#808moms: It took a prediabetes diagnosis to scare me straight

Denise1

The author reads a nutrition label for sugar-free gelatin. Since her prediabetes diagnosis, she’s learned that her low-sugar, low-carb diet has got to be a way of life.

I’m stupid. I mean really, genuinely idiotic when it comes to my health. As my sister used to say, “How can someone so book smart lack all common sense?!”

On Oct. 10, I gave birth to a perfect 6-pound, 8-ounce boy named Cody. He’s the best baby ever, really mellow with a huge appetite for milk and a smile that melts my heart. But while out on maternity leave, I made a big mistake with my health.

My son was eating constantly when I came home and I was extremely sleep-deprived. To reward myself and keep myself awake, I started adding carbohydrates to my diet thinking I could afford it, since I was losing weight quickly because I was breastfeeding.

Over six weeks, I indulged in shave ice, flavored cheesecakes, designer cupcakes, bubble drinks, manapua, malassadas, specialty doughnuts, egg puffs, crepes, crème puffs, tarts, waffle toast, ice cream, white rice and bread. Basically, I lost all control and had all the sugary stuff I was denying myself while pregnant.

And it caught up with me.

The diagnosis I was dreading

Because I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy), I visited my endocrinologist a few weeks after I gave birth for a follow-up test to see what was happening to my body.

    The author's blood glucose monitor, pictured on her desk. Since her prediabetes diagnosis, the monitor has been her constant companion.

The author’s blood glucose monitor, pictured on her desk at work. Since her prediabetes diagnosis, the monitor has been something of a constant companion.

First, my doctor told me I had diabetes. I cried.

But fortunately, there was a mix-up at the lab. It turned out while I wasn’t diabetic, I was prediabetic.

My short-lived relief turned to genuine fear.

The corrected lab reading said I had a blood sugar level of 145. Everything below 140 is normal and anything above 200 means you have diabetes.

It makes me sick to my stomach to read my chart at the endocrinologist’s office: mild fatty liver, hypothyroidism, gestational diabetes, diverticulosis, postpartum depression, and on and on. And now add to that list “impaired glucose tolerance” — a fancy term for your body not being able to handle sugar. Think of it as a huge red flag saying “take care of yourself or you will get diabetes.”

Diabetes scares me.

symptomsWhen I think about it, I don’t think about people who are managing it well, I think about a close family friend — a second “dad,” really — who was disabled for years and slowly died from diabetes.

He was a sweetheart who treated me to numerous Slurpees and spam musubis after school. He didn’t manage his blood sugar well, though, and ate what he wanted, thinking his insulin shots would do the job.

Over the years though, he went from having to wear glasses with a strong prescription to being inches away from the newspaper with a magnifying glass to being legally blind and mistaking me for another friend when I entered the room. He also had to go to dialysis often and had a below knee amputation before passing away from complications. We lost this dear “uncle” while he was still in his 50s. I feel cheated to have had to see him go so early.

Making a lifestyle change

Now that I have two kids later in life (just recently turned 40), I refuse to suffer from complications of diabetes. I don’t want to take more medication. I don’t want to have my children shuffle me to dialysis in a wheelchair. I don’t want to lose my eyesight and my toes. I want to play with my children’s children one day. I will not be a statistic.

After my prediabetes diagnosis, my doctor sent me home with instructions to go back on my gestational diabetes diet immediately and exercise 45 minutes a day. He also had me download an app that helps me count the calories I consume daily.

I’ve been told I should think of my new approach to food as a “healthy eating plan.” But I know better. Counting carbs, avoiding white rice, bread and noodles and not touching desserts — that’s a diet, and that’s what I call it to remind myself that I have a body that does not tolerate simple carbohydrates and sugar well.

After I got back on the straight and narrow with my exercise and diet, I returned for a follow-up visit with my doctor. I wasn’t prediabetic anymore, but I was pretty close.

The whole episode taught me a lesson: I can’t fool myself into believing I can eat half a box of Leonard’s malassadas anymore. I have to stop rewarding myself with sweets. I need to think of food as fuel, not comfort.

Adopting a new outlook

My newest obsession is exercise, and so far I’ve found hiking and working out with friends makes the task more enjoyable.

Denise2

What’s for lunch? Soup, sugar-free gelatin and cold water. A prediabetes diagnosis has scared the author straight, and spurred her to re-think her relationship with food.

Alone in our company gym, I used to watch the clock and wait for the minutes to tick by. It was torture. Now I’m obsessed with the calories on the treadmill’s monitor. I love it when I reach 300 — that’s 300 more calories for me to consume when I get home. I also love the way I feel so energized. Sometimes, I don’t even want to stop. Nowadays, I never miss my exercise, even if it means jogging in place at 1 a.m. after the babies are finally down for the night.

I’m also finding ways around my sugar problem with substitutions in my diet. I’ve developed a taste for quinoa, and I eat a serving of nuts every day. I’m starting to enjoy plain Greek yogurt with a small amount of fruit as a treat. I’m also eating turkey bacon, eggs and steel-cut oatmeal and other meals that pair protein and fat with wholesome, unsweetened grains.

I’m in love with salads, and with throwing some good fat and protein on lettuce for a meal. I’ve discovered whole grain noodles and bread need to be spaced out and I will eat only a serving at a time. I eat sandwiches with only one slice of whole grain bread and I measure out only ½ a cup of noodles or quinoa when I eat.

I feel full and I’m losing weight. If I eat too many refined sugars or carbs together, I notice I immediately feel my appetite increase and I have to have more and more food.

I’ve lost 14 pounds since the doctor said I needed to get serious about my health or risk developing diabetes. I’ve got 20 more pounds until I reach my goal, so wish me luck.

#808moms is an occasional series from blogger (and mom) Denise Lau focusing on the triumphs and challenges of motherhood. Continue the #808moms discussion with us on Twitter and Facebook!

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