‘Before I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes 10 years ago, I thought I was living a pretty healthy life. I mean, I occasionally ate half a bar of chocolate without noticing and I didn’t really have any kind of exercise routine in place, but I was still pretty healthy … right? Now I inject insulin and test my blood sugar five times a day, but there are a number of ways I feel that diabetes has made me healthier.
1. Conscious eating
‘Life is so busy and distracted that it can be easy to wolf something down while you’re reading e-mails or replying to messages or doing research. The advantage of having to inject before eating anything (if I can say such a thing!) is that I have to be conscious of what I’m eating; to take a moment to pause and consider my meal, and then inject the correct dose. This gives me the necessary space to step back and realise that I can actually take a few minutes to myself to eat consciously, and that my body will thank me for the attention.
2. A balanced diet
‘Although I thought I was eating a pretty balanced diet before I was diagnosed, I actually didn’t know all that much about how carbs, protein, fruit and vegetables play with one another, and what my body needs to function at its best. I now know never to eat carbs without some protein, and to limit my carbs to those that are the most delicious and the highest quality. My mom always said “Everything in moderation”, and that’s been a life (and diet!) motto of mine for years.
3. Listening to my body
‘We live in a noisy world, not only the actual noise of daily life, but the extra noise we pile on top of it – social-media buzz, constantly being available to friends, family and colleagues, and never taking a quiet moment away from our phones. It’s a lot of mental noise. Diabetes has forced me to slow down, just a little, and listen to my body. To check in and see how I’m feeling, and if I need to check my blood sugar, and how what I’ve just eaten has made me feel. Stress is extremely bad for blood sugar (cortisol blocks the effects of insulin), so it’s also important that I try not to get too stressed out. I try to do a little meditation every day (even if it’s just three minutes) and to take a few deep breaths while I have a cup of tea. A moment of pause.
4. Regular exercise
‘We all know we should be doing small bouts of regular exercise every day, but how many of us actually do it? Especially if you add young kids to the mix! What I’ve learnt, though, is the profound difference even 30 minutes of walking or a 20-minute yoga session has on my blood sugar, so I prioritise exercise as a necessity. And along with that come all the attached benefits: more energy, better self-image and a rush of endorphins. Diabetes is a great reminder to do the things we should all be doing, all the time.
‘I used to be an absolute pro at self-care. Then I had two kids within two years of each other and all of a sudden putting myself first became more difficult (some might say near impossible!) to do. But there are times I do need to put myself first. My kids have learnt that when I say I need to take a jab or check my sugar, they have to wait. It goes beyond the practicalities too – it’s not just about my diabetes management but also my daily care. It’s not always possible, but I try to be kind to myself, to rest, to drink enough water and to take time out to laugh with my friends. Self-care looks different for each of us, but for me it’s about slowing down long enough to enjoy life as it happens.
‘Along with these lifestyle changes came a drive to find out as much about diabetes as I could, which is why I started Sweet Life, an online community and magazine for those with diabetes and their friends and families. You can find out more at www.sweetlifemag.co.za.’