Diabetes: Not a disease, just a different lifestyle
The start of my path to diabetes
In my college days, I played cricket, ran, and exercised. I was very active and physically fit. But in 2015, I moved to a new city where I had no friends and limited opportunities to keep up my physical activities. I also started a software engineering degree and freelancing career, and my lifestyle became very sedentary.
My degree was with a virtual university, so I didn’t need to attend daily physical classes. And as a freelancer in Southeast Asia, most of my clients (who were from the US, UK and Australia) were in different timezones.
This was a typical day for me:
- Dinner: This was my first meal of the day. I ate around 10pm and often had a Coke with dinner.
- Work or study: After dinner, I stayed awake and studied or worked until 10am.
- Breakfast: At 10am, I had breakfast; usually a full plate of rice and chickpeas – I learned later that this has a high carb value (not great for diabetes).
- Sleep: After breakfast I went to bed, sleeping from around 10am to 7pm.
In short, my schedule was upside-down and there were no physical activities. Because of this, I started gaining weight.
Losing the will to exercise
As I gained weight, my clothes started becoming too tight. This pushed me to go to the gym.
However, on my first day in the gym, I weighed myself and saw (to my shock) that I was over 100kg. I did some cardio and then didn’t go back.
Why? Because I couldn’t motivate myself to return – Before 2015 I was underweight, but when the weighing scale showed I was now over 100kg, and my friends started giggling, I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
Do obesity and a sedentary lifestyle cause diabetes?
In my eyes, my routine and diet did contribute to my diabetes. However, I believe the leading cause was stress and anxiety.
As well as eating poorly and not exercising, I was also struggling with some personal problems and going through a period of severe depression. This was affecting my sleeping and eating habits.
Deciding to get tested
The trigger that caused me to finally get tested for diabetes was a road trip.
I had to drop a friend off at the airport and it was a 5-hour drive away. Before we started the journey, I drank a large glass of Coke.
20 minutes later, I felt the urge to pee. The first restroom was 60 kilometres away, and waiting to get there it felt like my bladder would explode.
But we reached, and then restarted our journey. As we drove, I was eating junk food and drinking soft drinks.
After another 20-30 minutes, I again felt the urge to pee and had to ask my friend to stop the car. They threw a few jokes at me (as friends often do), and we stopped.
This cycle kept repeating, and my friends started to get frustrated – They had a flight to catch.
Finally, when one of my friends saw how anxious I was getting over it, he suggested I get tested for diabetes. As soon as I got home I went to a laboratory to get my HbA1c tested – This test shows your average blood sugar level over a few months and can indicate if you’re prediabetic or diabetic.
I remember sitting with my mother (she’s also a diabetic) and receiving the text from the lab with my results.
Here’s what the possible HbA1c result could show:
- Below 5.7% = Normal
- 5.7 - 6.4% = Prediabetic
- Over 6.5% = Diabetic
I was 12%, and a confirmed diabetic.
When I told my mother, she was very worried and told me to get started with formal treatment right away. But I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I wanted to challenge myself and reverse my diabetes through diet and exercise.
What did I do to tackle my diabetes?
Your blood sugar level can increase because of a high-carb diet, but the hike should just be temporary – You can’t become a diabetic just because you ate 1 or 2 high-carb meals.
For me, I was convinced diet was a factor, but so was my lifestyle. The sleepless nights, anxiety, and depression were the primary causes.
My first step to address my diabetes was to start jogging daily and take on a keto diet. I avoided all soft drinks, high-carb foods, and junk foods. This was very difficult. The desi diet mainly consists of rice and roti (a.k.a. chapati) which are both high-carb. Cutting them out and making a perfect diet plan was tough. And following a keto diet (in which your body has very limited carbohydrates and breaks down fat for energy, releasing ketones) can also cause excessive urination and headaches.
However, using a glucometer at home I tested my fasting blood sugar (FBS) and random blood sugar (RBS) levels daily and they always came back normal. This gave me the added motivation to stick with a proper diet and exercise.
How did my social circle respond
One of the biggest problems with desi culture is that even with a lack of knowledge, people are still very confident about their opinions.
For example, one of my friends told me not to worry about anything and eat or drink whatever I wanted to, nothing would happen. Another friend told me to go on a fluid-only diet and stop eating solid foods. Others even told me to visit a spiritual person, and he would suck away my diabetes.
So, as well as having to deal with this medical condition, I also had to tackle stupid opinions.
Where am I now?
I was doing well and my diabetes was in control, until I hit financial and personal problems and again sunk into depression. Losing my motivation to keep up my diet and exercise, I started eating junk food and drinking soft drinks, and I stopped counting my daily calorie intake.
Soon my diabetes symptoms returned (like right now, my feet are burning).
I’m planning to go back to diet and exercise, but if I don’t manage to see the improvements I need then I’ll go to the doctor. I don’t want to depend on external insulin injections and medications (like my mother does), but I will as a last resort.
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