpful to know that I was not alone – while also being cautious, since there were people who really wanted to make money off of my condition.
Now I am 60 years old and I can walk again. I am hoping to lose more weight so that I will be able to walk pain-free. I’m still getting medical treatments and I am hopeful that I will slowly but surely get rid of my diabetic belly. Here’s to hoping!
Cassandra Freeman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.