Three Years After My Diagnosis: Where's My Head and Health At?

I began writing this blog a year or so after my shock of a diagnosis in summer of 2012 to help keep my focus on my health, but I didn't stick with it. While I had technically reversed my diabetes two years later - improving my hba1c blood glucose levels from 47 all the way down to the well-within-non-diabetic range score of 38 -  I found that I didn't want to focus on the documenting of my efforts on a daily basis, preferring to keep it all in my head most of the time.  

But now I feel different about my approach to my health, needing to re-focus and share what I'm doing. Last September I saw the nurse for my diabetes follow-up appointment, and because my hba1c results were consistently in the non-diabetic range and I was looking slimmer every time she saw me, she suggested I see the 'head diabetes doctor' to discuss my status being changed to non-diabetic in the NHS system. It's funny that when I'm told I don't have diabetes any longer, I find out there is a doctor in charge of the disease at my surgery! Amazing! That's right, no mention of this doctor at the time of my diagnosis or while I was trying to fight it. I never made the appointment. I didn't want my status changed. I need at least yearly monitoring to know that I'm doing ok, or get a wake up call if I'm slipping. Which is what has happened. After an extremely stressful year of a never-ending kitchen reno, I found myself doing things I had never done before, such as binge-eating cookies, really BIG sweet ones (never a problem previously) and doing it late a night when I should have been sleeping anyway. I was a mess and it showed in weight gain and was confirmed in a recent test that I'd slipped from 38 to 42. I'm on the threshold of non-diabetic and borderline. So it's time to get serious again. I've already lost 4lbs in the past week and I'm making sure I go to bed hungry. I'm hardly snacking at all and my meal portions are reasonable, an improvement of my summer habit of hoovering up everything I can find because it tastes good. I'll admit I don't have much willpower when it comes to portions, but upon returning from my summer-long holiday in Canada where I'm from, I have a natural appetite suppression which I think it's from the jetlag or something, so it's been a lot easier. I'm exercising as well, and you really do need to do both - move and be diligent with your food choices - to improve your glucose levels, but diet would appear to be the one you can't neglect. In other words, if you exercise a lot but still eat too much and too much of bad things, you won't get better no matter how far you walk and how many weights you lift. Take a look at this list of reading if you want to learn more about how calorie intake and diet can reverse diabetes. 

So from here on, we'll be looking at healthy recipes - all tasty - and exercises - all fun (mostly) to improve and maintain our health. It's a lifestyle and it has to be enjoyable or we just won't do it, and I'll be sharing what works for me to hopefully inspire you to find what works for you!

Health: How to Deal with Change


Dealing with change can be difficult especially when it comes to your health, so understanding it can make it a lot easier. Janice Haddon, Managing Director of Morgan Redwood and Founder of Thrive in Life, reveals her top tips on how to deal with change in a positive way…

‘Change is a way of growing beyond the person you thought you were into the deeper, stronger person you will become.’ - Susan Squellati Florence.

The one thing we can be sure of in life is that things change!

When a major part of our life changes, it is common for us to experience highs or lows.  Change impacts us all in many different ways and in all areas of our lives.We all go through a cycle of emotions when change hits us - the speed, timing and how we deal with it, varies from person to person.

There is no getting away from it so having the skills and strategies in how to deal with things is key.  If you are experiencing a particular change right now, you first need to understand what is happening, the impact it is having on you and then how you can positively deal with it.  In this article I will be giving you my top tips on how you can best deal with change when it comes to your health.

Some changes and life experiences fit with how we view ourselves – how we want life to be.  Other changes can completely shatter this view and alter how we thought things would turn out to be.

We may have seen our life heading in a certain direction, how our personal relationships would turn out, what our future would be like.  When we make changes that we are in control of – the things that we choose to change – then these things will generally be supportive of how we see our future. When we do not choose the change, it can have an impact on us that makes us want to ‘deny’ the change – to find a way of stopping it happening so we can go back to how we want things to be.

So when change is forced on us, like our health, we can cling to what we know rather than something that we don’t have any experience of. We cling to how things used to be or try to create things how we want them to be, rather than accepting a change that is being forced upon us where we feel out of control.

This type of situation can generate feelings of anxiousness or fear – which in turn can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response – where emotions are raised in a strong enough way to get up to ‘fight’ for what we want or to ‘flee’ to a place of safety.  There is also a third response where we freeze and are completely unable to do anything!  This is also why we can end up resisting change and trying to avoid certain situations, but it is important to understand your brain is simply trying to protect you!

The fact is when you are diagnosed and told you have an illness or medical condition it can come like a bolt out of the blue.  Often it is something that stops us dead in our tracks.  This wasn’t part of the life plan!

So if that is you – how do you deal with it?

Here are some things not to do:

  1. Don’t accept the ‘label’.  If you do you will spend all your time saying ‘I have ….’ Or ‘I am a …..’  As soon as you do that you are sending the negatives of that message out down your body.  And soon all your focus will be on every ache and pain that you can relate to the label.  It is important to take steps so you do not make yourself worse, but find the balance.
  2. Don’t look up all the scare stories on the internet.  Some can be helpful but too much can have the opposite effect and terrify you.  Again – not good messages to have flying around in your mind and cascading down your body.
  3. Try not to allow the shock to send you into feeling sorry for yourself.  A difficult thing to do I know, but if you can catch yourself with negative thoughts and not dwell on them you will have a better frame of mind to go forward positively.

So what can you do?

  1. Find positive approaches for dealing with it.  Your doctor will give advice – you can also mix this with sound nutritional advice and what exercise will be best to help you and not hinder your progress.
  2. Work out the positive steps you can take.
  3. Take time every day to consider the positives and things you can be grateful for – there will always be something.
  4. Make a plan for treatment or how you can deal with your illness or condition.
  5. Set yourself some goals – things you can do to make the most of every day, from things you might want to do and experience to things you can do to support your recovery or deal with your condition.  Then tell someone of your plans so they can support you.

You are so much more than your current circumstances.  So make the most of every day – keep a positive frame of mind and take steps each day to a positive you and a ‘you’ that will make the most of the body you have. Dealing_with_Change_Janice_Haddon

'Happify' Your Stress Away

I just burst out laughing because as I'm writing this post there's a rerun of the IT Crowd on behind me, one of the silliest and best British television comedies, and it ties right in with the topic. The company boss, dressed in a ridiculous gladiator-cyclist getup, announces to the entire office that he's declaring WAR ON STRESS! And well, I'll let you watch the scene and see how it plays out because everything is available on the interwebs, including this. (Interestingly, while I was watching the clip an ad popped up telling me people are spying on me. That'll raise the heart rate a bit. No, I did not click the ad.)

As you saw, the comedy is in Denholm's approach to conquering the problem of stressed-out employees ("In the time I've been speaking, 80 million people have died...of STRESS!") which in essence is to intimidate and threaten the staff into dealing with their stress - a failproof strategy! Of course Denholm seems to be the only one in the place who is actually stressed out, until he began his rant and freaked everyone out, that is. 


So how do we deal with stress? We all have our methods - yoga, reading, beating pillows with baseball bats (just me?) - yet stress remains a niggling, unwelcome part of our lives. It disrupts our productivity and keeps us from being content and happy, and at its worst, it can lead to physical and mental illness. So you want to nip it in the bud if things aren't that rough yet, and take back control if it's gone to a bad place. I've been through periods of stress and anxiety that were so bad I thought I was going to wind up like one of those people found naked and shouting incoherently in the street. (Luckily the closest I got to that was getting caught talking to myself while walking on the beach, but that's normal for me and I knew exactly what I was doing so it doesn't count.) I'm fine now, but we need to work every day to keep on top of stress, and I found something that has helped keep me focussed on the positive. (This is where you begin to worry that I'm recruiting for a cult. No way, I don't look good in jumpsuits.) A few months ago I received an invitation to try the beta version of a new site called Happify that offers activities to make you happier (that was for The Swelle Life but it's such a good fit for this blog so here we are). I was at first a bit apprehensive and approached it literally looking at my screen sideways so as not get sucked into anything weird, but after reading the rationale behind it, the science, and recognising the concepts as ones that I know to work, I jumped in. What I love about the site is it's a nice, calm and 'happy' place to go which counts for something in itself, and the activities, grouped within 'tracks' that you choose for areas you want to work on, are geared to achieve a specific objective, and they're effective. You can do a few activities a day but you can't really rush through and do too much, it's timed so that progress is achieved at a relaxed, steady pace. And this I really appreciate: you are not poked with emails every single day - have you noticed how relentless promotional emails have become? Happify won't bug you constantly, it stays true to its mission to make life nicer. You might get a bit of gentle prompting to continue at the beginning which I did not find intrusive at all and rather helpful because I'd forgotten to go back, and sometimes they send emails for special topics which I put into a folder so I can refer to them later. Overall, the site helps me focus  - the 'savor' skills are good for keeping you in the moment - and stay positive, which is great because concentration and avoiding negative thoughts are my two biggest challenges.  

Happify is now open to the public so you can try it yourself here. At the moment they've opened up the premium tracks for everyone and they cover every aspect of your life that you might want to work on including stress (of course!), confidence, success at work, raising happy and resilient kids, relationships, etc. There's a social aspect to it as well, but you can choose to make your results private, and there's no pushing you to interact, but it's there if you want to see what others are up to. Hope it helps you, too!

The Story

TheSwelleLife_Farm_kitchen (1 of 1)
No, I don't eat plants for dinner! This is the Farm Kitchen restaurant created by Mette at 100% Design, part of the London Design Festival, in September. It was part of an installation that offered so much inspiration for creating a 'living' kitchen in our own homes which is a very positive influence for those looking to live a healthy life.

Aesthetic Diabetic is a blog for anyone who wants to live a healthier life. Eat better. Become more fit. Be happier. It is essentially the documenting and sharing of the way I live my life since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at 41 years old in the summer of 2012 - and reversing it six months later without medication or insulin. (My hba1c reading was in the non-diabetic range at my 6 month checkup.) But first I went through denial, shock, confusion, anger and bitterness - fun! There is no special diabetic diet, other than avoiding refined sugar and fatty foods and getting regular exercise. Sound familiar? Yes! It's the way we should all be living anyway! The way you manage diabetes, and reverse it if you're lucky to catch it early like I was and get on top of right away, is to do all of those things that you probably meant to be doing already. 

Do I live a perfect life, then? Hell no! The pretty neat thing about my reversal of diabetes is that I didn't have to go ultra hardcore to do it. I wasn't exercising hours each day and eating nothing but lean protein and steamed veg. Yes, I did and do exercise each day and eat a balanced diet, with treats here and there. The key is consistency, and finding a balance that's right for you so you can maintain it indefinitely, and there is no better motivation than wanting to show a chronic condition who's boss. That's what it took for  me. I still consider myself a diabetic because I have to live as one because I don't want to slip back into an unhealthy lifestyle and risk complications from diabetes. Makes sense, eh? (And anyway, I think once you've been diagnosed as diabetic you kind of always are one.)

So, what's the difference between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes? They are completely different. In the simplest terms, Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce insulin. You cannot identify a person with Type 1 diabetes by looking at her or him, and they depend on the regular administering of insulin to live. Type 2 diabetes occurs when our cells are 'locked' and the insulin can't get into the cell to deal with the excess glucose in our system, and having excess glucose in our system means the body has to work extra hard to get rid of it, and that can cause all kinds of serious health problems that are very undesirable. Some Type 2 diabetics need medication and some can manage it through diet and exercise; I was lucky to fall into the latter category. This is cool: exercise opens the closed cells and I can attest first hand to just how effective regular exercise is at managing Type 2 diabetes. If you live a healthy lifestyle, you can pretty much avoid Type 2 diabetes for most of your life, if not completely. 

How did I get Type 2 diabetes? I know exactly how. Here it is as a timeline:

  1. Got married, had a baby, and moved to a new country within nine months, leaving support network of family and friends behind. (We moved from Canada to the UK for my husband's work. He gave me the final say and despite it killing me to leave, I couldn't bear for him to miss an opportunity he had worked very hard for and deserved. And with a new baby we needed the financial stability.)
  2. Arrived in the UK with post-natal (or post-partum) depression. I didn't mention it to the doctor because I didn't realise I had post-natal depression, thinking it was 'normal' to be feeling like I was nuts because of everything I'd been through. 
  3. Began taking anti-depressants two years later when I'd nearly completely lost it and it finally became clear I was suffering from depression. 
  4. Gained weight rapidly but don't clue in it's the medication because weight gain is not listed as a side effect. 
  5. Feeling better mentally but still getting fat, especially around the middle. Get told at Charles de Gaulle airport that I'm 'too pregnant to fly' - best moment EVER! 
  6. A couple years later go off meds when I realise they're making me fat. I'd been fine for a long time by then. 
  7. Lost some weight through exercise, then inflamed a joint in my foot. Stopped exercising while it was healing but didn't modify my routine to keep it up - regrets!
  8. Gained most of the weight back. 
  9. Started noticing I'm not feeling well and always ridiculously thirsty but figured I was just tired and drinking too many dehydrating drinks and not enough water. Got a chest infection that would not go away for months so I went to the doctor and had a blood test.
  10. Got called back to do a fasting glucose test. Nearly fell off my chair when the nurse told me they were looking for diabetes.
  11. Got called back for a second fasting glucose test.
  12. Told by the doctor on my mobile in an alleyway that my tests confirmed I was diabetic. I was told to wait for a call from the diabetic team that may come in 2-3 weeks (it never came) and warned 'don't google it'. Went back into the cafe where I was with a group of mums and their toddlers who didn't really seem to understand what I was telling them. I left pretty much hating them all for staring at me blankly when my life had just changed forever in an alley. (My close friends were much more sympathetic, and to be fair, it was chaos with all the kids running around so who knows if they even heard what I said.)
  13. Got over the self pity after bucketloads more of it and then got down to business.
  14. And here I am a year on, a new person! I've lost almost all of the weight and am probably the healthiest I've ever been because of the consistent exercise and sugar control. 

So in summary, I gained a lot of weight, especially around the middle - I turned into a human rectangle - was still drinking something that rhymes with 'Moke' every day, wasn't really exercising any more, and with a bit of the 'betes in my DNA (paternal grandmother got it later in life and so did my dad), voila - I developed Type 2 diabetes. I wasn't even all that fat, or fat for all that long, how unforgiving was this thing? (Excess stomach fat is directly related to Type 2, and I definitely had that.) Let's not discount the toll stress can take, and depression leaves you vulnerable to diabetes as well - if it wasn't already crappy enough! I was also extremely frustrated, like to tears, that the 'diabetic team' at my surgery never did call for my first appointment. After many phone calls I finally got in and then the diabetic nurse I saw was obviously not well versed in diabetes and how to deal with those who are newly diagnosed. I nearly ground my teeth down to a fine powder. However, I am happy to say that the Diabetes Resource Centre at the local hospital is excellent and thanks to the dietician and podiatrist (they're specialists in diabetes) and the time they took to fully explain everything, I was able to take control of my condition. They also host a workshop on Type 2 diabetes that is run by Desmond at Newcastle University and it's excellent. They explain everything you need to know, they welcome questions about you as an individual and give you advice tailored to your specific circumstances. I can't describe how helpful all of this was after the rough start I had. 

A funny note: While attending an appointment for a diabetes retinal scan (to detect damage in the eye) a few months after my diagnosis, I saw a flyer recruiting Type 2 diabetes patients for research at Newcastle University. I recognised the names as the people involved in a rather groundbreaking study at the school. I called and spoke with a woman on the team who asked a few questions about my situation. In the end, I was told I wasn't fat enough for the study. NOT. FAT. ENOUGH. Haha! I couldn't believe it. (It's worth mentioning that I had heard several times at the surgery that I didn't fit the profile of a diabetic. Sort of comforting, very confusing to hear 'We don't know why you got this.") Their previous study had reversed the subjects' Type 2 diabetes and I wanted in. Effectively, they starved the pancreas with a 600 daily calorie diet to remove the excess fat and restore normal pancreatic function (which confuses me because I was told Type 2 is about locked cells, not poor pancreatic function) and I just wasn't big enough to fit their ideal subject for this particular study. I did mention that while I wasn't huge all over, I did have a disproportionate amount of fat around my middle from the weight gain on the anti-depressants, and she acknowledged they suspect a link between belly fat and Type 2 diabetes as well, and that I might be useful in a future study exploring this. Too late, I've gotten rid of most of it! 

So why 'Aesthetic' Diabetic? I've been writing a blog called The Swelle Life since 2008 and can't help but work design and beautiful imagery into this blog as well. There's no reason a diabetic life can't be a beautiful one. 

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your own stories about living with diabetes or just generally trying to lead a healthier life!

(Please bear with me while I finish designing this blog!)

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