I had never been a sedentary person. As a child I was a dancer, and as a teen I was an active horseback rider. I took up weight training and running in an attempt to lose weight. Again, no luck. I learned to love running at 250 pounds, something I did not think would be possible.
Then the diabetes struck. I thought I had a urinary tract infection. Yes, I had been drinking a lot of water in the previous months, but my working environment was a bad one...I was sitting in front of an air curtain all day and assumed that accounted for my thirst. I went to the doctor's office for what I assumed was to be a prescription for antibiotics to cure my urinary tract infection. I gave the nurse a urine sample, and as I did so, I noticed how sweet my urine smelled. She took one whif of that cup and whisked me into the back room for a blood test.
My fasting blood sugar was 432 mg/dl. I was crushed. My mother has diabetes and so did my grandfather, so I always assumed it could be in the cards. We are also part native american, which makes the chances of diabetes even greater. But I never expected to get it at 32 years old. I was of course given pamphlets on nutrition...and whisked off to a laboratory for a battery of tests to see what damage my body had already taken.
Luckily, my heart and other systems were undamaged. That was a terrifying day, however. My vitamin D was extremely low, and I was given supplementary vitamin drinks. I began to read the pamphlets about nutrition, to see what my new life as a diabetic would be like. I was shocked. The pamphlets advised me to eat 6 servings of fruit a day, as well as a diet low in fat and high in pasta and whole grains. Having a LONG educational background (I have a specialization in biology to go with my first bachelor's degree, which is in Anthropology) something did not sit right with me. Diabetics cannot tolerate sugars...so why were they advising me to eat a lot of carbohydrates, which are nothing more than complex sugars?
I started researching. I got online and joined a diabetic forum. There I was given a lot of support and information, including being referred to a number of fantastic and informative books! For anyone dealing with diabetes, please pick up a copy of the following: Blood Sugar 101 by Jenny Rhul, The Diabetes Solution by Richard Bernstein, and Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes (If you want more dense science, try Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes).
The research confirmed what I had suspected. Carbohydrates in any form are harmful to diabetics. The body knows little difference between a slice of bread and a spoonful of sugar. What surprised me though was how unhealthy our 'normal' diets really are. Everything I had been told about the health benefits of whole grains and bread and pasta and fruit...was wrong! It was a shock to read and hard to swallow. Here I thought I had been eating 'healthy' my whole life. That the body 'needed' carbohydrate. But the evidence to the contrary was in front of my eyes. Having dropped the sugars and starches from my own diet, my blood sugars went from insanely high to normal in about 2 weeks. I also started losing weight for the first time in my life.
It was hard saying goodbye to sugars, but it was harder admitting that everything I thought I had known about nutrition was wrong. But looking at carbohydrates through my anthropologist eyes, it made SENSE! Humans did not develop agriculture long enough ago to have evolved a tolerance for agricultural foods. We evolved by eating proteins and fats, not bread and pasta!!
Now, 1.5 years later, my diabetes is effectively cured. My fasting blood sugar is indistinguishable from a 'normal' persons. My A1c (3 month blood sugar average) is low-normal. I am 76 pounds lighter than I was when I was diagnosed (which I would have considered an impossible feat...) and a full 35 pounds lighter than my lowest 'starvation weight' from high school. I no longer have chronic heartburn (it used to plague me daily) or dry, flaky skin. And just living feels different, too. I had assumed that people felt tired and run down all the time...within weeks of starting a low carb eating plan, I was full of energy and never needed the naps I used to take in the afternoons. I no longer spent my days off in bed, sleeping through the weekend from exhaustion. It was amazing...to realize that I did not have to drag myself through life!
I cannot say enough wonderful things about eating a low carb diet. It changed my life.
Meet Lara Today.
What was the biggest challenge to adopting a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet?
The biggest challenge has been other people. People sometimes react negatively when they hear that I no longer eat grains. It is hard for them to believe that this could be healthy. They have only to look at my lab work to see evidence to the contrary, however!
The other people challenge is how to handle holidays and special events. People sometimes try to make special dishes that they assume I can eat, and those things are often loaded with whole grains (because they cannot get it through their heads that I do not eat grains!). Then comes the guilt of having foods forced on you or refusing a dish that someone 'specially' prepared.
What advice (if any) would you give to someone interested in trying a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet? Were there any obstacles that you overcame that could help future dieters?
My advice is to read up on why this diet is good for you. Arm yourself with information...knowledge is power, and in this case, it means power to stick with your diet (knowing how good it is for you compared to other diets!). The more you learn, the more motivated you will become to improve your health!