Saturday, March 25, 2017

I cut out sugar and carbs to treat my type 2 diabetes, and here's what happened

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(Are you trying to cut down on sugar too? You might like this free ebook I put together with some of the sugar-busting tricks I've collected - click here to get it.)

In August 2015, more than a year and a half ago, I got the doctor's call I'd been dreading: diabetes.

After an hour of full-on weeping and feeling sorry for myself, I dried my tears and decided to do something about it.

Luckily, one of the first videos I found was the one above from Dr. Sarah Hallberg, an M.D. who runs a diabetes clinic in the Midwest. Her argument is amazingly sensible:

To lower your blood sugar, stop eating the foods that raise your blood sugar the most (carbohydrates) and add more of the foods that don't raise your blood sugar at all (fats). 

So that's what I did. That very day, I decided to say goodbye to sugar and carbohydrates, including grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, and most fruits. I started eating a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet. I eat protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables. And that's just about it. (Click here for more details on what I eat.)

Here's what happened when I cut out sugar and carbs - the good and the bad. Brutal honesty ahead.

With my older son Emery on an early morning hike

The good things are very, very good.

Elevator door selfie
  • My blood sugar went down and has stayed down. Within three months it was normal. Now, after more than 18 months of eating this way, it's lower than it's been since I was in my 20s.
  • I lost weight - more than 40 pounds - although that was not my goal. Not having diabetes was my goal.
  • I no longer have to take medications for diabetes and acid reflux, and I was able to reduce other meds as well.
  • I have much more energy, and it's steady throughout the day. I don't get the after-lunch nap craving anymore.
  • I sleep better.
  • My breath is better.
  • I have had to replace my entire wardrobe, including my underwear, because it got too big. Twice.
  • I am rarely hungry and it doesn't take a lot to fill me up.
  • My feet don't hurt anymore.
  • My digestion is much more regular. I know a lot of people get constipated on a low carb high fat diet, but I have not had that problem.
  • My dentist and dental hygienist tell me that my teeth and gums are much healthier than they were a few years ago. Fewer cavities, less plaque, less gum recession.
  • I feel good about my body. Some things are still annoying (triple chin that will probably never go away, relatively big belly, stretch marks, thin hair) but they bother me much less. When I look in the mirror, my first thought is "I look healthy."
  • I rarely crave sugar or carbs. When I tell you that the white-flour foods used to make up 90 percent of my diet, I am not exaggerating. I never imagined that I would not only be able to live without them, but would not mind living without them. Truly, I do not mind.
  • I feel proud that I've taken control of my health. This spills over into other areas, too. I'm proud of myself in general.
  • Overall, I'm in a much better mood.

The bad things have required some adjustment but aren't too bad.

There's a lot of meat in my life these days
  • Our family meals have become somewhat repetitive. Protein, vegetable, salad. Protein, vegetable, salad. Feeding people is one of my favorite things in life (that's why I started Not Ketchup, my condiment business - feeding people on a large scale!), so serving boring family meals makes me cringe. My husband and kids haven't complained much, but I fear they're just being polite.
  • I have missed out on social opportunities with my family. We used to spend a lot of our family time on food-centered outings, exploring the various ethnic cuisines of Los Angeles. My husband and sons still go from time to time. I choose not to participate in most of those now, not because I'm afraid I'll be tempted, but because they just don't interest me as much.
  • I am less motivated to blog about food. I've been writing In Erika's Kitchen since 2008 and have gotten great pleasure over the years in creating recipes and photographing delicious food. But because food is no longer as big a part of my life, I'm not as interested in writing about it. This makes me sad. 
  • My skin looks worse (to me). After years of being heavier, the skin on my face and certain parts of my body is looser now that I've lost weight. Although I am not into the idea of plastic surgery for myself, I see why it appeals to some people.
  • It is actually harder now for me to buy clothes, not easier. When I was bigger, plus sizes fit fairly reliably. Now I am oddly shaped, still carrying more weight in my middle than in other places. Things that fit me in the middle are way too big on top and in the seat and legs. Only certain styles flatter my body. Alterations are expensive.
  • I'm irritated with myself that it took me so long to make these positive changes. I try to focus forward - glad I finally saw the light! - but in dark moments I think about all the years when I could have been feeding my body differently and thus perhaps avoided some of the damage I'm now trying to undo.
  • I am no longer an easy dinner guest. Or house guest. Or travel companion. 
  • My eyesight has gotten worse. Of course, I'm 50, so that was bound to happen at some point. Might be coincidence.
  • Our food bills have gone up. Without cheap fillers like rice, beans, and bread, our family meals are more expensive. On the other hand, my health costs, both present and future, have gone down, so I try not to worry too much about this.
  • I eat more meat than I'd prefer. In a perfect world I probably wouldn't be vegetarian, but I always enjoyed non-meat proteins like beans. Now they raise my blood sugar too much. I try to work in more fish, but it's not my favorite. 
  • "On the go" food is more challenging. I can't assume I can pick up a snack wherever I am. I have to bring my own. I keep emergency low carb protein bars in my purse and car.
  • I've gotten a little preachy, especially with my kids, about what I believe to be the dangers of excess sugar and carbohydrate intake. I don't want to be the Food Police, but given their genetics (sorry, guys) I feel compelled to try to influence their eating habits. 
Overall, of course, I'm glad I made the lifestyle changes I did. Because good health > diabetes. Period.

Have you ever tried giving up or cutting back on sugar and carbs? What changes did you notice? I'd love to hear about your journey.