A Diabetic’s Shock: When Your Life Changes Forever (Part II)

01/13/2010 12:13 PM |

In part one, Henry Stewart loses 60 pounds in nine months, feels like total shit, and is eventually told he has Type 2 diabetes. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case…

Because the doctor who diagnosed my Type 2 diabetes had been so unhelpful, my girlfriend—who around that time coined the term “diaboyfriend”—and I performed copious research on the Internet; I radically adjusted my diet. The goal is to keep blood sugar levels relatively steady by avoiding the kinds of foods that would cause a spike. Contrary to popular belief, plain old table sugar isn’t the central villain in the diabetic’s dietary life: it’s also the many different types of carbohydrates that quickly break down into sugars, including all refined (“white”) grains and flours, which means that diabetics can’t eat anything. Not literally, but it means that the staples of a New York diet are things they should generally avoid or enjoy sparingly: breads (bagels! sandwiches! falafels!), pizza, pasta (even most “whole wheat” pastas are made from a white-flour blend), crackers, white rice (sushi!), muffins and beer, not to mention sugary drinks (no lemonade, not even juice), and, of course, essentially every dessert. Even sugar free desserts are ill-advised: nearly all contain “sugar alcohols,” which raise blood sugar levels, just not as severely as pure sugar. Sugar-free cookies are often made with white flour. They may as well just use sugar.

Fruits are encouraged—they contain “good sugar”—but in moderation, and except for certain varieties, like watermelon and pineapple, that rapidly break down. The healthiest foods are beans and vegetables (but not corn, which is too starchy), some nuts and whole grains. I began eating oatmeal every day for breakfast. And a lot more tofu. I took my pills at breakfast and again at dinner.

Still, my blood sugar remained dangerously high, although the unquenchable thirst had abated and the night cramps were fewer. I was still losing weight: at six feet tall, I had fallen below 130 pounds. (“I wish I had diabetes,” my girlfriend said.) I still felt lethargic, and the leg pain persisted. But my eyesight had improved: for years, I had worn corrective lenses for mild nearsightedness; now, I was seeing 20/20. I felt like Peter Parker after the spider bite. (The clarity only lasted a few days before my vision blurred again; an ophthalmologist later explained it was the result of a change in blood flow, essentially a temporary and artificial fluke.)

A few weeks later I went back to the first doctor I had seen—not that cruel diagnoser—who told me he couldn’t tell if I had Type 1 or Type 2. I needed more tests.

A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes had been scary enough; Type 1, I thought, would be devastating. I struggled to convince myself that it was the former: that I was too old for Type 1 (not true), that I had shown some improvement on the anti-insulin-resistance medication (which didn’t really prove anything). They took more blood. I waited.

Over that weekend, I went to a wedding and saw an old-friend who had been a Type 1 diabetic since childhood. I told her about the recent diagnosis.
“Type 1 or 2?” she asked.
“They’re not sure yet,” I said.
“Well, if it is Type 1, let me give you some advice,” she said. “Don’t eat pizza. Your blood sugar might be fine, but then a few hours later, all of a sudden, it’ll be really high, like, where did those carbs come from?”
I nodded.
“Anyway,” she said, “I hope it’s not Type 1.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said. “No offense.”

2 Comment

  • Congratulations on the turnaround! Falafel must have been a rough one to kick.

  • Welcome to the club that nobody asks to join. While it is certainly an overwhelming diagnosis, you’re on the right track. There are a lot of great communities that will answer many questions you have (such as diabetesdaily.com & tudiabetes.com).

    Good luck! You can do this!