How Diabetes Saved My Life

My name is Laura, and I was a bread junkie. I loved any kind of bread. I also loved potatoes. And sodas. Basically, I used to eat pretty much what everyone eats: far too much fat, sugar and starchy foods. But when I was diagnosed with diabetes, all of that had to go. My doctor told me I’d have to drop 70 pounds to get healthy.

It was difficult news to hear, and I was overwhelmed at first. Since I struggle exercising due to excess weight and my autoimmune disease stressing my connective tissue, my weight loss would have to rely a lot on diet changes. You might wonder, “How can I possibly lose weight if I have trouble exercising?” Well, making healthier changes in my diet has helped me to get to a point where I could exercise. I’ve lost 55 pounds already, and I feel healthier and more energetic than I have in years.

How I Did It

The first step in my weight loss journey was learning about healthy foods and what I needed to eat to help my body heal. Since I’ve taught graduate research for years, it was a natural progression for me to add diabetes to my list of topics to find out more about.

A lot of my get-healthier journey, of course, ended up being trial and error, but it’s these three rules that helped me lose weight -- and can help you too, whether you’re diabetic or not: 

1.    Make healthy food lists

Making lists of what I should and should not eat was a difficult and slow process at first. But once I had it down, I could mix and match healthy foods for delicious meals that made me feel great afterward. 

2.    Read labels

I became meticulous about reading labels at the grocery store. I start with serving size to make sure I know how the nutritional info relates proportionally to the food. As a diabetic, I pay special attention to sugars and carbs, but I also watch out for high amounts of fat, cholesterol and sodium. Anything with a daily value below 5% I consider low while anything above 20% is high.

3.    Love complex carbs

I tested my blood sugar after every meal for over a year; if my blood sugar spiked, I didn’t eat that food again. I cut out simple starches, such as pasta and potatoes, and I only stuck with carbohydrate-dense, whole-grain foods.  

My Reward

By paying attention to what I was eating, my body adapted and my blood sugar dropped slowly and steadily over time. My new diet gave me the balance and energy I needed to lessen my troubles with exercise, allowing me to be more active than ever before. With my new changes in both diet and exercise, I’ve lost 55 pounds -- I only have 15 left to go! I've lost weight very slowly and hit plateaus along the way. My doc says that's good because it gives the body time to adjust to the gradual weight loss. I've been at a plateau for about four months, and now it's easier to get back to a weight loss of about 3 pounds per month. Sure, it's slow, but I was a yo-yo dieter for most of my adult life, and this gradual weight loss is working!

My blood sugar became easier to control thanks to the weight loss, and my levels are now in a healthy zone. I am taking medication but haven’t needed to go on insulin -- my doctor says that when I lose the last 15 pounds, I probably won’t need to take any drugs at all to manage my diabetes! Also, my joint issues aren’t progressing as much as they were, because I’m not carrying around all of that extra weight.

In general, I feel a lot better, and I have a ton more energy. And, strangely enough, I can thank my diagnosis for that: Finding out I had diabetes turned out to be not just a wakeup call, but also the motivation I needed to learn to live my best life ever!

I Thought I Was Healthy Until My Heart Attack

The scary truth: Each year, over half a million people in the U.S. die from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s one in every four deaths, making it the leading cause of death in both men and women -- but not something successful television producer and director in Los Angeles, Kac Young, ever anticipated impacting her life.

Unlike many, Young considered herself a healthy eater, choosing chicken and vegetables as dietary staples. Young had been a vegetarian for 20 years, and never even craved red meat when she started incorporating lean meats back into her diet. At one point, she practiced yoga regularly and was planning on making it part of her life when she finished moving from Los Angeles to San Simeon, Calif., a small town located between Los Angeles and San Francisco with clean air, a slower lifestyle and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

The Turning Point

It was a suffocating 105 F outside when Young began packing up her home in Los Angeles with the help of her friends. Throughout the day, she noticed mild discomfort in her neck and chest, as well as shortness of breath. She chalked it up to the heat and exertion. When she didn’t feel better the next day, her friends convinced her to call her doctor.

“I’m a producer-director, and I’m used to being in a charge,” says Young. She asked the nurse if she could schedule a cardio workup in a few weeks’ time; the nurse told her to report immediately to the emergency room. Instead, Young finished packing and running errands. When she sat down for dinner that night, her partner asked if Young would agree to go the emergency room. She begrudgingly left for the hospital -- and not a moment too soon. In early July 2006, 57-year-old Young suffered a heart attack.

Her blood pressure was 130/97, and she needed two stents put into arteries to remove blockages. Her doctors could have added a third stent, but with changes to her diet and exercise patterns, Young has avoided another surgery.

Naturally Lowering Her Numbers

Immediately after being discharged from the hospital, Young started to research heart disease to understand whether her genetics or environmental factors were to blame. She realized both were at fault. But, no matter how much research she did, she couldn’t find a healthy living plan that was universally agreed upon.

In her search for answers, Young received her doctorate in naturopathy. She took nutrition classes, and slowly weaned herself off of the post-operative prescriptions. “I decided I was going to be a natural health expert, and treat myself as best I could,” says Young. “I had to fight fire with fire.”

Young learned how different oils and cooking styles could make her meals healthier. She read labels, learning the various words for sugar, such as fructose, glucose or sucrose. She became wary of marketing around low-fat, low-calorie, and reduced-anything products. She added more whole grains by swapping wheat or brown rice pasta for regular pasta. And she learned to seek out foods with healthy benefits like increased fiber content and omega-3 fatty acids (Kellogg’s Raisin Bran® Omega-3 from Flaxseed cereal contains both) in order to make healthymeals, like "pasta salads" with quinoa or bulgur instead.

She recalls that the first meal she made for friends, post-attack, was a slew of healthy Mexican swaps for Cinco de Mayo. Her “friends drank low-calorie margaritas, as well as eating Mexican dishes made with healthier vegetables, soy cheese, and beans instead of meat,” says Young. “They didn't even realize they were eating soy cheese!”

While she’s impressed at the variety of more health-conscious supermarkets out there, “we still have to be careful, whether we’re determining which whole wheat is in our bread or how much sodium is in our pasta sauces.” In addition to reforming her eating habits, Young does yoga and works out regularly.

Today, 64-year-old Young has her cholesterol under control; it was once 255, and has dropped to 179 through her vigilance, diet and healthy habits. “Keeping your body healthy is the best thing that you can do for yourself,” says Young. “If you let it be depleted, you’re setting yourself up for disease and other problems.”