My “Lightning Bolt”: Diet & Type 1 Diabetes

diabetes

I am a big Gretchen Rubin fan. I’ve read all of her most recent books and listen to her podcasts because most of the strategies she endorses have had a powerful effect on my life. Her discussion of the “strategy of the lightning bolt” in Better than Before, her book on habits, has been especially informative for me.  In her example, Gretchen read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and immediately changed her habits regarding her diet. She went from fearing fat and eating carbohydrates, to the exact reverse, and experienced a marked improvement in her health and ease with food.

I changed my habits in exactly the same way regarding food, but for a different reason altogether. I have type 1 diabetes, which I largely ignored for about 8 years. I reached my breaking point after my A1C climbed to 9.4% (normal is below 5.7%) , and my chart at the doctor’s office read “uncontrolled type 1 diabetes mellitus”. This A1C level correlates to an average blood sugar level of 223 mg/dL. To put this in perspective, a normal blood sugar is between 80-100 mg/dL. After reading Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution book 2 years ago, my perspective completely shifted. I realized that I had agency in my diabetes management. I’m not an extremist by any means, but these simple changes have made a profound impact on my mental health and well-being. And, here’s my proof: my A1C went from 9.4 to 6.1 after just 3 months on the diet. And that’s with less insulin! My total insulin usage went from 55 units per day to 17-18 units per day. Nowadays, I easily maintain an A1C in the low 5s.

Here's my strategy:

1. Avoid the “losing battle” with food by getting rid of grains, starchy vegetables, and sugar in the diet.

These foods require way too much injected insulin to be eaten easily. The speed of injected insulin is already much slower than the insulin naturally secreted by our bodies (if you don't have type 1 diabetes, of course!). If it requires a Ph.D in math and concerted effort to keep my blood sugar in range while eating it, I prefer not to. The mental stress is just not worth it! I’m also an abstainer, so I completely avoid blood sugar-spiking foods. No decisions necessary, I just don’t eat them! 🙂

 

2. Pre-bolus 15 minutes for carbohydrates that might affect you more, and consume with a fat source of some type.

I do eat around ¼ cup of berries a day (strawberries, blueberries, etc.). Dr. Bernstein doesn’t recommend any fruit, but these things work for me with pre-bolus. Basically, pre-bolus is giving your insulin a head start. Some other foods that might fit in this category are carrots, tomatoes, and cooked onions.

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3. Only eat protein and/or fat when blood glucose is higher than you would like it to be.

So, if I’m over 150, I will not consume carbohydrate, even if it’s non-starchy, because this prolongs the amount of time it will take for your blood sugar to return to normal. If I’m 120-150, I’ll pre-bolus the meal by 15 minutes along with the correction dose, and I return to normal right on schedule.

 

4.Quantity counts.

I consume a maximum of 15 grams of non-starchy carbohydrates per meal. Dr. Bernstein recommends 6/12/12 (breakfast/lunch/dinner) as a maximum, but since I’m young and insulin-sensitive, I find 15 works great for me. Same with protein! Protein must be measured and dosed for accordingly (more on that in another post).

 

5. Make exercise work with your blood sugar, not against it.

Since exercise increases insulin sensitivity, I have it planned that most days I go running in the mid-afternoon when my blood sugar begins to rise. On non-running days, I have a basal set so that rise will not happen. And, with low-carb, the drops and spikes are much slower and easier to manage. Whereas in high school a 4-mile run would drop me 200 points, nowadays it’s more like 40 points. And resistance training used to lower my blood sugar as well, but now I stay steady throughout a strength workout.

running 3

6. Low-carb doesn’t make me feel deprived. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

I choose any low-carb foods I want when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full. It’s quite simple and intuitive actually. You can make most desserts/treats low-carb, and even some store-bought treats are perfectly acceptable! Eating completely low-carb erased the guilt I felt from self-induced (er, cupcake-induced) high blood sugars.

 

Finally, my mental health is so much better. In high school, I would go entire days without testing my blood sugar because I was scared to see that high number. I would only check before bed for fear of not waking up in the morning. For the first time in my life with diabetes, I feel safe and in control. I know I’m doing the absolute best I can, and that’s a pretty amazing feeling. It is not perfect, not by any means, but I am definitely “better than before”. Thank you, Gretchen, for helping me realize just how this strategy affected me!

For more information, check out the Type One Grit Facebook group.

 

Have you tried a low-carb diet to manage type 1 or type 2 diabetes? I would love to hear your story. Let me know in the comments!

 

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