After a series of (mostly) positive transitions in the past few months, my body was left feeling spent and terrible. Sugars were at an all-time high, my energy bottomed out, my carpal tunnel syndrome raging in both hands, joint aching, and my moods more variable than the Oregon spring weather. Even good change is hard.
But then I got some terrible news about my Dad.
Dad has been in heart failure for the past couple of years – he’s 58. Heart failure is a fatal condition in which the heart simply doesn’t have the capacity to keep up with the rigors of running a body. Also a type-1 diabetic, Dad spent years neglecting his self-care and that neglect had serious consequences: heart disease, eye disease, kidney disease, you name it. He is now biologically much older than his actual age and his quality of life sucks.
There was some (though not much) hope that his quality of life and longevity could be spared through either a heart transplant or a less-invasive procedure, a heart pump. However, a few weeks ago, Dad got rejected for both procedures. His weakened state and history of high blood sugars made it unlikely that he could withstand the anti-rejection drug regimen that follows a heart transplant. His high risk of infection made him a bad candidate for the pump because there are components of the pump that exist outside of the body (think open wound). Without either of these procedures, Dad is destined for few remaining years, which will be of poor quality.
What does this have to do with my diet?
It is now more important than ever that I get my diabetes and general health in order for two reasons: First, Dad wants to see me healthy and happy before he goes. He has been an amazing (ah-mazing!) source of emotional and logistical support in both my move to Oregon and my transition into private practice (yeah, still working on that – anyone need a lawyer?). He needs to know I’ll be alright, and it’s my responsibility to get there. And although I absolutely want this for my own reasons, be it performance, aesthetics, and quality of life, Dad’s circumstances have slapped me back into the reality of doing the hard work. Ladies and gentlemen, we have exigency.
Second, Dad’s poor prognosis has shined a spotlight on my own health and the potential consequences of continued diabetes mismanagement. For those of you who don’t know, diabetes effects everything. From your eyesight to your hydration to your circulation. Everything. Dad serves as an unfortunate bad example of how I may end up if I don’t get my act together and figure out this diabetes thing. So yeah – the bad family news and my own poor health resulting from crippling stress served as a pretty legit wake-up call. And getting my act together starts with the food I eat.
It Starts With Food
Let thy food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.
~ Hippocrates, 460-377 BC
It is no mystery that our quality of life is deeply associated with the quality of our food. When I am stressed, I go straight for low-nutrition convenience foods. Needless to say, I’ve been feeling terrible – my 14-day BG averages have been hovering between 185-200. Yikes.
I conducted a little experiment: I switched over to an almost exclusively plant-based lifestyle with an emphasis on whole foods for two weeks. I have been flirting with the idea of going vegan for a little while now and it wasn’t a hard thing to do, given that I have been an on-and-off-again vegetarian for the past decade.
There is a litany of reasons why I am choosing a plant-based diet. In short: proven health benefits, nutrient efficiency, respect for my animal neighbors, and to protect the environment. It also limits my food choices – when you’re vegan, you’re not burdened with a sort of decision overload with food.
I have gone from a 14-day average of 200 down to 160 in two weeks. I have more energy. I feel lighter. My moods are evening out. My sleep has improved. Can I attribute all of this to a plant-based lifestyle? Not quite sure yet because a lot has been going on lately and I’m only just starting to carve out my new routine.
Of course, I’m wondering as much as you are,“can I even pull this off?” There are scores of diabetic athletes, including members of Team Novo Nordisk, diabetic vegans such as Adrian Kiger and Melissa from Type1Vegan, and vegan athletes such as Rich Roll and Matt Frazier, the No Meat Athlete, but where are the diabetic vegan athletes? Those sound like unicorns.
Can I be that unicorn? Let’s find out.