Being at a healthy weight, no one really questioned my eating habits. I was the Sporty Spice of every group, so excessive eating was justified and even praised. Through college I managed my healthy weight by keeping my routine of unwarranted eating and extreme exercise (my BMI was about 22). Luckily I love fruits and vegetables, but processed grains and starches were primary staples in my diet. (I couldn’t say no to a Pop-Tart.)
Image: Amy via Flickr
During Finals Week of my last semester of my undergraduate career, I developed a horrible cough. It was December and between my allergies and the dry air, I was prone to winter aliments. My study sessions were constantly interrupted with coughing spells and phlegm projection, so I had to keep myself out of the library and study under self-inflicted house arrest.
A few days into my cough, I looked at my naked body in the mirror and noticed significant weight loss. I knew I shouldn’t have been exercising while sick, but my appetite was out-of-control and I felt it necessary to burn off the calories. Plus, I was receiving compliments left-and-right on my new sickly figure. Not only did my hunger increase, but I could never get enough water! While typing my Capstone paper, I noticed I had gotten up three times in one hour to refill my water glass. But hell, my throat was so dry and sore from the coughing that I rationalized that I could use the extra H2O.
I let a couple weeks go by with my undying cough before I finally saw a doctor. Insuranceless and sick, I told the campus physician I was asthmatic and she knew exactly what I needed – a new inhaler. Alleluia! I was so excited to sleep through the night without a coughing spell that I started my new steroid therapy immediately.
Fast forward a few weeks and my cough was still aggressive as hell, I was eating at a spectacular rate, and my weight was still plummeting. I felt like Bill Halleck from Stephen King’s Thinner. However, there were two new developments to my illness: a strong craving for sweets and horrible leg cramps in the middle of the night. All of my symptoms were mounting during the “Gluten Free” craze, and everyone I vented to about my symptoms were convinced I had a gluten allergy. But even after cutting gluten from my diet, the pounds kept coming off and the urge to pee every 15 minutes wasn’t making anything easier.
I entered the working world with bright eyes and a bushy tale… and still no health insurance. Unable to find a full-time job right away, I made ends meet by working three part-time jobs and remained sick throughout the summer. By mid-September, my 5’3” frame weighed 98 lbs. I could barely stay awake because I was incredibly lethargic. When I was awake I was eating anything I could get my hands on, even food I didn’t like (which is hard to come by because I’m far from a picky eater). Finally, my mom took me to the ER where I spent a couple minutes in triage and was rushed to an ER station where I was told I was a Type I diabetic.
With no time to waste, I began a combination of insulin therapy, hydration therapy (potassium drips burn better than the fires of hell), and fasting. My one job was to get my sugar levels down from the 600s that have been plaguing my body. In a nutshell, I was being flushed. With multiple tubes sticking out of my arms and being poked and prodded with needles every 20 minutes, the only thing I could think about was my next meal. I’ve never fasted before, and I was more stressed out over not eating or drinking for the next 24 hours than I was about my new diagnosis. When I was finally able to eat, I couldn’t believe the amounts I was allotted. Only three meals a day was a joke to me. But I learned a trick! Before giving me pills, the nurse asked if I had a weak stomach because if I did she could offer me graham crackers. Knowing I have an iron stomach, I lied to get a square of joy.
Addicted to Food
It goes without saying that while I was sick, I developed an addiction to food. I love lean protein and fresh veggies, but all I wanted was chocolate bars, sugary cereals, and fried pastries. All my life I have been active and I allowed myself to give into temptation whenever it presented itself, but now I had become incredibly limited. Rather than treating diabetes as a lifestyle change, I approached it like a fad diet regimen.
I began my new diet but gave myself free days (Sundays I could eat whatever I wanted) and cheat scenarios (family get-togethers, work potlucks). When I would allow myself to cheat, I took it to the extreme. When bagels were provided at work, I didn’t enjoy one; I had four. One slice of pizza became a whole pie. A handful of M&Ms after dinner turned into an entire bowl. Two scoops of ice cream turned into the whole carton… I don’t even like ice cream! With insulin finally present in my body and an unslowing hunger and no willpower, I gained all of my weight back plus 15 pounds and my sugar levels were out-of-control. I was proud if my sugar was under 300, but even that was rare.
I had to learn the hard way that there are no cheat days with diabetes.
I was terribly insecure about my weight and my inability to control my sugar. I knew I had to make a change. I made a huge mistake of cutting carbs completely out of my diet (again, approaching diabetes like a diet for weight loss, forgetting the health concept), so when I did get a taste of carbohydrates after a stressful day, I felt as if I deserved a culinary reward and I reverted back to my cookie and cake binges. To end my practically daily binges, I licensed myself to one treat during my weekly grocery trip.
There’s an old saying, “A taste of honey is worse than none at all.” That became my life! Tasting my one assigned treat would never satisfy my craving. Instead, it left me wanting more. I felt like a heroin addict getting her fix when I would dive into a bowl of cereal, bite into a candy bar, or savor a soft doughnut. My body would tense up, my eyes would dilate, and I would sigh heavily at the tastes and textures swarming my mouth. It would border line orgasmic.
Once I would finish my delicacy, I would drive my crack ass back to the grocery store and buy a variety of candy bars, packs of cookies, and a whole loaf of bread only to eat all of it within the hour. My attitude became, “Well, I already messed up; I might as well go all out.” By the end of the night, I looked as if I had swallowed a basketball and my morning glucose readings were so high my meter couldn’t detect an actual number.
These weekly binges turned into biweekly binges that became three day long binges. I would lay in bed crying because I was so angry at myself for binging. Between the weight gain, extremely high sugar levels, and aching belly, I called out my mental weakness and decided that major changes needed to be made.
Trying to Change
I tried everything to make that change. I started working out twice a day. I kept a food journal. I stopped buying treats at the grocery store. I researched binge eating and proper diabetic meals. I kept a strict routine and even skipped out on family and work functions to avoid temptation. Even with all of these changes, temptation would find me, and I caved every… single… time.
My mental and physical health were at their breaking point, and I began to grow insecure in my relationships. I began choosing to stay isolated at home to eat in private over spending quality time with people I loved. I knew I had to openly admit my problem to a second party.
My confession came out during work.
I was incredibly depressed over my unhealthy lifestyle, and it must have shown on my face because a friend asked if I was okay. As a woman I’m able to lock up my feelings deep inside until they come spewing out, and my friend’s concern “erupted the volcano.” My eyes welled up on the spot, and I confessed everything that went on behind closed doors. I even told him of a time I was so upset after a particular binge, I threw most of the food in my apartment away and chucked my insulin pens against my brick walls. My vent shocked him. He said my cool demeanor at work and normal weight made him think everything was okay.
Once I admitted my problem to someone, I sat down and admitted the reality to myself: I have diabetes.
I wrote that sentence in my journal. I said it out loud, “I am a diabetic.”
Over and over again.
Diabetes isn’t an excuse to get healthy, that’s what bikini season is for. Diabetes is cause for a necessary lifestyle transformation. I lectured myself, “Amanda, you’re a diabetic. You can’t continue this way. You’re killing yourself physically and mentally. A slice of bread will spike your sugar, so what gives you license to eat a whole damn loaf in one sitting (which really happened)? Stop this, now!”
A wave of calm rushed over me after my monologue. With an improved diet, aggressive insulin treatment, constant movement and a healthy routine my sugar stays under 200. That’s not to say I’m better. I’ve only been at it for a couple of weeks, and I know I am still fragile and will cave under pressure from time-to-time. Slowing down to realize what I am doing and incredible amounts of support from my loved ones has helped me in more ways than I can explain. My boyfriend has been the heart of my recovery. Like any addiction, this is going to be with me forever, and I will always be attracted to the idea of losing myself in food. I expect to cry, binge, recover, and repeat more times than I can count, but with each failure comes a lesson I’m willing to learn.
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