My New Favorite Diabetes “Free Food”

I want to start off by saying that I’ve never liked the term “free food,” whether that refers to an edible’s effect on diabetes management, weight, or anything else one might be concerned with. That disclaimer aside, I use the term to mean a food I can eat without immediately and involuntarily thinking about how it will eventually raise my blood glucose, even if only slightly. The list contains beverages such as water, tea, and coffee (although some people say caffeine has a noticeable effect on their bg, it does not seem to raise mine). I do not add anything to my coffee and put only a splash of unsweetened almond milk in my tea.

Which leads me to my newest craze, and revolution, inspired by a friend of mine who does not have diabetes, but who calls this his, “bedtime drink.”

Whole Foods Brand Unsweetened Almond Milk, heated.

It’s just that simple.

I heat it until it’s almost boiling, like as hot as I would drink tea. If it’s right before bed I have it plain. If it’s earlier in the day I’ll stir in a little bit of unsweetened cocoa (antioxidants!) and then sprinkle, carefully, a dash of cayenne on top.

It’s not a sweet drink, and the carbs are minimal: 2 – 3 grams max. My favorite thing to pair it with, depending on my blood sugar, is 2 blocks of any number of varieties of dark chocolate.

I don’t do the cocoa and cayenne at night because they keep me awake. Also, for people who are sensitive to spice, cayenne can be hard on the stomach. After working at an Indian restaurant for two years and learning to enjoy vindaloo sauce, I learned to love spicy.

Lest you be concerned that I’m promo’ing Whole Foods arbitrarily, this brand in particular is my jam because it does not contain carrageenan, which is an additive derived from seaweed that has been linked to cancer in some studies.

Please note (aka Disclaimer #2): I am not a dietician/nutritionist/or otherwise medical expert. My posts are not meant to advise, but rather to simply share my experiences. 

With a Minute to Spare

Chapter 2

So at 8:05 pm I’m sitting on the plane to Miami muttering, “Come on, come on,” under my breath, and hoping they start the engines soon. By 9:00 I felt like I had aged several years and my cortisol was jumping up and down like a jack russell terrier. I had one of those little in-flight tracker screens right in front of me, and although I enjoy many traditional flight hobbies like writing in my journal, doing crossword puzzles, and reading SkyMag, this time all I could bring myself to do, literally, for two hours, was watch that little plane icon move slowly through my home state (Georgia), and onwards towards the tip of Florida.

At 9:05 the estimated arrival time had jumped back from the original 10:15 (which remember would leave me with a total of 5 minutes to make my connecting flight) to 9:44 pm. I would have, calculating time for deboarding, at least 20 minutes of straight running time before the gate to my second flight closed. At this time, I did decide to update my journal. In it I wrote:

24 minutes to destino. Quick update, I’m on the plane. BG (blood glucose) is 320 mg/dl. Was so low in Raleigh that I couldn’t think. Didn’t take insulin for a long time. We are set to arrive @ 9:44 and then depart at 10:20. As long as no gate change I’ll be at F25 (only 20 gates away from where we arriving). I’m going to write an update at 10:40 pm saying I made it, and my BG will be perfect. Then I will fall into a nice sleep until 4 am, then write for an hour. Someday I’ll learn Portuguese.

This was my last journal entry for four days.

Back on the plane, as we declined in elevation towards our destination, I looked at the screen, then back at the overhead compartment, then at my purse, then at all the people around me, in a nervous loop. There were so many people in front of me, and I knew I had to get off of that plane. A flight attendant walked by. I asked her if she could help me. I said, “Hello there…I know this might be a weird request, but my connecting flight leaves at 10:20, and that lady up there, hers leaves pretty soon too, and if there’s any way we can get off this plane, like, first, or sooner, that’d be great.”

She agreed to make an announcement over the loudspeaker. She was very kind.

5 minutes later, as people rustled around and the captain updated us of our status repeatedly, a quiet announcement urging passengers to allow those with close connecting flights to depart first, was made. The attendant warned me that most likely, people would take little heed, especially those in first class.

And yet a door opened. Behind me, a couple on their way to an island off the coast of Florida, anticipating their vacation, had heard my anxious request. “You’ve got a close connector too?” One of the women asked. I sighed. “Yeah, it’s pretty close…” “Yeah ours got crunched with the delay. What’s yours?” she asked. I told her. “OH, that is close. That makes me feel pretty good about ours.” Despite this, she was very sympathetic. ”Here’s what you need to do,” she said. Follow us off of here and we’ll get you pointed towards the Sky Train. You’ve got to get on the Sky Train because where we are, you’re never gonna make it on foot all the way to your next gate. This airport is a giant.”

Now remember, our flight was arriving considerably early. It was 9:40, and we were descending towards a gentle landing. At 9:44 we touched down.

At 9:55 we were still waiting behind several other planes on a slow, slow pathway towards deboarding. Our huge machine idled in the queue. I began to feel flushed and frantic (noticing a theme?).

My friends from a few seats back knew that everything wasn’t going to go as smoothly as they’d originally presented. They amended the plan. “Ok, here’s what you’ve gotta do. As soon as we get up there, and they turn off the seatbelt sign, we’re gonna stand up and make an opening for you so you can get your backpack and get off of here. And then, don’t look back. Don’t wait for us, we’ll just slow you down. You gotta get off this plane and run like hell. You gotta get to gate 11 (9 gates away) and get on the Sky Train. I think you’ll have to go up some stairs…”

At that moment we docked.

The seatbelt sign went off.

My friends stood up, and I began to act.

I heaved my Osprey backpack from the overhead compartment and hiccupped down the aisle, meeting the line as it slowly moved off of the plane. I stepped onto the connecting bridge and could see the light of the airport at the other end, but I was still blocked by a throng of passengers. I tried to wait patiently because I don’t like pushing through crowds or running around other people who I could potentially crash into. So I slowly trudged along, until suddenly, in the Miami airport, at what was now 10:08 pm, I saw an opening, and I made a break for it.

My backpack was flapping on my back because I hadn’t buckled the waist strap and my purse was bouncing repeatedly into my stomach. If I had ever pushed myself this hard in high school track, I might have placed in a race. I had never run like this before. I also had never run before wearing a 35 lb. backpack. There was no one in the airport, no one out in front of me. Which is sort of a figure of speech because there were a few others, walking on the moving sidewalks which had been disabled because of how late it was. After about two minutes of running, my hair flying into my face, cheeks red, eyes wide, heaving breaths from the exertion, I see a business man and I think, he must know how this airport works. As I pass him on my right, I turn my head like a frenzied bull and with panic in my eyes I scream, “Where’s the Sky Train?!” “What?” he queries back. “THE SKY TRAIN?!!!”

I still don’t know where the Sky Train was. He failed my question a second time and I waved my hand at him in dismissal before continuing to sprint through the deserted airport.

Up ahead, one of those little cars was sitting horizontal in my path. As I approached it, I yelled to the conductor, “Please, sir, I’ve got to get to gate F25,” and instead of dodging it, I jumped on (not recommended behavior).

I learned my friend’s name, and where he was from, and that he had no faith that I would make my flight because moments before he had taken the last passenger who they were calling for over the loudspeaker to the very same gate.

I disagreed with him, but I was grateful for his kind presence and effort, nevertheless. We sped (at 5 mph) through the airport. My hair flew behind me, finally out of my mouth and eyes. I began to try to breathe again, although my lungs burned and my chest was tight. I was invigorated, I was going to make it. I had 1 minute before they would close the gate at 10:10 pm as we neared F25.

…To be continued.

Constant Resolution

As I alluded to in a recent entry, open conversation, not being silent, is still key right now. In the spirit of embodying my 2017 theme, I’m going to string together a few pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up from the various people who inspire me every day. Then I’ll talk briefly about diabetes, too.

My head is brimming lately with all these phrases and metaphors that my friends have shared with me as the wisdom that guides them around their busy lives. One of my friends, as we were driving down a street full of piles of leaves and Christmas decorations that had been taken halfway down, shared a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Holocaust protester and survivor, which I had heard many years ago but had forgotten until then. It’s important, and I don’t want to forget it again:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So much of what I have to be grateful for in my life comes from the friendships, like that I have with this friend, with wise women and men around the world who are searching for purpose and striving to be all they can be every day. Another friend of mine, who I’ve recently reconnected with, reminded me that we are never through becoming ourselves. And yet another, in a parallel conversation earlier this month, shared a favorite guiding quote of hers, “the most important thing in your life is…your life.”

Translating all that to diabetes management, as is the constant struggle, leaves me with some interesting reflections as well. In 2016 I left the pump and moved back to insulin injections. This was a really positive change for me. Interestingly though, so was the pump when I started with it. Which reminds me that diabetes management, like life, is not a static endeavor. Our needs change and being able and willing to adapt is a sign of healthy coping, not an indicator that we are failing or were wrong before.

Now I’m enjoying more fruit and less wheat, more cooked vegetables and spices and hopefully, just a little less hot sauce and salty condiments. I’m borrowing some wisdom from both my Southern mother and Chinese medicine, that cooking foods, especially in winter, makes the nutrients more accessible to the body and of course easier to digest.

And finally, my 2017 health resolution, both because it directly improves my blood sugar and because it makes me friendlier, is to prioritize sleep. I rang in the New Year with this theme last night. But I’m also hoping that regular sleep will also help me effectively abandon it when I have the chance to work on my last, little, other resolution, which is always my resolution, to dance more.

So in sum, may we never be done listening to each other, learning about life and ourselves, and resolving.

 

A Matter of Perspective

I went to a yoga class this weekend at the gym/community center where I work as the coordinator of preventive health programs. The yoga teacher knew me as such, a coordinator of a program for people with diabetes, not as a person with diabetes. With Type 1, I was still under cover, even though my omnipod sticks out in my tight yoga pants and threatened to give me away.

After a few moments of opening meditation and one or two poses, she walked over to my mat and said, “Hi Katie, nice to see you here.” I was surprised she knew my name, but we had met before and we pass each other in the hallway: usually she walking zen-like to class and me in a half-run back and forth to the fax machine. She squatted down next to me as she spoke and asked me if there was anything going on with my body she should know about like past injuries, issues, or any concerns at all. I scanned my internal landscape silently, and then sort of shook my head and shrugged ‘Nope.’ Usually at a studio I will mention to the teacher that I have type 1 and they may see me eating glucose tablets or drinking juice in the middle of class, but at the time I felt pretty stable in my bg and had my tablets handy, so I just went with that everything was just fine. She looked at me as I shook my head no and began to shake her head yes. She replied almost before I had spoke, “Yeah, you’re a pretty healthy lady,” as if to acknowledge her asking was just a formality, that she could see my health in a force field around me. And I felt a wave of gratitude for this part of me, the healthy part, which is always there with me even when diabetes is throwing me for a loop. The part that exits simultaneously with the other parts that throw me into exhaustion, dehydration, and frustration. We are not just a sum of the whole, but we are who we are based on the perspectives we allow in. So I am remembering today that labeling me with a chronic disease is just medical pragmatism, not the only reality. Find what works for you.

On the Road with Diabetes

Lately I’ve been on the road a lot. Which is a way I love to be! I love the adventure of navigating a new place. I like to go at it without a GPS (which is good since I don’t own one) and ask for directions as many times as possible from as many different people as I can. This seems strange, I know, but it is a fabulous way to discover the hidden nooks of a place and to get a sense of the general friendliness and openness of a community.

When you ask a local for directions, you can often tell right away how they feel about that place. People will light up when describing a route to you through a town or countryside that they love. They will shake their heads and look down and make scoffing, grunting sounds, or else, like when I landed in the worst neighborhood in San Francisco dragging my big red suitcase, with no cash, they will make purse-lipped, “Mhmm,” sounds with a furrowed brow and tell you not to make eye contact and to just keep moving. That’s not my style, so I asked a cop for directions further down the road hoping he might offer to transport me in his squad car. He didn’t, he just made more, “Mhmm,” sounds of worry and confusion for me.

When I’m traveling half of my mind is engrossed in the outer landscape and the other half is engrossed in my inner physiological landscape. I simultaneously hate and appreciate this. As much as I try to tell myself beforehand, “I’m going to just not care what my blood sugar is on this trip,” I always still do! When I have high blood sugar and have an hour or two of a drive yet, I feel like frustration is swelling inside of my heart. Having high blood sugar already makes me feel like a caged animal, and having it while being in a car is like that feeling times two. I can’t even (quite literally) shake it off, by going for a walk, or jog, etc. And I’m always puzzled between the fine dance of ‘conservative’ bolusing, so that I don’t go low if I’m driving, and extra bolusing or increased basal for the more sedentary time of travel.

Diabetes management thrives on routine or else requires the operator (me) to become a lot more involved. Which is the opposite of what I want to do on vacation. I want to say to my friends, “I don’t care where we go to dinner, take me to your favorite place!” Or, “Yeah, cheesecake sounds great!” Sometimes, I have an impulse to do that thing called…relaxing, where your mind sort of goes blank and you stop strategizing for the best possible way to achieve balance and you just sort of…veg.

But instead I pack a rigorous cooler full of literal veggies and nut butters, snack foods of all kinds, instant coffee (can’t really attribute that to diabetes, but it helps), and try to picnic as much as possible. The picnic is key because usually a good spot for picnicking is also a good spot for walking, which is a really useful tool on car trips. Often I park far from my ultimate destination and play the ‘ask for directions’ game on the way to wherever I’m going, which usually helps me get a good walk in. But I think the best outcome for me on the road comes from that good cache of snacks that I can use to fill-up a little before and meal at a restaurant that might not have as much to offer in the way of non-spiking foods or to munch on in the morning before my companions wake up. I would recommend the noble avocado, as the perfect snack for morning, afternoon, or night, compatible with sweet and savory, filling, and rich in happy making omega-3’s. I have more to say on this topic, but for now I’ve got to move.

Sometimes…

Diabetes,

you hit me like a ton of bricks.

Right when I think I’ve got it down (being a pancreas),

you remind me…

I’m not.

Nope.

In fact I’m not even close.
Well I’m somewhat close.

Today I walked to work.  The snow has all but melted and the sunshine was hot on my back this 60 degree February day.

And getting back home as the sun was setting over the mountains I thought about how even, how stable, how consistently under 150 my blood sugar had been.

Somehow my memory had erased the hour long low that hit after I finished teaching a yoga class, blurring time like a sand sculpture, an orange, pretzels, half a cookie eaten…

And I felt like the boss of diabetes.

Until tonight – Strangely after cooking a balanced meal, which isn’t always my reality, these busy days.

Grass-fed ground beef, broccoli steamed, and a few slices of baked Japanese sweet potato and purple potato with butter.

I’ve had a real potato craving for the past few days – unusual for me.

And now, 239, I wonder….

How can I be so relentlessly optimistic to believe for a portion of everyday that my blood sugar will never again go out of range?

But I am that hopeful (blissfully delusional).

For a few precious moments everyday,

I believe that it might be the way it once was,

when I didn’t even have to think about it.