There’s a lot of focus on weight loss as of late; not only in the diabetic community, but in the world in general. New ads for gyms and products claiming fast weight loss come out daily, women feel pressured to lose pregnancy weight within minutes from birthing their children, thin models are being airbrushed until they are nearly unrecognizable and diets are being undertaken without people understanding how/why/if it’s really going to be effective. Some of my own friends are chronically doing near-starvation diets to shed weight. People seem to be focused on getting the fat off, but unless long term habits are improved, it’s not going to stay off. It’s great to fight the obesity epidemic, but we can’t allow ourselves to go to the other extreme. Carrying excess weight isn’t a good thing, but I think we’re losing focus on the importance of health versus aesthetics.
Good Health is the Foundation for Everything
Diabetes introduced the phrase “I can’t” into my inner dialogue. For 15 years, I felt less than healthy. Some days I’d even go as far as saying I’ve felt downright damaged. I didn’t feel capable in my body and feared I would fray and fall apart any given day. I think it started when doctors beat me over the head with the impending complications every appointment, year after year. Diagnosed as an inexperienced, impressionable young teenager, that repeated negative dialogue set me into an unhealthy mindset. For years, I attempted to mentally address those two words and to force them from my thoughts, but I was rarely successful in the long term.
Eventually, I allowed the learned fear of death to inhibit me from exerting myself to any extremes. For a long time, I felt damaged because I believed diabetes had stolen something from me all those years ago. The truth is, I allowed diabetes to take a portion of my self worth.
I had wanted children for many years, so I figured “complications be damned” and became pregnant in 2010. To my amazement, I discovered a strength and determination I didn’t know I had. Giving birth was a pivotal moment in my health. Once I held that beautiful baby in my arms, I didn’t want to let go of the perseverance I had found. But even then, it still took a while to actively change my lifestyle. My mind was convinced, but my follow through was not there yet.
During another pregnancy a year and a half ago, I started walking a lot. I walked my neighborhood for three to six miles every day. I did it to help manage my weight gain, to keep my cardiovascular system as healthy as possible, and to combat the extremely stubborn glucose readings that occur during pregnancy. After three months, I felt stronger and happier, simply because I exerted myself in a physical way during each day. I finally had an Ah-ha! moment.
This slowly began to trickle into other areas of my life as well. I spent hours per week helping my husband chop several cords of wood, lifting the large logs and stacking the pieces. I felt strong and accomplished with each completed stack, and the movements quieted the whispers of “I can’t”. This example may seem small to some people, but it was an important moment for me. It was then that the world became my gym.
Exercise the Way I Like It
I grew accustomed to finding ways to exercise at home, in any fashion, on a daily basis. A few months after my second child was born, I wanted to take it to the next level, so I joined a small dance fitness studio.
The first time I took the class, I could barely breathe at the end of it. I was never a coach potato, but I didn’t exert myself in the high intensity manner which zumba toning required. I was sore for days after each class, but the endorphin rush made up for it. Within months, zumba had become a great focus of my weekly exercise regimen. I planned my schedule around the classes that I loved and held myself accountable for showing up to do the work.
I had found a way to exert myself, which benefitted me physically. With each class, my heart rate rebounded faster, my muscles grew stronger and leaner and I felt more comfortable in my own skin. It’s been 13 months and new students comment on how well I move my body while dancing. For someone who often felt clumsy, uncoordinated and insecure, this was a fantastic side effect.
Exerting myself physically also allowed me to decompress mentally and emotionally. Much of my days are spent chasing toddlers, managing finances, researching possible futures for my family and the intricacies of this disease. After all of that, there wasn’t much energy left to clear my head of my own thoughts. There’s lots of inner conflicts and ideas wrestling in my head, so every outlet is greatly appreciated in my case. Dancing had become an outlet for me to express myself, much like painting murals, singing in bands and writing had. All of this without ever feeling like I was “exercising;” I was merely dancing.
Eat to Nourish the Body
A few months later, I started renovating our eating habits. I wanted to continue to grow in a healthy lifestyle and to teach my children what I had learned by example. I had already cut out processed foods years ago, but I focused on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, how to make meals fresh from my father’s luscious garden, and how to appreciate creating something from basically nothing to nourish my family.
Meanwhile, my blood pressure decreased in a healthy way and my weight lessened and stabilized in a manageable fashion. I still battle high and low blood sugars, but my body seems to rebound from those more quickly. The swings are like hills versus the roller coasters I had encountered for years prior. Zumba is intense if you focus your mind on it, so I do see a glucose spike once the class is over, but I combat that with a correction of insulin (since I don’t use a pump) and it’s usually better within the hour.
When it came to my body image, prior to last year’s health journey, I used to see the physical “flaws”: bumps in my body line, sagging or sun damaged skin, dimples; anything that didn’t look airbrushed. A few years ago, I was frustrated when my pre-pregnancy jeans wouldn’t button just weeks after miraculously birthing my first child. As a diabetic, I didn’t like to be represented solely by my A1c or glucose readings, so why had I allowed myself to focus so harshly on what number was staring back at me on the scale?
With all the work that I’ve put into creating this healthy lifestyle, I see what this body of mine has accomplished. Against odds, I’ve given birth to two beautiful and strong little girls. I’ve painted and forged landscapes and imaginary worlds from my mind and onto the walls of nurseries. I’ve landscaped our yard and have felt the pleasure that is gained from creating something with my own hands. This body may not function the way that it was designed to, but it has provided me with strength and power, with a mind that can nurture and imagine.
Maybe if we change our mindset of being healthy versus being thin, we actually would be more successful in our weight loss goals. Despite ignoring the scales at the doctor’s office, I am comfortably back into those pre-pregnancy clothes from three years ago, having had two children since then. I still don’t know the exact number that displays on the scale, because how I feel is more important to me, but my physical measurements say that I am at a healthy BMI and the lack of heart palpitations agree. There are still trials and errors, there are good days and not-so-good ones, but I keep trying to be healthier, stronger, and more capable. My body thanks me for that.
Katherine Marple was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14 in 1998. She is the mother of two small children, has battled insulin resistance, Pre Eclampsia, and pump failures, leading to insulin therapy via MDI using Levemir & Apidra, sometimes Metformin & CGM. She is the author of two diabetes related novels: “Wretched (this is my sorry)” and “Deathly Sweet.” She can be found at www.KatherineMarple.com and www.facebook.com/KatherineMarple