I avoid eating high carb foods.
Generally, this means processed high carb foods such as bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta and noodles (I know WAAAAAAAAAAH!!!) However, it also means no potato and white rice (aka no chips, mash, sushi etc). This dietary choice is not motivated by trends, fads or weight loss aspirations. It has nothing, I repeat NOTHING to do with gluten!!! It is a permanent lifestyle choice motivated by a desire to not someday have my toes chopped off or lose my vision. I’m serious.
Diabetes, pre-diabetes and chronic insulin resistance are serious….
I used to work as the physiotherapist on the Vascular Ward at Royal Perth Hospital. Most patients had poorly controlled Type 2 Diabetes, resulting in severe circulatory problems, often leading to amputation of toes or most frequently half of the leg. The preference was for amputation to occur below the knee as this allows for greater function with a prosthetic leg post-surgery as you still have control over your knee. However, depending on the level of circulatory damage they would sometimes have to amputate above the knee which makes future walking much more challenging. (Forgive me the detail, I am a physio after all!)
So what exactly is going on? (Let’s keep this super basic!!)
Diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin is the hormone that converts glucose in your blood into energy and allows your body to store this energy for later use. Resistance to insulin means that over time, chronically high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels and cause the build-up of plaque inside them. This results in poor blood flow to tissues, commonly the extremities (eg. the toes and lower limb) and the small blood vessels that supply your nerves (diabetic neuropathy) and eyes (diabetic retinopathy). Diabetes is so common these days due to poor lifestyle habits, and because it takes time for the damage to take effect, we almost dismiss it as a medical condition. WRONG!! It’s serious and the side effects are TERRIBLE and it’s progressive.
I had always prided myself on being fit and healthy. I remember a colleague coming to work one day with cauliflower rice and me thinking “why on earth would someone sub out rice, the food of the gods, for cauliflower???!!!??”. So I was a self-confessed carb junkie. My fave meal without a doubt was a HUGE bowl of pasta (and this gal can eat, believe) with a generous side of garlic bread mmmmmmm. So frikn good right? Maybe not so good for me though.
Whilst pregnant with my son I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. Couldn’t believe it. As in, I asked to repeat the test as I was convinced they’d mixed my test results up with some other sucker. Nope it was me and it was there. Pregnancy heightens the demand for insulin and there are serious issues relating to elevated blood glucose levels for your own health as well as your baby’s. High blood glucose can result in your bub growing bigger than normal in the womb which can complicate and increase the risks relating to delivery – definitely something to avoid.
So you see a Diabetes Educator, you learn all about low GI foods, you buy yourself a glamorous glucometer and some packs of test strips and you start testing your blood sugar levels first thing in the morning and 2 hours after every meal. Simple………….traumatic!!! An elevated score would have me in tears, so distressed at how this might impact my child. But once I got used to it I actually began to find it fascinating as it was a direct look at the impact my food choices were having on my blood glucose levels. I soon learned what I could and couldn’t eat to maintain my blood glucose levels within the healthy range.
Most women go back to normal after birth….
“Oh phew!” I thought. “That was interesting but I’m glad all that’s over. One less thing to worry about with a newborn on my hands. Pass me the pizza!”
I had my follow up Glucose Tolerance Test eight weeks after my son was born. Over this period I had pretty much returned to my pre-pregnancy diet, assuming that my glucose issues would have resolved. My result was 10.2 mmol/L. Normal is 3.6 – 7.7 mmol/L. Between 7.8 and 11 mmol/L is considered impaired glucose tolerance, or pre-diabetes. Greater than 11.1 mmol/L is considered Type 2 diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes you are considered at high risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes and at high risk of developing heart disease. So I changed my diet back to my low carb/low glycaemic index (GI) diet and asked for a re-test. My follow up result two months later was 9.9 mmol/L. So better, but still well above the normal range. Devastating.
As dramatic as it may sound, I had to move through the stages of grieving for my perceived loss of health. People like me do not get PRE-DIABETES!!!! But once I had accepted it I moved on with gusto and a big part of my acceptance process was reading and researching everything I could find about diabetes and insulin resistance and how to delay and prevent progression. The answer was simple:
- Diet: low GI foods that do not spike your blood sugars above safe, healthy levels
- Exercise: daily
These days I rarely, if ever, check my blood glucose levels. I know what foods I can and can’t eat and I just don’t eat the things that aren’t safe for me. So what do I eat? Loads and loads of delicious veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, animal protein, healthy fats and some small servings of higher carb seeds/grains such as quinoa, black/wild rice and buckwheat. I have found delicious substitutes for every food I love including legume based pastas, seaweed based noodles, protein breads and crackers and yup, I’ve even learned to love cauli rice (and zucchini noodles)!!!
Am I happy?
Honestly? YES!! I have completely adjusted to the dietary change. I eat as much of my safe foods as I want without restriction and I enjoy the hell out of every meal and snack I eat. Yes there are moments when people around me are tucking into a fresh, crusty loaf of bread or a big steaming bowl of white rice where I feel a pang of nostalgia, but it’s pretty rare to be honest as there is always a delicious alternative for me.
Most people associate Diabetes and related conditions with too much sugar, which certainly can be an issue. However, a lot of people don’t really understand that for me (and all diabetics), eating foods like bread is like injecting glucose directly into my veins. High carb foods like bread and pasta convert directly into glucose in your blood stream and are even more of a problem than sugar because people tend to eat larger servings of carbs than they do sugary treats. For example, my pasta and garlic bread dream dish would place an enormous glucose load on my system compared to say a few squares of chocolate would. Interesting right?
It’s a relatively good time to choose this diet. There are more and more café’s and restaurants that provide healthful menus (no more token chicken Caesar Salads!) such as The Little Shop of Plenty in Maylands and The Raw Kitchen in Freo to name my two faves.
So there you have it! That’s why I eat low carb (and again it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GLUTEN!!!)
PS – Have you ever had your blood glucose levels tested? If not you should consider it. If I hadn’t been pregnant I wouldn’t in a million years have thought I needed to be tested, but chances are my issues pre-existed my pregnancy….
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