Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let’s Talk About Prevention

When I was a little kid, Smokey the Bear would come on TV and say, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” I’m here to tell you that that’s some heavy responsibility to put on a 9 year-old. Really? I’m the only one who can prevent a forest fire? Bambi’s well-being is squarely on MY shoulders? Yikes! In reality there are lots of reasons for forest fires other than idiots who don’t pay attention including lightening caused fires. It’s certainly important to pay attention with fire while in the forest (says one who happens to have a national forest in her back yard) but no one has control over lightening. No one can prevent that type of forest fire.

I don’t spend much time on Facebook these days. I lurk and rarely interact. Today my eye was caught by a post from my friend Cherise. In the post she was calling out a reputable organization for posting the idea that type 2 diabetes can be prevented. She called BS (in the nicest of ways. It’s Cherise, after all.). There was a healthy back and forth among some of her FB friends discussing whether or not it is fair to say that type 2 is preventable. There was the discussion of genetics as well as the thought that many people could “prevent” their diagnosis if they would “simply” make some lifestyle changes. There were some “damn straights” and “preach it Brothers” coming from my lips as I read the exchange. It also led me here to write about my thoughts on the subject.

I’m not going to talk about the genetics or science behind this argument that too often pops up on the internet. Although science is very important, I want to talk about the people who are affected by the word “preventable”. People like me. People who have developed type 2 diabetes.

I was privileged to attend the HealtheVoices 2016 Conference this past spring in Chicago. It was a gathering of health advocates/bloggers across all diseases, not just people with diabetes. There was a good showing of folks from the DOC there and it was a rewarding, fun and educational weekend. The conference was kicked off on Friday evening with a banquet and keynote speaker. This gentleman, who collects data about all types of diseases, was going through his presentation, showing us slides of his data, when he said something that caused those of us with knowledge of life with diabetes to gasp. He said that 80+ percent of cases of type 2 diabetes were preventable. Wow. I could barely breathe. Here was someone who ought to know telling 100+ people that I could have prevented my diabetes. We were all shocked. My dear friend Bea said to me, “you have to say something!” Ohhhhh but I don’t wanna. I can’t stand up in front of all these people and confront this man! But I did. With my voice quavering I called him out. I told him that those types of statements do nothing but increase the stigma that those of us with diabetes face every day. Words matter (although I’m not exactly sure what words I used because DANG I was nervous!).

What does it feel like to hear that you have a disease that you could have prevented? It feels pretty crappy, let me tell you. Those of us who advocate for people with diabetes rail against the accusation that people with type 2 did this to themselves; that we somehow deserve what we got. Quit blaming the patient! There are many ways to develop type 2 diabetes that have nothing to do with diet, like gestational diabetes or coming in contact with some type of environmental goop. But the reality is that the majority of cases of type 2 are developed due to lifestyle. Ugh, did I just type that? I did, but let me explain further.

I have said all along that I would have eventually developed type 2 in my elder years, regardless of my lifestyle but my lifestyle probably hastened my development of the disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow. But hey! I didn’t eat dozens of donuts or vats of chili cheese fries! I ate like everyone else ate. That’s the key: the Standard American Diet SUCKS!

My friend Mike Lawson said it so well in his comment on this FB thread: “and if some all-encompassing study proves that Type 2 is caused entirely by the food we eat, it isn't accurate to say that people that develop type 2 diabetes have done anything except eat the food that we have access to.” Bingo! (I love you Mike!)

THAT is the key! People who develop type 2 diabetes are those who most likely have a genetic predisposition and their lifestyle of too many processed carbs and not enough daily exercise have caused their bodies to cease to be able to process glucose effectively. They aren’t any different than anyone else, they just got the booby prize in the lottery of life.

So back to prevention. Don’t tell the world that type 2 diabetes is preventable unless you’re willing to back that statement with proper education for the masses on how processed food is vile and over consumption of processed carbs is taxing your pancreas and liver and preventing your cells from getting the energy they need. The way the majority of Americans eat is causing over production of insulin which turns to fat which increases insulin resistance which makes it difficult for our bodies to process glucose which causes your pancreas to release more insulin; rinse, repeat. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you’re willing to make whole, real foods readily available to the majority of people in a way that’s affordable. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you teach people how to cook and eat healthy, whole foods. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you go about making exercise easier to achieve in our hectic lives. Don’t say it’s preventable when I know damn well that there was nothing I could have done, knowing what I did at that time. No way could I have fed my family any better on the few dollars I had at my disposal, not to mention that the dreaded food pyramid was telling me to eat 6-12 servings of carbohydrates per day!

Words matter and the people who have developed type 2 diabetes because they have just been living their lives like everyone else deserve better than to be accused of developing a disease that dramatically, painfully affects them for the rest of their lives. Think before you point a finger: can you say that you eat any differently? Are you perfect?

Type 2 diabetes may someday be a disease that can be delayed if the people in our society are given the tools they need to make “better” choices. When our society lifts up real food and shuns fast and convenient crap then maybe fewer people will develop type 2, at least not until they’re old and gray.

When you tell me that my disease was preventable you’re telling me that I failed. You’re telling me that I failed the test when I wasn’t given a chance to study. I failed when fast, convenient tasty foods are priced in a way that makes them an easy choice for people who don’t have much money? When I was just living life like everyone else, I failed. Don’t tell me that I could have prevented it, help me to show my kids and grandkids a better way.


Just like Smokey the Bear, the media is pointing its finger at me and saying that “only YOU can prevent type 2 diabetes!” I call bullshit.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Appearances

*As I began to write this post, I realized that I had never mentioned here that my mother passed away on August 6th. She made it past her 98th birthday and had a good life. This hasn’t been an easy summer but I’m doing ok (and so is Ray).

I had a rather unusual conversation the other day while I was waiting to see my new doctor. The person offered his condolences on the passing of my mother and then went on to comment on how amazing it is that she lived to be 98. Many people have mentioned her age so I wasn’t all that surprised, however, he added that it was especially amazing due to her size. Interesting comment. (My mother was a large woman and had been most of her adult life. She was only 5’4” tall and weighed roughly 220 lbs during the last year of her life.) The conversation continued and I happened to mention that my oldest son is now 40. “Really! And how old was his dad when he died?” 42. “And two of his sisters died young too. One of them drank a lot, didn’t she? Your son should be fine as long as he doesn’t abuse alcohol or drugs.”

O.o

In case you’re wondering, the man is still standing and didn’t require any medical intervention after our conversation ended. I wasn’t offended by anything he said because I’ve known this guy for decades and he’s… different. He meant no offense and none was taken. I’d like to clarify that my dear sister-in-law did enjoy her beer but that is not what killed her. All 3 of those siblings died of massive heart attacks out of the blue at a relatively young age. They had bum tickers, they weren’t overweight and were fairly active people.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I began to think about what was said and what was implied:

My mother lived to a ripe old age, despite the fact that she was overweight, which this person felt was unusual. My first husband and his sisters died at a young age and appeared to be healthy humans so there must have been something they did to hurry their deaths.

Appearances.

Our society spends SO much time worrying/obsessing about what someone looks like and makes assumptions based on those looks as to what that person’s health might be. (Appearances also cause people to make assumptions about someone’s moral fiber and whether or not they are “worthy”, but this is about health and you don’t want to get me started on that other can of worms.) Just because my mother was heavy, this person assumed that it was a miracle that she lived so long. He knew nothing about her health. He assumed, based on her appearance, that she was an unhealthy individual. Mom suffered with bad knees, which was definitely exacerbated by her weight, and couldn’t see due to macular degeneration, but her overall health was fine. Her heart was strong. She survived lung cancer (never smoked) and other various things throughout her life but she was damn healthy! Heck, she still had all her own teeth! My first husband, on the other hand, was a healthy-looking man. He had developed a bit of a gut but he was active and didn’t appear to be ill, and yet he died so young. This just threw my acquaintance. He couldn’t comprehend how this could be! So unless my son abuses drugs or alcohol, he should be fine. What???

I’m so tired of how people are judged because of how they look. Fat-shaming is a perfectly acceptable form of bullying that is getting worse as the people in our society get larger. I have learned that weight loss is not as simple as calories in/calories out. I have learned that exercise can be difficult when you’re dealing with pain. I have learned that dealing with diabetes/elevated blood sugar is different for each individual. I have learned that “doing what I’m supposed to do” isn’t always easy when a low mood hits.

Fact: There are overweight people who run marathons and/or work out regularly.

Fact: There are overweight people who eat very healthy diets and thin people who eat nothing but crap food.

Fact: There are skinny people who are in horrible health.

Fact: Overweight/obese does not equal “unhealthy’ and thin does not equal “healthy”.

I am certainly not suggesting that people not worry about carrying excess weight. I feel that everyone, size aside, should do their best to improve their diet and add regular exercise to their lives. The point of this post is to, hopefully, have people stop and think before they judge. I’m most likely speaking to the choir, since if you’re reading this you are already well aware of how much stigma there is in the world and how important it is for us to take care of ourselves regardless of our size, but I simply had to get this off my chest!

The next time you see someone who is overweight and eating dessert, don’t judge! How is it your business what that person eats? Just maybe they have been rocking a new food plan and are simply having a treat! Maybe it’s their birthday. The point is: don’t judge. You have no idea what their life is like.

If you see someone in the grocery store who has a basketful of processed carbs, don’t judge. Maybe they just need some education about how to improve their diet. It’s not your job to correct them or look down on them.

The next time you see some thin person rocking some yoga pants, don’t assume they are healthy. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they are “better” than you just because they look like something the media has made us believe is the ideal.

To all the haters out there: Just. Stop. Who the F*** do you think you are?

Regardless of my size, or my health or the fact that I choose to go without makeup and fancy hair, I walk with my head held high because I know that I’m a good person. I’m someone who is kind. I do what I can to be as healthy as possible. How I look, what I believe or what food plan I choose to follow doesn’t make me any better or worse than the next person.

Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.