A Type 1 Diabetic's Unlikely Journey from a Care-Free Attitude to Gluten-Free Lifestyle
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in my teens. After a traumatic car accident I began to experience some strange symptoms that made no sense to me. Constant thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, and depression were the most predominant. I was raised in a medical household by a highly regarded general surgeon and an RN/medical student, but because type 1diabetes was not an issue in our family, I knew nothing about it. By the time I was in my early teens, their marriage had fallen apart, along with their commitment to parenting me, so I was basically left to fend for myself.
How I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes
Having never received medical treatment from anyone other than my parents, my trip to the local clinic was a less than pleasant experience. Sheltered from the reality of the medical world, I had no idea how terribly flawed the system was, or how uncommon my dad’s excellent bedside manner was. After sitting in a hot, dirty waiting room for hours, and being shuffled around by rude nurses and assistants, I finally met the doctor, who told me my blood sugar was over 300 and I was in need of insulin immediately. My first question was, “Is it contagious?” All I knew about diabetes was there were needles involved. I had no idea that was in in for some serious education in the years to come.
My “newbie” years consisted of taking a shot in the morning of long-acting insulin along with a shot of regular. I had no idea how to count carbs, bolus for meals, or correct high blood sugars. I had grown up on fattening foods at home, and fast food and sweets on the go. I had a skewed idea of healthy weight loss, and led a lifestyle of smoking and partying at a rebellious young age. Despite all this, I was fortunate enough to be only slightly overweight – but of course, I wanted to be underweight. Introducing insulin made it more difficult to lose weight, but I was unaware that this was a common problem. I became frustrated and soon found myself hovered over toilet seats, purging my food on a regular basis – an eating disorder was born.
I loved the fact that I was slimming down. It was the era of the “fat free” label, and I was eating unlimited amounts of packaged foods with no nutritional value. When I would veer off of that track, I would binge on anything my heart desired and force myself to vomit shortly after. It became incredibly easy for me, and this behavior continued on and off for a good five years. My weight fluctuated at times, but I felt in control and invincible.
As my blood sugar increased I started seeing the results of my unhealthy lifestyle
As I approached my mid-twenties I began to see the results of my unhealthy behaviors. My low blood sugar episodes were becoming more difficult to bear and the high numbers were adversely affecting my life. My tattoos weren’t healing properly, my vision was inconsistent, I had chronic yeast infections, I was extremely depressed, and I knew something had to give. The binging and purging gradually came to a halt and I quit smoking. I learned how to test and correct my blood sugar with a sliding scale, and I tweaked my insulin regimen. I found out I was severely anemic, and began taking perscription iron supplements. I was getting informed, beginning to learn that my disease could be controlled, and gradually conforming to the idea. However, I still had a long way to go. Enter: marriage and the insulin pump.
The pump led me to carb counting and estimating boluses, and freed me from the dreaded syringe. Eating was a bit less stressful for me and I gained weight. This became a lifelong battle for me. There was a lot of yo-yo dieting and frustration with my on-and-off commitment to exercise. I lost a pregnancy, and then a couple years later had a baby. After that I was the heaviest I’ve ever been until a doctor introduced me to the injectable drug Symlin, which was helpful. My appetite was under control and the weight was coming off slowly. However, I was finding myself lying on the couch for hours at a time, completely fatigued. Eventually the Symlin weight loss plateaued, so I joined a weight loss program where I made a friend who had a son with type 1 diabetes. When I told her of my chronic fatigue and unpredictable blood sugar numbers, she recommended I go to the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Research Center at Columbia University in New York City. When I got in, they immediately screened me for Celiac Disease. To my surprise I tested positive and was told to give up gluten. This would be a major turning point in relationship with food.
I came to realize that I could do this. I could live with the fact that I’d never again taste real pizza or a soft hamburger bun or a fresh Italian pastry. Within a few months of being gluten-free, I felt in overall improvement in my health. After a year I was introduced to some literature on plant-based nutrition. I began by eliminating meats just to see how I’d feel, and I was shocked by the fact that I lost a few pounds and felt great. So, I gradually continued cutting foods from my diet – fish, eggs, dairy… until I was leading a vegan lifestyle.
I can tell you today that I’ve been gluten free for almost three years and vegan for a year and a half. The temptation is there, especially on holidays and such, but when I think of how far I’ve come, I am able to turn away. I see no possibility in the future of ever going back to eating animal byproducts or gluten. I still have my struggles with sugar addiction and a hatred of exercise, but I’m working on it at my own pace.
Word of advice to my readers
If I have any advice to share from my Type 1 Diabetes journey, it would be this: Never say never. Move forward at your own pace, but don’t procrastinate about getting your blood work done or seeing the doctor. We all fall, but the key to getting better at living life is finding the strength to get up and start again, right away. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the perfect patient, or the most disciplined eater. Accept that diabetes causes not only physical complications, but emotional ones as well, and be kind to yourself. Only you truly understand your feelings of isolation, frustration, and anxiety, so only you can properly treat them. Be good to yourself.
Written by Tina Piaquadio (A member in Type 1 Diabetes Support Group)