Sunday, May 1, 2011

One Size Does Not Fit All

As in politics, the diabetic community has liberals, conservatives and some who are hovering in the middle (moderates).  Here is my take on the differences.

A liberal diabetic is someone who thinks outside the box and attacks their condition with an “unconventional” approach.  They seek out alternative methods to control their blood glucose which may include supplements such as herbs, vitamins, vinegar and cinnamon.  They might adhere to a strict diet whether it is in the form of low fat or low carb.  The majority will most certainly listen to their doctors’ advice and continue to take medications as prescribed (oral or injectable) while seeking out additional avenues to control glucose.

A conservative diabetic will follow the mainstream treatments as laid out by the American Diabetes Association or some other agency.  Generally speaking, these agencies don’t tout any treatment that may be considered extreme or unconventional.  When it comes to medicine, our government is pretty conservative.  New drugs or medical methods must pass strict testing etc. before the government will approve them for human use.  That’s a safe thing to do.  A conservative diabetic doesn’t rock the boat or question their treatment.  They may not do much research on their own but if they do, they probably won’t follow up or try any of the “radical” methods.  They go to their doctors, take their meds and do what they’re told.

I imagine that it’s not too difficult for you to figure out what my idea of a moderate diabetic would look like:  someone who follows the prescribed diet/medication regimen but who does research/question/consider alternatives.  They’re willing to think outside the box but their box is smaller than a liberal’s would be.

So which approach is right?  All of them.  There are BILLIONS of people on our planet.  The World Health Organization states that “More than 220 million people worldwide have diabetes.” (Yikes!)  It’s silly to think that one way of controlling diabetes would work for 220 million people, don’t you think?  There are so many factors to consider when deciding upon an approach to dealing with diabetes.  Environment, lifestyle, diet, BMI, amount of exercise, other health issues, age, degree of diabetes, types of medication…..the list is endless.  

The idea that “one size fits all” has always made me chuckle.  Picture this:  a twenty-something cross country runner and a 50-something overweight couch potato are shopping for a dress.  One size fits all?  I think not.  Take the Snuggie, for example.  One of those lovely garments would wrap around my daughter-in-law 5 times.  In order to make it “one size fits all” it must be constructed by Omar the Tent Maker, but I digress.  

What type of diabetic do I consider myself to be?  I’m a moderate leaning toward liberal.  I’m not willing to just do what I’m told.  I am always researching alternatives and new ideas that might help control my blood sugars.  I’m not shy about asking my doctor about this idea or that approach.  If I feel that my sugars are out of whack, I’ll call my doctor and see if an A1c is called for before the next appointed test.  I try different foods and test to see how they affect my glucose readings.  I read labels and experiment with food (as much as my husband will put up with).  I refuse to sit back and let someone else be in control of this disease.  I want to be involved!

Why aren’t I a liberal diabetic?  I have always thought that an aggressive approach to weight loss is a bad idea.  There are so many quick weight-loss diets out there to choose from.  There are pills and potions, “magic” exercise equipment and radical ideas about food consumption.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a magic pill or ONE way to eat that would drop the pounds?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but such a thing doesn’t exist.  I have found that I feel the same way about controlling diabetes.  There is no magic pill or ONE way to eat to control this disease.

So what’s the answer?  In my humble opinion, the answer is that we need to eat a healthy, well balanced diet and have at least some moderate exercise.  Period! (or full stop if you’re British).  For diabetics this will also include some form of medication.  Let’s face it; our wacky pancreas(es) won’t have it any other way.

I have recently been reading a lot about the low carb approach to controlling diabetes.  This diet includes high protein and fat intake to offset the lack of carbohydrates.  (The Atkins diet is a good example of this type of diet)  There are apparently quite a few diabetics who follow this regimen and are having good results; weight loss and better controlled blood sugars.  Good for them! Will I be trying this approach?  No, I won’t.  Why not, you may ask?  I think it’s dangerous.

Our bodies are designed to work a certain way.  It is required that we take in food to give our bodies the energy they need.  We need protein and fat and carbs to survive.  There is no question about that.   If we deprive our bodies of carbs, which are needed for energy, and replace them with too much of something else we’re asking for trouble.  Low carb/high protein and high fat diets may control blood sugar and help in weight loss but at what price?  High protein diets can cause kidney issues and may develop a buildup of ketones in the system.  Ingestion of high amounts of saturated fats can lead to heart disease.

I won’t belabor this idea and I’m not trying to dump on the low-carb craze.  I’m just trying to say that radical changes to our diet can have long-term effects on our bodies.  How can they not?  Besides, those types of diets are hard to stick to in the long run.

My first husband (God rest his soul) used to tell me that “all you have to do” to lose weight is eat less and move more.  I hated that.  I hated him for saying it, but he was right (dammit).  You don’t have to eat ONLY certain foods.  It’s ok to eat most anything in moderation.  The same is true with a diabetic diet.  Limiting carbs is a must but you don’t have to avoid them like the plague.  Eat healthy carbs like vegetables.  Eat smaller portions of pastas and starchy veggies when you must.  Whole grains are good, refined; not so good.  Include healthier fats (canola and olive oils as examples) while trying to avoid too much saturated fat.  Exercise!

Each and every one of us has to take charge of our health.  Diabetics can’t ignore the fact that their pancreas may not be functioning properly, and therefore, they can’t just eat whatever they want.  I personally don’t believe that it’s necessary to radically change what we eat.  We just need to take an informed approach to what we put in our bodies and modify according to what works for us.

One size does not fit all.  One diet approach isn’t better than another.  Somewhere out there is the right fit for each of us.  We are responsible for seeking it out, being ever mindful that health is the goal.  Now stepping down from my box of soap.

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