Monday, November 9, 2015
PRE-DIABETES WEEK - COPING WITH MY DIAGNOSIS
This month is Diabetes Awareness Month in the US and for the rest of the world, Saturday marks the World Diabetes Awareness Day. Despite having relatives with diabetes, I am ashamed to say I hadn't given the diagnosis or consequences of diabetes much thought until I contracted gestational diabetes or diabetes during my pregnancy. A very strict carb-controlled diet followed, and as a result and very luckily my baby girl was born without any health problems.
Unfortunately, at my 12 week check-up after the birth, it turned out that I was one of the very few women who got to keep her glucose intolerance and I am now officially 'pre-diabetic', with annual tests for Type 2 Diabetes (which is an inevitability at some point now) and also a very strong warning that I must continue to control my carbohydrate intake, exercise regularly and sleep consistently. Anyone else who has a 6 month old baby, or has ever had a 6 month old baby, is probably wetting themselves laughing right now.
Practicalities of this aside, a diagnosis of 'pre-diabetes' is not just something that medicine is thrown at. People with pre-diabetes still make insulin, just not enough and therefore we need to help our bodies by not overloading them with fast-acting sugars or too many carbohydrates. It is amazing how much sugar there is in different foods, and what suddenly becomes limited - like milk or yogurt for example. Pasta portions look depressingly small when you weigh out the 40g of carbs (for women, 50g for men), that you are recommended to eat per main meal and only a third of a thin-crust pizza? Who can live off of that?
The thing is, for people with pre-diabetes (or even a risk of diabetes), it isn't JUST a disease - it's a complete lifestyle change and one that isn't always that easy to come to terms with. I am a complete foodie and when visiting new cities or places, investigate where we can eat before what other attractions there are for us to see. When I socialise with friends it is over food; I cook obsessively and love entertaining. I relax in front of cooking shows, read cookery books and magazines. Within minutes of receiving my test results, I saw my favourite dishes disappearing before my eyes. My favourite pastimes, the way I viewed food all had to change. Not only on the sugar front either, as my risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia increased ten-fold with the diagnosis.
It is a struggle to come to terms with. Anyone who has ever attempted a diet change will know how challenging it is to stick to it. And that's when you are just trying to drop a couple of pounds. Let alone, when it could be the difference between a chronic illness or not. So how did I accept my condition?
Well, not easily. But here are some ideas that I put into practice that might help you, if you are, or know anybody who is coming to terms with pre-diabetes. I should probably say here that I am not a nutritionalist, psychologist or any other 'ist' - and these ideas are really just my own.
1. Look at it as a challenge. Still want to eat your favourite foods - then chances are you can. If you don't mind experimenting a bit in the kitchen, then there are plenty of substitutes you can make for your traditional, carb-heavy snacks. This Cauliflower Pizza Base is actually pretty tasty (even if the texture isn't quite the same), and Zucchini Noodles mixed in with the correct serving of traditional spaghetti, can help bulk our your food to look and feel more normal. Not a whizz in the kitchen? Then simply max out on tasty veggie sides and reduce your portions. I now eat a third of a pizza, make a massive salad and chow down on an antipasti starter. Anti pasti, such as juicy, marinated olives, used to be a treat and excitingly can now become part of my healthy diet. Hooray. I also can't wait to try these Sweet Pepper 'Nachos' from 'A Sweet Life'
2. Weigh up your carb options, but don't make yourself crazy. You might not be able to eat as much pasta or white rice as before, but a simple switch to brown rice or wholewheat pasta and you could find yourself fuller for longer, and with slightly bigger portions. Why not check out alternative grains like Couscous or Bulgar Wheat for an even bigger portion, especially as they are lower on the Glycemic Index, are prepared in under 15 minutes and accompany so many lovely tagines (like this lamb one), or stews (like this meatball one), that it would be a shame to miss out on them really. By all means check the packets for portion sizes, but also, don't become obsessed. It is much easier to buy a smaller plate and stick to the general healthy eating rule of: a half of non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of carbs, and a quarter of protein. Some days, nobody has time to weigh out perfect portion sizes.
3. See it as an investment in your future. Healthy eating isn't just something to do because you've been labelled with a disease. It is something that will help you feel better, give you more energy and just makes sense. I want my daughter to grow up seeing my healthy eating as 'normal' and not as a punishment. Therefore, my new diet is pretty much everyone's diet. My husband is fully on board, providing I ensure that what he is eating isn't just 'rabbit food' (as he puts it). By caring for my health, I am also making sure that I am fit for my family. This is more important to me than eating a whopping great bowl of ice-cream. Obviously.
4. Treat yourself, but know your limits. The other weekend I ate a slice of cake, having had very few sweet treats since July. I was curious to see the effect on my blood sugar, so I did a quick test two hours later, and nearly keeled over at how how high my blood sugar levels were. Obviously, this one-off occasion isn't going to kill me; I may well even enjoy a slice a cake again in a few months time, or an ice-cream or a smoothie, but I know for sure that it really can only be a very occasional treat. Instead, I have found that a couple of squares of dark chocolate or slices of apple with peanut butter (the low-sugar variety obviously) are all I need to satisfy my sugary cravings without overwhelming my poor pancreas. No-one sticks to a diet by abstaining from what they enjoy - so everything in moderation and try and kick the guilt about it. As long as it is only now and then; we are only human after all.
5. Inform people about your diet, but tell them what you can eat, rather than what you can't. My mother-in-law is fabulous, but had no idea really what the diet meant for me. When I said I had to reduce my sugar intake, she thought I would have to stick to only one slice of cake a day (she is a baking fiend and can put away a lot in one sitting). As I eat at their's quite regularly, it is only fair that I let them know what I can eat, without interuppting their meal plans. Simply asking that they cook brown rice instead of instant white rice, makes it much easier for me to balance what I eat while I am at their house. Most of the time, I will bring any special ingredients with me and also offer to cook it, that way nobody needs to feel embarassed or put upon.
I know that many of you lovely people who read my blog, are also family folks. Do you have any super recipes that I could try out in my new, exciting food adventure (talk about a rebranding)? How do you make sure that your families receive nourishing, yet delicious foods?
Would love to hear from you - and check back on Saturday for some low-carb Christmas Recipes that I have been working on, especially for you lovely lot!