Living Radically with Diabetes

by Lizzie Johnson

Diabetes mellitus affects nearly 34 million people in the US, it’s why HoliHum felt it was important to highlight this disease. While many turn to science for the life-saving benefits of modern medication, we neglect the same science to deliver sustainable lifestyle adjustments to thrive while cohabiting with this disease. Seeing as how we are all about promoting integrative health, we want to empower you to make informed decisions when it comes to living with diabetes mellitus! 

Diabetes is a condition derived from too high of blood sugar circulating in the body. More importantly, our body produces a hormone, insulin, in the pancreas that helps our cells absorb sugar and then convert it to useful energy. When the body does not have sufficient amounts of insulin it is unable to absorb glucose and convert it. Over time this can place high demands on organs and lead to co

mpounding medical issues. 

Type I Diabetes

Type I diabetes-which is less common and unfortunately less is known about this form of the disease, is believed to be an autoimmune condition arising from the insulin producing cells, beta cells, in the pancreas. Type I is additionally believed to be primarily caused by genetics, with the possibilities for environmental factors to “switch on” the presence of this disease (as with many genetic traits). This is perhaps why some people with type I diabetes aren’t diagnosed until later in life. The general consensus is that type I diabetes is not caused by lifestyle, but as always, healthy lifestyles can reduce your risk of compounding issues and enable the body to function as optimally as possible. 

Type II Diabetes

Type II diabetes is by far more common than type I, considering that about 90% of diabetes cases are populated by type II in the US. A cyclical “chicken or the egg” dilemma brings patients to the arrival of being diagnosed with type II diabetes. We know that:

  1. High sugar intake in the body leads to high glucose levels
  2. In response a healthy pancreas will produce more insulin to help absorb more glucose into the cells
  3. At some point the cells build up a resistance to insulin, meaning they begin to ignore the signal to absorb the glucose into the cell
  4. When high levels of sugar are still present in the body, the pancreas doubles down and overexerts itself to produce more insulin

This results in what we call a positive feedback loop. Over time the pancreas continues to produce more and more insulin to bring down blood glucose levels. When cells don’t need the energy, they won’t absorb the glucose continuing to add to the burden of the pancreas. 

Complications

Over time unabsorbed glucose puts strain on the vascular vessels by clogging them up and can (and if not addressed absolutely will) lead to other complications as the vital blood supply to our organs is slowed. 

One of the first organs to experience the damage of diabetes is the kidneys. Your kidneys are mini filtration hubs that are responsible for flushing out additional unused resources that the body doesn’t need, but because of the evolutionary importance of glucose to early man, our kidneys filter as much glucose as possible back into our bloodstream. Kidneys have developed over centuries to know that glucose is important for survival. Unfortunately, our lifestyles haven’t been the best at honoring this evolutionary gift. 

It doesn’t stop there though, numerous vascular diseases can be linked to diabetes and common symptoms that lead people to get a formal diagnosis stem more from the complications of vascular diseases, such as vision issues, swelling in the limbs, and urinary complications, rather than the presence of high blood sugar alone. 

Living Radically

Whether you have diabetes or not, everyone should be exercising great care for their body. This promotes overall good health and in the case of diabetes can lead to very successful symptom management and reversal. Though diabetes will always be there, even if you successfully reverse the disease, you will always be cohabitating with it, and should take particular care in staying with lifestyle regimens!

Exercise

Exercise helps spend your energy reserves and can trigger the cells to begin absorbing insulin again and reverse insulin resistance. If you are not active, working with your physician to take small steps to build more movement into your life can empower you to increase your activity levels over time and lead to more sustainability in continuing your regimen. Many times we believe that to exercise we have to have this perfect ritual around it and place too many requirements on ourselves to create habitual routines. Start small and be patient. 

Eat in Moderation

A lot of emphasis is focused on what we eat, but not how we eat. When we continuously exceed our caloric needs, we raise our triglyceride levels, which lead to arterial narrowing and can decrease organ function. Instead, opt for smaller portions of calorie dense foods. You can get really intense and monitor all of your caloric intake for a day and compare with the standards for you (take our wellness assessment to learn more about this) or you can simply start reducing your portions by opting for smaller plates at meal time. Again, the more manageable you make it,the easier this becomes a habit. 

Be Selective in What You Eat

Avoiding foods that can increase blood glucose levels plays a huge role in reversing type II diabetes. For an adult body, we can process about 28 g of sugar (or 4 tsp) in a four hour period, but when we think of daily consumption we aren’t saying that you can handle processing 24 tsp of sugar, as again, evolution has taught our body to rely on lower calories and increased periods of fasting. At most, your body may be capable of processing double that spread over a 24-hour period, but the AHA recommendation is nine tsp. for men and six for women. 

A lot of misconceptions abound when considering dietary options. Most people will opt for a juice in place of soda for instance, only juices consistently contain more sugar in them than soda. In fact, many fruits contribute to high levels of blood glucose and are often accepted for their higher levels of vitamins, which admittedly are pretty non existent in carbonated beverages, but are certainly not as beneficial in managing glucose levels as vegetables. In particular, those damn leafy greens everyone is all about!

And sadly for our SAD (Standard American Diet), processed foods undoubtedly spell trouble for glucose levels. It isn’t just the added sugars that companies (fast food and packaged food companies alike) put in their foods that are detrimental, it’s the refinement processes that strip added benefits of whole foods that help engage your body’s physiological systems to help digest and utilize said food. 

Additionally, high carb and meats are processed by the body into glucose, increasing our blood glucose levels if your diet consists of a high carb, high red meat diet. Not to mention the sauces we have a tendency to slather on top of these faves are also usually packed with high levels of added sugar as well. 

SO just reduce fruit overload, don’t eat anything premade, forget about your Italian favorites and if you find yourself looking for a quick snack, just go mow the lawn right? Not for Holihum, we want SUSTAINABLE lifestyles for you and know that sometimes time constraints don’t allow for eating 100% clean and healthy, sometimes that pizza is necessary. Sometimes denying indulgences lead to larger issues centered around eating down the road. 

Many nutrition professionals endorse the 80/20 rule. Which states that 80% of the time you eat for your health and 20% of the time for satisfaction- be it reducing your stress for having a quick meal or having that special treat set aside. This creates a healthy rewards balance and encourages you to be selective at what that 20% for you means. The more selective you become in your food rewards, the theoretically more conscious eating habits you will adopt. 

Schedule Your Indulgences

Instead of following the typical model of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, consider opting for designating times for food rewards based on when your body will most likely use the extra sugar. I personally love sugar in my coffee and limit myself to this indulgence before 10 AM, once 10 hits I switch over to solid water. In the afternoon I may enjoy a quick snack with my kids, a small cup of juice, or some tea with honey. In our house we rarely have “dessert” at the classical time. Instead my kids know that if they eat dinner then “dessert” will come the following day at snack time. This gives us enough time to use the extra energy instead of store it, it also helps us all perk up a bit to finish the day strong! 

Work With Professionals

Especially if you have diabetes or other conditions working closely with professionals to design healthy lifestyle plans is generally more sustainable, you’re not only given expert guidance, but you’re holding yourself accountable to an outside individual which is sometimes more beneficial than trying to hold yourself accountable. In addition, doctors are able to monitor modifications to really see the benefits of your lifestyle changes and prescribe medications that can help your body perform the tasks it’s supposed to!

Be An Advocate

Since November is Diabetes Awareness Month as well as the fateful day of face-stuffing, this is the perfect time to be an advocate for diabetes awareness!  For yourself, you can be an advocate for your own radical health by making some lifestyle adjustments, focusing on small attainable goals before overwhelming yourself. 

For others you can share this article or other resources and express interest in empowering them to manage their disease, beyond just giving advice, but also asking how this affects them and what things (like bringing them a healthy meal or teaching them how to cook) are helpful in them living radically as well! Finally, just being a present force of well living in your community can be a model of inspiration for someone silently struggling!

Lizzie Johnson is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Integrative Health Provider, Certified Wellness Coach, and holds a degree in Integrative Health. She strives to engage in writing content that is integrative in nature and allows readers to participate in informed consent through presenting facts to then allow individuals to continue the research and come to their own conclusion. 

Not to be considered a diagnosis, always consult a medical professional before making lifestyle changes or undergoing treatment. 

© The Holistic Hummingbird, LLC 2020   

Sources

CDC. Diabetes Basics. 30 May 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/

“Diabetes Mellitus: An Overview .” Cleveland Clinic, 8 Aug. 2018, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7104-diabetes-mellitus-an-overview

“Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes .” Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 2018, jdrf.org.uk/information-support/about-type-1-diabetes/what-is-the-difference-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes/.

Dominguez, Moises. “The Nephron.” MedBullets, 11 Apr. 2019,

https://step1.medbullets.com/renal/115014/the-nephron.

Poudel, Resham Raj. “Renal Glucose Handling in Diabetes and Sodium Glucose Cotransporter 2

Inhibition.” PubMed Central (PMC), 1 Aug. 2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743357/.

“Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes.” Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, 2018, 

jdrf.org.uk/information-support/about-type-1-diabetes/what-are-the-signs-and-symptoms-

of-type-1-diabetes/.

“Triglycerides & Heart Health.” Cleveland Clinic, 16 Jan. 2019, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17583-triglycerides–heart-health#:~:targetText=Triglycerides%20are%20fats%20from%20the,fat%20cells%20throughout%20the%20body.

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