Like many people, I have a soft spot for salty chips, butterscotch sundaes, cheesecake, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and countless other comfort foods. A couple of martinis, accompanied by plump, red, pimento-filled olives, are another pleasant indulgence. And martinis were exactly what my wife Pat and I were drinking during the 2-for-1 Happy Hour at a chic Atlantic City bar during a vacation about five years ago.
The club featured engaging, live pop jazz. Absorbed in the music, I hardly noticed Pat leave for the rest room following our second drink. Some 30 minutes later, lost in the music and nursing a third, it dawned on me that Pat had been gone quite a while. I asked a woman at the table next to me if she would check on my wife. The woman was agreeable and returned to say that Pat was fine, a bit unsteady perhaps, and just needed to stay put a little longer. Neither Pat nor I is a big drinker (especially Pat), so this did not strike me as a serious issue.
About 30 minutes later, with still no Pat in sight, I asked my waitress if she could check on Pat. She returned with a similar report as earlier: Pat was fine, she just needed more time to feel steady enough to walk. More time turned into nearly an hour. I was about to ask the waitress to check again when I spotted Pat carefully making her way to our table. “We have to leave now,” she said without sitting down.
After much needed sleep, we drove home the following morning. During the drive, Pat explained that she had never felt so weak or incapacitated as she had the previous evening. Additionally, even with her glasses on, her vision was, and continued to be, significantly blurrier than usual. Neither of us thought that two drinks warranted such strong reactions.
Pat saw her optometrist the following day. He said the dramatic change in vision probably had something to do with high blood sugar levels and advised Pat to visit her internist. Pat was able to get an appointment that day, and she learned that her blood sugar level was 320. Her internist diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes and prescribed metformin, finger pricks four times a day, and several specialists, including an ophthalmologist.
Five years later, Pat still has type 2 diabetes, but she is very compliant and well managed, with an A1C of 6%. Not only has she lost over 35 pounds, but she also exercises regularly, both riding a stationary bike and attending yoga class three times a week. Additionally, she strives, with some success, for eight hours of sleep each night.
Although preventing diabetes is obviously what we all want, sometimes there can be positive outcomes for the family of a person with well-managed diabetes. In fact, I currently find myself in the best shape I have been in since high school. Adopting my wife’s food mantra, “maximum nutrition from minimum calories,” has resulted in my eating three meals and two healthy snacks a day. I have lost 20 pounds over the last few years. This has been accomplished without conscious dieting and only taking note of my weight at my annual physical.
I have discovered that by following my wife’s lead, I now have an eating routine that is satisfying, energizing, and, with Pat’s significant contribution to meal planning and preparation, relatively easy to maintain. Given that there are more overweight Americans than ever and that diabetes has become an epidemic, perhaps “maximum nutrition from minimum calories” should be everyone’s eating mantra.
Significant factors in our new eating regime include having healthy food choices in our home and bringing an insulated tote bag filled with healthy snacks when leaving the house. As consultants, Pat and I are often working on someone else’s turf when it’s time to refuel with a snack or a meal. Healthy, on-the-go take alongs include low sodium turkey and soy cheese sandwiches with mustard and lettuce on whole grain bread, low fat string cheese, raw almonds, Glucerna® shakes, baby carrots, Kashi ® TLC granola bars, tangerines, club soda, celery, whole wheat pretzels, and even an occasional sugar-free piece of chocolate candy.
The range of textures and tastes provides good nutritional/caloric ratios and enough variety to keep food consumption interesting. I still consider a donut, ice cream, or cheeseburger at times, but can count on one hand my indulgences in impulse buys over the past few years. Once, when I couldn’t resist a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, I found the “must have” feeling fade after two or three bites. I threw half the cookie away rather than mindlessly finishing it. I now realize that feeling satisfied, not stuffed, and energized rather than drowsy, almost always overrides the urge to overindulge. The additional productivity and mental health are great returns. There is much truth to the often stated but easily ignored recommendation of eating to live, rather than living to eat.
Along with a well-stocked “good food” inventory, portion control is critical. You will eat less by eating more often in order to avoid that frantic “I’m starved” feeling. Take pizza, for example. Rather than gobble down three slices in one sitting, I now eat one or two with a large salad. We also make our own pizza, so the slices are smaller than take-out. The economics also work. Instead of impulsively ordering in, we buy whole-wheat pizza dough at the supermarket for $2.69, add a low sodium spicy tomato sauce, a light topping of low fat mozzarella cheese, and some veggies or chicken. Within 15 minutes, we have a satisfying and inexpensive meal.
My wife and I started eating more healthily because of her diabetes, but we have continued because it has evolved into a preferable lifestyle. Pat’s diabetes has changed both our lives – for the better. We are grateful that diabetes has actually provided another, albeit unexpected, way for our 35-year marriage to continue to grow stronger.