In October 2015, following a battery of routine blood tests ordered by our excellent doctor, Justin Olswanger, O.D., I received a call from his equally excellent nurse, Lindsey, who dropped a bomb: I had come up with a high fasting blood glucose number – 110.
High blood sugar more or less had been on my horizon, as my Dad was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes at age sixty. Still, I was shocked.
I was promptly summoned into the presence. In short order Doc educated me: I was informed that 110 was a dangerous, pre-diabetic number, all too near 124, which means full-blown Type II diabetes. 110 is a red alert, though not the disease itself. So I was advised to go on a low carbohydrate diet, and to exercise, in an effort to get that number down. Asked if I wanted a medication to combat the problem, I responded with a resounding “no”. I avoid medications unless necessary, and always have.
Now, I’ve exercised for something like 47 years, running for many years, then switching in turn to a stationary bike, a rowing machine, and a stepper contraption, before settling on a Nordic Track skier. I combined this with a Bow-Flex weight resistance trainer. Together, these give me an hour of strenuous exercise three times a week. I hate it, but somehow can’t stop doing it. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience.
So the exercise component was in place. Otherwise, at 6’0” and 165 pounds, I didn’t fit the profile of the at-risk group for diabetes. Yet here I was. It remained to tackle the low-carb diet, and, without knowing anything about how to proceed with that, I dove in. No diabetes for me if I could help it, by hook or by crook!
The American Diabetes Association recommends an intake of net carbohydrates not to exceed 125 grams per day for people who actually have Type II. Turns out that finding net-carbs involves a simple subtraction, of dietary fiber from total carbohydrates in whatever you’re considering. (Look at any label on any packaged food sold commercially, and within the nutrition notice you’ll find a listing for “total carbohydrates” followed immediately below by a reading of “dietary fiber”.)
That was the playing field, if you like. Not actually having the disease, I arbitrarily chose 150 net grams per day as my target. Getting there was an eye opener. Counting up my approximate carb intake before all this happened, I came up with about 325 per day. Yikes!
Within a month I’d started weighing everything I ate, looking up net carbs online for fresh foods, and assiduously counting net grams. For months I did this on paper, per meal, and my dear Suzi developed a simple spreadsheet giving net carb totals per day.
It is surprising how many net grams of carbohydrate are in things we never think of: a banana, 27; an average apple, 20; broccoli, 6 per ½ cup, and on and on. Now these things are good for you, but must be counted. A high fiber diet was a goal too, and that meant lots of vegetables and fruit, kicking the daily carbs up from the get-go with stuff I had to have.
But the wise physician allowed me one “day off” per week, to “re-calibrate your body”, and advised me that I “could eat anything you want.” I don’t abuse this, but it’s a very welcome respite – something to look forward to. I might hit 200 on those days, and rarely, but not more.
I got down to the 150 carbohydrate mark, became capable of keeping count in my head (and retaining the count all day), and immediately realized a lot of unpleasant facts: To keep intake to 150 net grams meant I’d had my last piece of pie, piece of cake, glass of orange juice, French fry, piece of candy, slice of normal commercial bread; my last serving of jam, ice cream, taste of frosting, bottle of micro-brew, bowl of granola, home-made bread, can of soda, honey, sugar in any form and, to echo Yule Brenner, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
On the other side, more protein was necessary: fish, chicken, cheese, and eggs, the latter having now been removed from the dangerous-for-cholesterol list. None of these things have any or enough net carbs to matter. There’s red meat, but (though I grew up on a Nevada cattle ranch and was raised to eat a lot of it) I don’t eat it much now and look for other options.
As an interesting side note — which considerably surprised me — I dropped 12 pounds like a hot rock. Further, I felt better — again to my surprise — and still do.
In the course of all this, I found – of necessity — many recipes that whacked down carb totals in all kinds of dishes. Three examples, and you may find these hard to believe: steamed cauliflower, well mashed up, makes an excellent substitute for mashed potatoes; strips of zucchini, pre-roasted, make an excellent substitute for pasta in lasagna; cubed zucchini or eggplant substitutes ably for pasta in a tuna noodle casserole. You can find these and many others online.
As for the diet: I am here to tell you, it’s a bitch. But I’ve stuck to it religiously, and continue to do so. I had been advised that such a diet would take a year to produce results. A year? And patient Suzi’s food habits perforce have taken a knock too. If it wasn’t for that weekly day off, largely symbolic, and her support, I’d never have made it. I am now at fourteen months.
Two weeks ago I again was summoned for blood tests.
Apprehensive, I fasted overnight, went to the lab, got punctured, and returned home to fret. The next day faithful nurse Lindsey called me with the results: blood glucose, 96; the A1C test, 5.1; cholesterol the best it had ever been, and the same for the rest of the panel. Yes! (An A1C test somehow tells the doc how blood sugar – glucose – has been managed for the prior three months. The 5.1 number is right smack in the normal range).
This news was accompanied by the Doc’s welcome observation, “you’re a long way from diabetes”. There was joy in my heart, balm in Gilead, cheering from Suzi. And a future of exactly the same diet and exercise.
Ladies, while far fewer women develop later life diabetes, you may well have somebody in your life who is at risk. He’ll need all the support and encouragement you can muster to beat it. But my real wish is that it never darkens your door.
I don’t deny thinking wistfully of all those forbidden things, but, by God, the diet/exercise combo works, and I’ll keep doing it. I’m 68. I don’t need to drop dead anytime soon. Hear me up there?