Ken's Type-1 Diabetes Journey: Part 4 - My Story
The year 1988 was a pivotal year for me. Prior to 1988 and even the early part of 1988, my health and physical ability was median normal with all my friends and family. In 1972, I was drafted into the US Army and underwent basic combat training for service in the Vietnam War. My physical abilities were also median normal during my Army tour. After the Army, my occupation did not involve a lot of physical activity, but I did go to the gym, took up skydiving and went hiking as often as possible. I had my share of colds, Flu, stomach aches, joint aches and other illnesses just like everyone else.
The point is; prior to November 1988, my health was very typical average. Then, at the age of 36 in November 1988, all that changed when my immune system suddenly decided that my insulin producing pancreas beta cells were foreign, thus attacked and annihilated them leaving me with Type-1 diabetes.
In less than 30 days, I lost 45 pounds and grew deathly weak. Eventually, I was found barely conscious at my work desk and rushed to the hospital where I immediately received my first shot of insulin. As my doctor explained the diagnosis, it hit like a ton of bricks as I lay on the examination table. A dark traumatic cloud flooded in like a broken dam. I thought that was it – my life was over. I envisioned becoming disabled, blind, amputations, living in a wheelchair and all that I knew about diabetes. My doctor delivered the grim prognosis that even with the best possible diabetic control that I would still suffer many debilitating, chronic diabetic failings. More on that later…
About mid-week of my hospital stay, my life was literally saved by a fill-in doctor. While my regular doctor was out of town, the fill-in doctor saved my life with a very simple short statement. He said, “No doctor can manage your diabetes.” He explained that the insulin doses are dependent on metabolism which changes from minute to minute and thus are too variable to be predetermined or managed by any other person. He told me that I have to keep a log and study the cause-and-effect of everything I eat and do. He said I should weigh everything I eat for accuracy.
Being a geek, I took that to heart. As I pondered, lying in the hospital bed, I realized that food for me as well as everyone else I ever knew has actually been purely recreational. No one eats anything that doesn’t taste good, but will eat anything that does taste good. Taste was the only consideration. I decided that was the end of that. Food was no longer recreational; it was now medicine. More on that later…
Immediately after discharge from the hospital, I bought a glucometer, a kitchen scale, a spiral bound notebook, a nutrition facts book and started my log and my new life. From all the trial-and-error testing and logging I learned the rate and magnitude of effect of different foods, activity and insulin and learned how to match them up to keep everything in sync. I learned some very surprising, confusing, counterintuitive and even scary things. The scary part was because I was born and raised deep in (backwards) ranch country. It was common, unquestioned knowledge that humans had to eat meat and that you could not survive more than three months without meat. It was perplexing, however, as I discovered that meat and fats made diabetic control extremely difficult. My doctor said to stay away from “carbs” and never eat starches. But from my trial-and-error testing and logging I found that starches actually worked the best, requiring the least insulin and made me feel fantastic with seemingly boundless energy - very confusing. Meat and fat was like a monkey wrench in the works, causing large glucose swings that were almost impossible to chase and requiring more than twice the dose of insulin and several times more injections per day. It was also like throwing a wet blanket on my newly discovered energy. I kept reducing meat down to one meal every three months in fear of that three month limit. Each time, leading up to that third month, I kept feeling better and better – almost magical, only to be wet blanketed back to “normal” again with the meat. Finally, I became brave enough to venture past that three month limit and came to the revelation that the meat requirement was an absurdly wrong myth!
After a long day trip to an amusement park with a church singles group, I come to realize the astonishing fact that as a 37 year old Type-1 diabetic, my stamina, agility and overall well-being had grown beyond than of all the twenty something year-olds in the group. I had nothing to attribute that to other than my meat free, plant based, low-fat, starch centered diet.
Outings with friends were awkward anytime food was involved. I felt like a freak. I didn’t even know there were any real vegans on the planet. I had met some that claimed to be vegetarian, but discovered that they called themselves vegetarian because they would sometimes eat an occasional vegetable. It was difficult socially, but since I had gotten a taste of what feel-good really feels like, I would not budge. At the beginning of my Type-1 diabetic journey, I felt like I was in an information vacuum. All of the nutritional information from my doctor, diabetes magazines, books and even diabetes management classes strongly promoted a low-carb, high fat diet. The geek in me, however, would not blindly conform since all of my test-and-measure results were in complete conflict. So, I discarded it and accepted my freak status. I guess being a hopeless geek and being born with a hearing defect made the social issue a little easier. I was already a loaner. That is… until November, 2013 when our very good friends, a couple living in our neighborhood, became ethical vegans! They mentioned that there are lots of vegan oriented websites, so I promptly went web surfing. My fist discovery was an article by Dr. John McDougall on diabetics and a starch based diet! I almost fell out of my chair! That was the first information I had ever
witnessed that did not promote “low-carb” for diabetics. The article actually fit my findings! I was elated! That led me to the McDougall forum. It just kept unfolding as I then found the book “The Starch Solution”. The information was like a flood as I discovered many other doctors on the same path and even communities of vegans! It’s as if I just suddenly discovered a whole new world! I finally felt validated – but it gets better. On the McDougall website, I found a list of Whole Food Plant Based Starch
centered doctors. On that list, I discovered Dr. Carney, who not only promotes a WFPB Starch-Smart life-style, but she practices true wellness instead of just symptom treatment. What a relief to finally have a REAL doctor! From the Dr. Carney team, I found the new blossoming Starch-Smart website!
While Type-1 diabetes has a very bad reputation, I am very grateful for the education it has taught me and the enrichment of life that education has provided. In my view, it is a gift – a true blessing. As a result, my health has been on a continuous steady ascent since that pivotal year when Type-1 diabetes led me to a WFPB, low-fat, Starch-Smart life. I am now stronger, lighter, have more energy, stamina and agility now at 62 than I had at 50, and at 50 I had more than at 40 and at 40 I had more than
at 30. Now, at the age of 62, I am lighter yet measurably stronger than I was at 20. As yet, I see no evidence of where it will finally peak and I no longer have any idea where “middle age” is. What a profound difference from my original prognosis a quarter century ago!
When I was first diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes, my doctor told me that even with the best possible diabetic control that I would still suffer many debilitating diabetic failings. Now, I know why he said that. It’s because he, as well most other doctors and even the American Diabetes Association, promotes a low carb diet. From personal experience, I learned that with a low-carb diet, the very best possible diabetic control is actually very, very poor control.
About food being medicine: In the beginning of this journey, the recreational aspect of food and taste was completely discarded. In that state of urgency, I valued life over taste. It was quite a sacrifice. But, after a few short years, it became recreational again! I came to realize that I could literally eat anything I want! That’s because my taste had changed. Now, I only want low-fat Starch-Smart foods. Anything animal became as appetizing as sewage and anything fatty or oily tastes face-making yuck. I just love the clean, pristine tastes of fat-free fruits, greens, legumes, starches and veggies. As it turns out, there was no sacrifice at all. Every meal is a feast!