Things I’ve Learned Along the Way: Notes From a Type 2 Diagnosed in 2003

Once you’re diagnosed with type 2, you begin a long, often trial-and-error journey toward creating a daily routine that accommodates your disease without making you feel like an invalid.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way. 

Turkey Bacon Delivers Reasonably Tasty Fat

If you’re not quite convinced yet that a low-carb/high-protein diet is the way to go and are watching your fat intake, here’s how to enjoy some of the wonderfully tasty white stuff without feeling guilty: Prepare some rashers of turkey bacon at breakfast or lunch.

Each rasher of turkey bacon has about 35 or fewer calories and about 5 percent of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat. No, it doesn’t taste as good as pork bacon, but its taste and mouth feel more than stand on their own. 

For me, the best way to prepare it is to bake it at 400 degrees to the level of crispness I prefer. It usually takes 12 to 14 minutes for the rashers to become crisp at the edges. This gives them a delightful crunch at the start of a bite, followed by a warm gush of fat and then the taste of softer-textured meat in the center.  

(I’ve tried frying them but never found that cooking method very satisfactory-turkey bacon is an extruded product, and the rashers just don’t have quite enough fat to work up a proper pan fry or look.)

Easy-to-find brands include Louis Rich-Oscar Mayer and Jennie-O. (On the West Coast, Trader Joe’s sells a popular in-house version.) 

Guilt-Free Popsicles 

Give your sweet tooth a sop without hurting your conscience or your BG levels: Dreyer’s Splenda-sweetened Fruit Bars have eight grams of carbs and 30 calories per bar. Flavors include raspberry, strawberry, tangerine, black cherry, mixed cherry, and strawberry-kiwi.

One (heck, two) a day won’t kill you.

A Casual Five-Minute Wake-Up Routine

Remember the warm-up exercises you used to do in high school to get ready for gym class? When you get up in the morning, turn on a news show and do some very simple, gentle stretching exercises in front of the TV or beside your radio. 

Five minutes, tops. 

The movements will banish any lingering sleepiness and get your blood going. If your routine includes taking a morning walk, the exercises will limber you up nicely.

To find low-key exercises, such as ways to stretch your hamstrings or loosen your shoulders, look up “stretching exercises” on your browser. There are many sites that offer clear, illustrated instructions for easy-to-do exercises. 

Eight Useful Physical Habits-No Special Equipment Necessary

Falling into a few simple habits can pay off in extra calories burned and a heightened sense of satisfaction. You know the drill: 

  1. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. One or two floors will do. The quickest way to quit doing this is to overdo it. 
  2. Park farther from the store than you usually do. Exercise the usual precautions, such as not parking at the farthest end of the mall lot at night.
  3. Get off the bus two or three blocks before your usual stop. (Obviously you shouldn’t do this if it means walking through a bad part of town.) 
  4. Mow the lawn. No, it doesn’t have to be with a manual mower. Even a gas or electric mower requires you to push and turn it, and that’s that kind of exertion you’re looking for.
  5. Wash your car yourself. It’s amazing how many different ways you have to use your body when you wash a car-stretching, squatting, balancing, walking, extending, bending. A nice accompaniment is a long-handled brush for reaching high or low spots. It saves you from hurting your back and gives you a nice sense of control.
  6. Walk to the post office/grocery store (for small items). This assumes you’re not on a rural route or living in Hell’s Kitchen. If you’re in a small town, the bonus here is running into friends or neighbors or getting to practice your banter and charm with the postmaster/mistress, butcher, and checkout people.
  7. Walk the dog. Yes, it’s not really a walk, it’s more of a “Let’s run to the next smell and then spend five minutes examining it!” Still, it’s exercise of a sort and lets you slow down enough to smell the roses. (See “Get a Pet” below.)
  8. Drive to another neighborhood and walk around. This advice assumes you’ve thoroughly explored your own town or neighborhood and are looking for some novelty. If you’re worried about laying down a hunk of carbon footprint doing this, combine your drive with a chore. Park near the store or office you’re going to visit and take an exploratory walk. New scenery will stimulate you. 

Get a Pet 

I remember a very depressing period in my pre-diabetes life. I was having money problems and a good friend had just died. I wasn’t sleeping well and the savor had gone out of most things. 

What snapped me out of my funk was a Who: my dumb, stinky lummox of a dog, a half-Rottweiler, half-Sharpei mutt named Mickey. Mickey had the twin talents it seems almost all dogs (and cats) have: 1) a total lack of interest in my problems and character defects, and 2) an expectation that I would meet his need of the moment, whether it be food, a scratch, or a walk. 

That kind of expectation is tonic for the self-absorption that is one of depression’s dangers. Those frantic looks in Mickey’s eyes were really marching orders: “Smells must be catalogued! Usurpers’ trails must be noted and monitored!”

Owning a pet is a form of service. It takes you out of yourself and, often, out of the house. The bonuses are big too: affection, enthusiasm, loyalty, and total honesty. In all of history no pet has ever surprised its master with a summons, lawsuit, audit, or accusation. 

Remove the Rice: Voila, Sashimi!

My local sushi joint, cleverly named “King of the Roll,” is run by a Tokyo-born man who, although he will never shed his native Japanese accent, became thoroughly Americanized years ago. His honest-to-God legal U.S. name is John Wayne. If you make friends with him-easy to do once you sit at John Wayne’s five-person sushi counter near the front of his 40-seat restaurant-you get some very fresh, deftly prepared, and reasonably priced sushi.

If you have diabetes, though, sushi’s rice base can be a deal breaker. It’s a carbohydrate bomb, one of the most powerful humans have ever cultivated. So, is there a way to enjoy sushi without the rice?

There is: sashimi. Remember, sushi refers to raw fish and rice. By itself, raw fish is called sashimi, and any decent Japanese restaurant will be happy to prepare beautifully arranged plates of it for you. 

As with sushi, you can dip the sashimi in wasabi-tinged soy sauce. The only thing you’re missing is that wad of rice. And while eschewing the rice does take away one of the textures sushi eaters most enjoy, let’s face it, nobody has ever ordered “sushi to go, hold the fish.”

Don’t Complicate Things

If you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes, the temptation is to try to learn everything you can about the disease as quickly as you can. 

The problem with that approach is that not only is there far more to know about the disease than any one person could ever master, but the attempt to learn it all can be overwhelming.

How do you know what’s good information and what isn’t? How do you reconcile conflicting information? Which theories and scientific studies are authentic insights into diabetes and which are dead ends? 

The answer is that you have to be patient and methodical. Give yourself time to observe and experiment so that you can build an accurate map of the disease’s effects on you and your best responses to it.