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By Ashley M.
I had a long history of being overweight, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t a major concern of mine.
In graduate school, what did it matter that I sometimes arrived 30-45 minutes early for class so I could be sure of finding a desk that I fit into comfortably? When I finished my M.A., I barely fit into the Master’s graduation gown (which, to be fair, was oddly fitted) and instead opted to walk at my graduation wearing the one from my undergraduate ceremony (telling myself and others that it was “good luck”).
After graduate school, I relocated 1,000 miles from home to start my career. Who cared if I dealt with my work stress by turning to food? When things got crazy in spring 2010, I was coming home everyday exhausted, with a raging headache, and binging on things like cookies as if I would never eat again.
I noticed that I felt sick a lot of the time and I got my first-ever yeast infection. I went to Planned Parenthood and was given Diflucan, but the infection didn’t clear up, and I ended up needing another pill a few weeks later. I told the nurse practitioner I saw there that I was under a lot of stress, and she ended up prescribing five weeks of pills (with six months of refills) for me as “maintenance” for the yeast infection.
At the time, I didn’t think anything of this, but that was my first sign that my blood glucose levels were out of control. Oddly enough, my pants were also looser, and I wondered that I could be eating like crazy and still losing weight. This was yet another sign; uncontrolled diabetics cannot process glucose properly, due to insulin resistance or a poorly functioning pancreas, or both; and so lose weight despite hunger and overeating.
Since I finally had health insurance again (I had spent the previous six years with only that most American of health insurance plans: a First-aid kit and a wish), I made an appointment and saw a doctor in July 2010. It was a standard physical, and she sent me for blood work, and it wasn’t until the doctor called me a few weeks later that I found out that my fasting blood glucose was in the 260s. Normal non-diabetic fasting blood glucose is 100 milligrams per deciliter or less, pre-diabetic is 100-125, and diabetic blood glucose is 126 and above.
I went back to the doctor August 16, 2010, and was officially diagnosed, at the age of 26.
Diabetes does run in my family, and I knew that I hadn’t been taking care of myself, but this was the most unpleasant wake-up call of my life. I didn’t know if I could change my fate, but I vowed to try.
After my initial diagnosis, my doctor sent me to the diabetes self-management program at a local hospital. The staff taught me how to count carbohydrates and otherwise manage my disease on my own. They also taught me about the hemoglobin A1c test.
This blood test measures what percentage of the blood’s hemoglobin is glycated, or coated with sugar, and gives an average number for the previous two to three months. The higher this number, the worse your blood sugar control is, and persistent high blood sugar leads to the complications associated with diabetes. My A1c at diagnosis was 9.7%. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says to shoot for 7%. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists says 6.5%. The normal range for this test varies depending on whom you ask, but WebMD says between 4.0-5.6%.
As a control freak, I was determined to manage the hell out of my diabetes, and not rely solely on my doctor. I thought of my fight as starting a long walk at the bottom of a big hill. I started walking up it slowly, breathing hard.
I had always hated to exercise. I avoided getting sweaty and looking stupid and out-of-shape. But the day of my diagnosis, I got a membership at the local YMCA. Come hell or high water, I would exercise. The YMCA facilities were pathetic, so within two months, I jumped ship for an extremely nice athletic club that was across the street from the YMCA.
The facilities were wonderful, and I would rotate my workout through running/walking laps on the indoor track, using the rowing machines, stationary bikes, and elliptical trainers, swimming laps, and taking a Saturday morning aquacise class (I was the youngest woman in the class by a good 30 years). I would also walk in my neighborhood and at a local trail and ride a bicycle. I was exercising at least 30 minutes every day, and this is a habit that has persisted, even after I quit the club due to the price. I now genuinely love to exercise and my habit the last few months has been to walk at least 3 miles every day.
I wrote down everything I ate, and counted carbohydrates religiously. In the same journal, I was writing down my daily blood glucose levels (I checked myself as often as four times a day) and I was writing down my weight once a week.
The doctor prescribed metformin, which is a very basic diabetes drug; it works by stopping the liver from dumping excess glucose into the blood. My hemoglobin A1c number dropped dramatically once I started exercising and eating right. Two months after diagnosis, I was tested by my doctor and had reached 6.5%. I was ecstatic!
Three months later, I was down to 4.6%, and began easing off metformin (for several months I had been taking it twice a day; this was my highest dosage). Three months later, down to one dose a day, A1c was 5.4%.
I’ve been off metformin entirely since April 2011, which was eight months after my diagnosis. Since then, my A1c has remained in the non-diabetic range, putting me into remission. My last test, which I did at home, found me at 4.9%, my lowest number since January 2011. I no longer do regular blood glucose checks with a meter, which has been very beneficial to my bank account; those test strips aren’t cheap!
By September 2011, I had lost over 110 pounds.
It is difficult to say what my starting weight was; I didn’t own a scale until a month after my diagnosis, and prior to that, my highest measured weight was taken at Planned Parenthood, for my yeast infection, and it was 271 pounds. I had already lost some weight by then due to the disease, perhaps 5-10 pounds. September 2011 found me at 160 pounds, give or take a few.
In the low 160s, I stopped actively losing weight, and I have been maintaining since then. As a result of my dramatic weight loss after so many years of obesity, I have a lot of loose skin and flesh. I like to say that I look wonderful in clothing, but I’m still getting used to myself naked.
It’s been interesting seeing how something like losing weight has changed everything about my life. I deal with stress now by exercising. I have a lot more pride in my physical appearance. I have such a drive to get out and take on the world, after years of merely occupying space.
I recently ended my very first romantic relationship (almost 15 years, with 6 of that being marriage), and I wonder now if I would have figured out that I was unhappy and unfulfilled if I hadn’t grown up so much and taken control of my body and my life. Life isn’t a fairy tale and sometimes, young love isn’t forever.
Sadly, I was laid off from my job at the end of last summer, and now I am looking for a new one in a new place. And I’ve met a man who makes me feel the way I’ve always wanted to feel, and I love the person I am when I am with him. I will be turning 29 this year and I feel as if my whole life is still ahead of me.
There is no cure for diabetes, contrary to what some magazines will tell you, and only type 2 can be managed to the point that a patient does not require medication or insulin. I know that if I don’t take care of myself, if I fall back into my old lifestyle, I’ll be at risk again, and I know that this will probably get harder as I get older.
So in the meantime, I’m going to keep exercising, watching what I eat, and taking care of my body; it’s the only one I’ve got.