The winter of 2014 is when my approach to managing diabetes completely changed. Even though I was able to keep decent control for the first 4 years of my diagnosis, I was experiencing highs and lows much to frequently and was getting fed up. My A1Cs had never gone above 7.1 in those 4 years and I had never had a severe hypo or gone into ketoacidosis, but I had missed classes, canceled plans with friends and been very moody because of my diabetes. I was following the Canadian diabetes way of eating – count carbs, put in correct amount of insulin, eat food. Also I was eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
By complying with their way of managing diabetes I felt very out of control. Even though some might say that I was very much so in control I didn’t really feel like I had a sense of myself and how I related to the disease. I felt like a helpless sheep, not knowing at anytime what my blood sugar was or where it was heading. By not putting in the time to learn about food and how it affected my body, my passivity in turn began to take over my life.
I remember being so worn down that winter from all the highs and lows that I decided to write down my highest and lowest sugar values everyday. For a solid 2 or 3 weeks I was hitting the low 2.0’s (40 mg/dl) and going up to 15.0 (270 mg/dl) or 16.0 (288 mg/dl) every single day. The most frustrating part was that I was following exactly what the CDA had taught me.
After those couple weeks of testing 15-20 times a day and counting my carbs exactly/calculating insulin, I decided I had had enough. I came up with the great idea that if I didn’t eat any carbs, I would be able to minimize the highs and hopefully get rid of them altogether. This was before I had searched anything online or done any research about this way of managing type 1. This new change in diet came just before a trip to Mexico and while in Mexico I stuck to it. I saw results right away. I wasn’t having any highs (which felt great) but was having multiple lows a day (obviously cause my basal rate was wrong for this way of eating). So I adjusted my basal rate and it improved slightly, but I was still having lows. I lost around 12 lbs on that 2 week trip mainly because, I didn’t know at the time, but I was depriving myself of calories since low carb food was not readily available to me all the time while we were there.
When I got back from my trip I remembered that my Mom had tried to get me to read some book a couple months before that I had totally rejected the idea of. But now, since I was on a mission to get my blood sugar in control, I was very open to reading it. The book she was talking about was Diabetes Solutions by Dr. Richard Bernstein.
I think I read the entire book in a couple days. I was SO excited that there was a whole book on managing type 1 diabetes with a low carb lifestyle. Right away, I was so committed to this lifestyle. I followed the 6 carbs in the morning, 12 carbs at lunch and 12 carbs at dinner very exactly. I joined multiple Facebook groups with other type 1 diabetics following this way of eating, I made a 2 hour long car trip just to go to a low carb grocery store, I stopped eating all fruit; basically I hit the ground running with this diet and was never looking back to my old way of managing type 1. My blood sugar was better then it had ever been. I wasn’t having any lows or highs when I stuck to this way of eating. But eventually, that was the biggest problem, if I had strayed at all from this diet and had even half a banana or a small candy my blood sugar would be out of control and take FOREVER to get back down.
Because all I was eating was fat and protein I was extremely insulin resistant. My ratio for carbs was 1 unit: 7 carbs. I was eating a lot of high fat dairy, cheese, processed meats and protein shakes. On the outside, I looked healthy and for the first 6 months of this diet my energy levels were good, probably because my blood sugars were finally not all over the place.
Going into this diet I said to myself that I’d follow it strictly for a year no matter what – just to give it a fair chance and know if it was the best thing for me. Around the 8 month mark I started to experience some unwanted side effects. I started to gain weight, not a ton, maybe 10 or 15 lbs. My energy levels dropped significantly. I had a terrible time getting up in the morning. Worst of all my bowels were in distress… this may be TMI for yall but I’m just being honest, I think I passed a bowel movement every 4 days!!! It sucked. Despite these side effects I continued on with this was of eating for another 5 months.
In February of 2016 I decided that the reason I was having these side effects was because the quality of food I was eating. I ordered an organic grocery subscription box since I was in school and didn’t always have time to get good quality vegetables. I researched where I could buy local meats and the best cheese and high fat cream. It was great, but it was very expensive; also, my side effected persisted.
One day while researching local farms I somehow clicked on a websites that led me to a youtube video of the documentary called “Earthlings”.
And so, my journey that day changed. After being so strict and dedicated to a way to eating, overnight, I became vegan. I was always one of those people that claimed they didn’t care that much about animals and would never become vegan because that was soooo extreme, and also, as a type 1 diabetic I couldn’t be vegan because it would be terrible on my blood sugar. But this movie really struck a chord with me. It shed light on the idea that animals feel pain, joy and basically all the same emotions as humans. Just because they can’t speak to us in our language and verbally tell us how they’re feeling it doesn’t mean they can’t feel. It finally was so clear to me that the difference between a dog and a pig was literally nothing except for the fact that I had been brainwashed into thinking one was a man’s best friend and one was part of my breakfast. I couldn’t believe how naïve I had been my whole life. Once I made this connection I knew I would probably be vegan for a long time or even the rest of my life, which meant I would have to figure out how to make it work with diabetes. I didn’t want to have to compromise either thing for the other.
At first things were a little rocky. I tried finding any research I could on type 1 and veganism but there was barely anything out there. I went on a trip to Portland and visited the BIGGEST bookstore; I swear it spanned like 5 blocks, and there wasn’t 1 book on type 1 and veganism!! I was so frustrated. So I turned to trial and error.
My idea going in to veganism was to keep the same strict meal plan I was doing before, but that proved to be impossible. I was eating a lot more vegetables (which all had carbs) and the only form of protein that had 0 carbs was tofu, and I wasn’t about to start eating tofu 3 times a day. Thankfully there are a lot of good fats that I could still eat i.e all nuts and seeds, avocados, oils. So I started getting creative with food, making puddings in the morning with every kind of seed and nut in them and topped with berries! (which have a very low GI). Huge salads/stir-fries and protein muffins made with hemp protein, cooking with tempeh more, overall my diet started getting a lot more varied.
Within the first 2 months of becoming vegan I noticed INSANE changes in my insulin needs. All of a sudden I was having lows all the time and my carb ratio started changing dramatically. Currently, after being vegan for a year and a half, my ratio is at 1 unit: 15 carbs, which is the best it’s been since I first got diagnosed and was in my honeymoon phase. Also my basal rates total is 13 units for the entire day, which is the lowest its ever been as well. Another awesome pro that has come along with a vegan diet has been my ability to bring down a high. Before my highs would be extremely stubborn and take multiple hours to come down, but now, its only about 1/2 and hour until I’m back to normal. I find I can eat more fruit and carbs as well without spiking. From time to time I’ll even add a banana to my smoothie in the morning, which was a complete no no on the dr. Bernstein way of eating, and I also regularly eat sprouted bread.
I will admit, I’m not as extreme as I used to be with my high limits. On the dr. Bernstein diet my high limit was 6.6 mmol/L (118 mg/dl)… I KNOW that seems totally crazy but that’s just how I was at the time. Now my high limit is 8.0 mmol/L (144 mg/dl) and I rarely ever go above it. My current A1C is 5.6 and since being vegan it hasn’t gone above 5.9. The best thing is, maintaining this A1c hasn’t been a struggle for me at all.
Although I have abandoned many for the main structural methods of the dr. Bernstein way of managing diabetes, I have continued to implement a lot of the ideas into my diet still. The main one being the law of small numbers; I use this one especially when I go out to eat. This essentially means that the less carbs I eat, the less estimating I have to do and the less chance for miscalculating I have and subsequently going really high or low. I also generally keep my diet lower in carbs simply because its just soooo much less stressful for me. I don’t have to worry about if I put in the right about of insulin, or if I’m gonna have a bad high or low, I just live my life. Personally, eating more than 40 carbs per meal is a recipe for a rollercoaster for me. I understand how certain fat, protein and carbs react with my body and eat accordingly.
There are still days that are super rough and unexplained, but the average day is usual stable. My food journey will probably change again sometime in the next couple of years but for now I am extremely grateful because I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I feel like I am the one in control of my diabetes. I don’t let it take over my life but I still give it the attention it needs to peacefully coexist.