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Learn To Control Your Diabetes, Before It Controls You

A Diabetes Health Classic. This article originally was published on June 20, 2007.

Late one evening while watching TV with my husband Phil, I reminded him to check his glucose level. His reply was the usual: “I’ll do it later.” Knowing him as I do, I was frustrated. He has the tendency to procrastinate, so I chose a different approach. “Why don’t you check mine, and we’ll compare.”

Never did I expect my little psychological game to backfire. Pricking my finger, I waited in anticipation. When the meter flashed 468 on the screen, I laughed. “Something’s wrong with your machine. I don’t have diabetes – I have no symptoms. I’m fine.”

“You’re always tired,” my husband countered.

“Isn’t everyone? If someone else walked in my shoes, they’d be tired too.”

It was true that I was always tired. I suffered from insomnia, and I worked ten-hour days as a professional, moonlighting at night on my writing career. But my fingers weren’t numb, I didn’t suffer from increased thirst, and I certainly did not have unexplained weight loss. My mother had diabetes, so it did run in the family. Unexplained weight gain? Could that be a symptom?

The next morning I visited the doctor’s office, confirming the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. My glucose level at Dr. Knepper’s office was 362. When he opened the door to discuss my condition, I was in tears. How could this happen to me? I ate properly – at least I thought I did. I did not exercise, however, and due to my crazy work schedule, fast food was definitely a component of my weekly meals. Dr. Knepper reassured me I could recover, and he encouraged me to learn all I could about diabetes.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can become an advocate, if needed.”

Soft-spoken and kind, Dr. Knepper nodded. “Let’s take it slow for now. We can get this under control. I want you to focus on what you are eating. Watch carbohydrates, increase your water intake, and exercise. Check your glucose level at least three times daily and keep a record of it. I want to see you in three months, and then we’ll do blood work to see what your A1c level is.”

I had a lot to learn about type 2 diabetes. Leaving his office armed with a handful of prescriptions, a meter, booklets, and a fearful feeling, I chose to learn all I could about type 2 diabetes.

That afternoon, I performed a Google search on diabetes. The wealth of information was amazing – I was able to click on information about type 2 diabetes and find out about treatments, resources, and so much more. Recognizing that it was time for me to make a lifestyle change, I started building a plan of attack.

My New Year’s resolution for 2005 was to join a gym and lose weight. After the diagnosis of diabetes, I was motivated and determined to change my life. I stopped visiting fast food joints for lunch, choosing to eat fresh vegetables and healthy snacks instead of chocolate or desserts. After work, I drove to the gym, worked out, and learned more about proper nutrition. I attended a nutrition class with a diabetes nutritionist, asked lots of questions, and changed my diet, discovering the art of portion control.

Much to my surprise, I learned that sugar was not necessarily the enemy of people with diabetes. Portion control, monitoring glucose levels, and limiting carbohydrates were the keys to successful management.

Checking my glucose levels three times daily encouraged my husband to monitor his levels. Although he had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1992, he rarely monitored or practiced portion control. My determination to get my diabetes under control encouraged him, but when his levels were higher than mine were, he was defiant.

“I don’t understand. You had the same thing for dinner that I did, and your levels are lower. It’s not fair,” he protested.

“Portion control,” I teased. “You had seconds. I never clean my plate. You go back for seconds, and you always snack late at night.”

“Whatever,” he grumbled.

Three months later, my doctor was amazed by how quickly my A1c level had dropped from 8.5 percent to 5.4 percent. His goal had been 6.5 percent, but he’d expected it to take a year to achieve. “Now,” he said, “you’re my new poster child for diabetes.”

Pleased with how quickly my eating and diabetes management habits had changed, I was still a bit annoyed that I was not losing weight. Nevertheless, inches were falling off me. In three months I dropped two inches from my chest, four inches from my waistline, and two inches from my hips. My weight failed to drop at all.

“It’s hard for a diabetic to lose weight, especially if you have insulin resistance,” Dr. Knepper said. “Don’t get discouraged. Your A1c level is great. I’m amazed how quickly you got it under control.”

“Insulin resistance,” I moaned. “Is that why my glucose level is so much higher in the morning?”

“Probably. Keep doing what you are doing, and don’t get discouraged. I’ll see you in three months.”

In June 2005 my position at the university ended when the campus relocated. With the closing of that door, I chose to open a window to my writing career. Now I had a bit of freedom to do what I wanted to do. I walked my dogs every day and worked out three to five times a week, and my weight decreased.

By August 2006, I had lost a total of 26 pounds and many inches. My A1c levels were averaging 5.9 percent, my cholesterol levels had decreased to a healthier level, and I had more energy and self-confidence. Dr. Knepper was amazed and so proud of me. He had no idea how proud I was.

Meanwhile, Phil’s A1c levels continued on a dangerous roller coaster ride. His doctors prescribed additional prescriptions and insulin injections. His reluctance to change his eating habits and practice portion control inspired me to continue monitoring my eating habits and glucose levels. Horrified of needles, I was determined not to join him. Each time he reached for his injection, I left the room.

Controlling diabetes is now a lifetime commitment for me. My daily routine is a personal allegiance to educate myself and the public about the proper steps to control diabetes. Before diabetes, I procrastinated about life, my health, and my writing career. I made excuses for everything. Now I want to do all I can to educate others, while educating myself. Diabetes is not a death sentence, but a way of life. It can be managed through exercise, proper eating habits, portion control, and modern medicine. I plan to live my life as a healthy diabetic. So can you.

Daily Rituals to Monitor Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Seek professional care. Follow your doctor’s advice and learn all that you can about type 2 diabetes.
  2. Monitor glucose levels. I check my levels every morning, afternoon and evening.
  3. Exercise. Take daily walks. You will learn to appreciate the little things in life again, like hearing a chirping bird, saying hello to neighbors, and enjoying the freshness of morning air.
  4. Change your eating habits. Don’t go back for seconds. Learn to eat more slowly and savor the tastes of your food.
  5. Get regular physicals. I confess, I did not, until type 2 diabetes knocked on my door. Now, I follow the advice of my doctor.
  6. Do not get discouraged if you have difficulty losing weight. Keep active and have a daily exercise routine.
  7. Visit the web site www.diabetes.org and learn all that you can about diabetes. Knowledge is power.
  8. Diabetes is a lifestyle change, not a restriction of distasteful meals and social restraint.
  9. Practice portion control. Working as a professional photojournalist, there are times when my willpower is put to the test, especially during luncheons or special dinners. When dessert is placed before me, I eat one or two bites and leave the rest. Portion control is the key.
  10. Monitor your weight. Even a small reduction in weight is better than an increase.


Barbie Perkins Cooper is a travel writer, photojournalist, and award-winning writer of screenplays, creative non-fiction, plays, and numerous articles for regional, health and travel publications. Visit her web site at www.barbieperkinscooper.com.

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