In early July of this year, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. This was a surprise because I lived a healthy lifestyle (or so I thought) and didn't have a family history of diabetes (or so I thought). This article is about the mistakes I made and lessons I've learned.
The bad news is that my A1C level (a measure of blood sugar over the previous 3 months) in July was extremely high, and likely had been for quite a while. The diabetes was beginning to seriously affect my vision, so much so that I had to undergo a series of injections in my eyes (as in needles piercing the wall of my eyeballs and injecting medicine directly into the liquid centers).
The good news is my blood sugar levels have come down sharply in the 3+ months since my diagnose, and the improvement to my vision is dramatic.
According to the American Diabetes Association, "the following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed.
Common symptoms of diabetes:
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry - even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Weight loss - even though you are eating more (type 1)
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)
It was my fault. I made two mistakes.
First, I avoided doctors most of my adult life. In fact, during the 20+ years of my adult life prior to my diabetes diagnose, I went to the doctor only once. There were a number of excuses why I avoided doctors - didn't want to waste money, too busy, didn't have time, wasn't sick enough to go... Perhaps I was even too macho. After all, many of us guys think we are supposed to always be tough and never admit weakness. We tend to "walk it off" and "play through the pain" rather then actually dealing with it in a constructive fashion.
Second, I made some false assumptions about my health. I thought I was just getting older because what I now know as symptoms of diabetes actually started not long after I turned 40. Many of the symptoms I had - blurred vision (I needed reading glasses), lower energy levels, more frequent urination, especially at night - can be common as people age. In essence, I wrongly self-diagnosed my symptoms to mean I was simply becoming middle-aged.
It wasn't until earlier this year, when my symptoms became much more severe, that I began to suspect something else was going on. Eventually, my worsening vision forced me to go to the doctor, where I learned that I had diabetes, not just normal aging.
Family Medical History
Research shows that people who have a family history of diabetes are more likely to get diabetes. Many other diseases also have a genetic component. This is why it is very important to know your family medical history. In my case, it turns out that my grandfather, who died when I was much younger, had diabetes, as did an uncle (also deceased). I was unaware of this family medical history until talking to my mother after I was diagnosed with diabetes.
Healthy Diet and Lifestyle?
I thought I had a relatively healthy diet and lifestyle. I didn't smoke, do drugs, or abuse alcohol. I was fairly active physically. I rarely ate fast food or drank sodas. I wasn't much for sweets (except ice cream). I even liked salads and vegetables. Good, huh? Well, maybe not. There is more to having a healthy diet and lifestyle, and I made a number of mistakes.
Despite not eating sweets (other than the ice cream), I had way too much sugar in my diet. Most Americans do. The food companies put huge amounts of sugar into our food. They have too in order to cover up the taste of the massive amounts of salt they add to extend shelf-life. Its not just the massive amounts of sugar in our processed foods, even basic foods such as most canned vegetables have lots of added sugar.
Starchy foods - such as potatoes, flour, bread, cereals, pasta, corn, and rice - contain carbohydrates that are easily and quickly converted into sugar by the body. Even "whole grain" foods are quickly converted into sugar by the body. (Personally, I don't agree that whole grains are healthy, as much of the current health advice advocates. Instead, I consider whole grains to be only somewhat less bad than refined grains.) Starchy foods made up a significant portion of my diet.
It also turns out that I had no real understanding of what a serving size it. A serving is not as much as you can pile onto one plate. Instead a serving size is much smaller. Before my diabetes, my typical serving of rice (one pile on my plate) was really equal to two or three actual servings. A typical serving of oatmeal for me in the morning was one bowlful. It turns out that a serving of oatmeal is only one cup cooked, or about half my typical bowlful. Americans, including me, have supersized our food for so long we no longer have a true sense of serving size, and therefore tend to eat way too much. This taxes our body's ability to cope, and has contributed to the current epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
I will go into much more detail about a healthy diet and lifestyle in future articles, including the changes I have personally made to get positive results.
Here is a quick summary of the lessons I've learned in having to deal with my diabetes:
- Visit your doctor regularly. Had I been getting regular checkups, even if only once every couple of years, my diabetes would have been caught much earlier (and I likely wouldn't have had to let an eye surgeon stick needles into my eyes). You are NOT wasting money or time by going to a doctor.
- Never self-diagnose. In today's Internet world, its easy to look up symptoms on a website and decide that you have this problem or that disease. But many different diseases have very similar symptoms. In most cases, doctors are still necessary to determine what is wrong with any degree of certainty.
- Know your family medical history. Don't assume, like I did, that you know all the important stuff in your family's medical history. You might be aware of your immediate family's history, but do you really know all the medical conditions of your grandparents, great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and other relatives? Probably not, unless you've actually asked people. I suggest talking about your family's medical history with several of the elder matriarchs (women seem to be more aware of these things) on both sides of your family tree.
- Understand what actually constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle. Sure, most people have some basic idea. But, like me, they have large gaps in their understanding (and perhaps an even larger gaps in what they are actually doing). I'll be writing more on this in future articles. There is also a lot of misinformation out there, and what we think we know is often wrong. So be careful - read various sources, consider the sources and their possible biases, look for good information (not just information to fit your predetermined point of view), try to integrate the best of both conventional medicine and alternative medicine, and think!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, and nothing presented in this article is intended as professional medical advice. This article is only intended to relay my personal experiences and opinions in dealing with my type II diabetes. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be diabetic, PLEASE seek a diagnosis and advice from a qualified medical professional as soon as possible.