Note: I may move future posts on this subject to a special dietary page, but would like to introduce the topic here at this time. In the future, I may finally begin to address the critically important issue of food security, however, as my thinking on this subject is now, of course, evolving.
I try to be a quick study on any topic, especially those that are, more or less, suddenly dumped into my lap with a short fuse. It seems appropriate to put my recent diabetes diagnosis in that category. So, first things first with such a challenge, I read everything I can. What I’ve learned is this: I’m not a diabetes expert, but I am doing the best I can to quickly become an expert on my diabetes.
Of course, this is a pretty important distinction and, I think, the only one that really matters (to me). I really don’t need to become an expert on anyone else’s condition but mine. Still, there are a few (possibly) universal principles that have to be learned too.
Although the data and opinions on the subject vary quite a lot, I have learned that, generally, diabetes is understood to be a chronic disease and one that has no official “cure” (more on that in a moment). It is also greatly individual, exhibiting unique symptoms and parameters for each person, depending on their age, general health, and how long they’ve suffered the condition.
Most important to understand, however, is this: Diabetes is a metabolic problem. Our metabolic systems are the mechanisms by which we turn food (as fuel) into energy required for our breathing, pumping blood, thinking, and locomotion. In the most simplistic view, managing our metabolism is as simple as basic automotive mechanics.
You might be a fuel sipping commuter, a race car, a crosstown bus, a long-haul trucker, a showroom classic, or a junker up on blocks in the back yard. In the end you simply have to match the quantity and quality of fuel to the engine available (or required) to do the job at hand.
It may seem obvious to anyone but those who, by force of habit and/or clever marketing, seem to believe it is (somehow) a “biological right” to eat whatever you want, but, if you have developed a taste for high-octane race car fuels, you’d better live like a race car.
If you don’t, well, you’ll get the human equivalents of a gummed up fuel system, flooded cylinders, pre-detonation, burnt spark plugs, terrible mileage, worn rings, and worse, blue smoke out the tailpipe. All machines, the human one included, need air to burn fuel and a delivery system that is sized to the needs of the powertrain. Our bodies may be more complex than the average NASA rocket, but, in the end, these processes are fairly universal.
And, here, this is a pretty significant discovery: Our bodies are amazingly complex systems. They are designed (yes, I said it) to work through a dizzying array of algorithms in order to optimize physical and mental performance, prevent harm, perform repairs, to survive hardship, to adapt to changing conditions and/or a variety of fuel sources, and, in the end, to maintain a stable homeostatic state of readiness and growth for as long as possible.
Ever wonder just what was encoded in all that apparent “junk” DNA? Well, you might get the idea, here, when you consider the manner in which your body has to determine how your food fuels are used, stored, anticipated, and, ultimately converted into motion, hair, fingernails, fat, blood, motion, and thought.
Anyway, I digress a bit. Depending on the damage done – a function of our basic (genetic) design and how long we’ve abused our bodies, it seems that we can lose virtually all hope of normalcy, if by “normalcy” we mean the metabolism of a nineteen year-old cross-country runner. But, then, sitting in a recliner eating cheese-doodles watching Jerry Springer (or the Jersey Shore) will do that to even the most fit race horse.
Equally, as I myself have discovered, given enough time, even relatively benign habits can accrue significant damage. I never thought my diet was overly bad. I was never a junk-food or sweets & soda pop addict. Being a capable cook, I tended to avoid most processed foods, and even most restaurant food. I built my diet, generally, on the classic food pyramid, included plenty of fruits and vegetables. And, while I wasn’t obsessive about it, I worked to minimize saturated fats in my diet, including red meats, eating more fish and poultry, cooking with olive oil, and eating whole grains, though not exclusively.
I was also sort of moderately active. Not greatly so, but I’ve always had an interest in “doing things”, rather than just watching them happen on the boob-tube. There were, of course, daily and seasonal fluctuations to the level of activity, but I hunted and fished, puttered around the home, built things, played guitar, did more, I think, than your average suburbanite.
But, none of these moderate habits were enough to protect me from diabetes. Even without much evidence of genetic (familial) predisposition, I found myself at the age of 51 with 80 extra pounds of fat on my body, a fasting BG above 200, an A1C in the 10 range, and blood pressure spiking at 160/110. Not good.
So, here’s what I’ve learned about my diabetes: What we think is moderate and sensible is often, frequently (maybe always) wrong. What we are told by the so-called “experts” is often, frequently (maybe always) wrong. With the cheapest and most abundant food supply on the planet, we are killing ourselves slowly in front of TV sets chock full of pharma ads for every ailment under the sun. Even when we live (what we believe to be) active lifestyles with (what we believe to be) sensible and moderate diets. For many, this just isn’t working.
And, for what it’s worth, what passes for “science” in the modern age often doesn’t help us out all that much. There is conflicting evidence for every notion, theory, finding, and allegation. In the end, of course, we’re all doomed, destined to “throw off this mortal coil”, as it were. But, the quality of our lives, in the mean time, can be optimized, perhaps resorting to the best science of all, pure common sense.
Whether or not you believe we evolved on the plains of Africa over millions of years or not, natural food and natural lifestyles are still fairly easy to define and understand. What is not natural is overly-processed-chem-ag-manufactured food and an overly-mechanized-sedentary-desk-and-couch-bound-hermetically-sealed-environmentally-controlled-electromagnetic-bathed-environment.
Put these two vectors together and what do you get? Big-pharma-style longevity, complete with Depends, Ensure, and long-term Alzheimer care, assuming you last long enough to win the booby prize. For those of us going forward, however, you can bet that our oh-so “enlightened society” will soon be more closely evaluating the relative merit of these tax-sucking, “useless eaters”.
But, who really cares about all that, if you’d really rather be dead….or more accurately oscillate daily/hourly between dread and dead? Paralyzed by fear and fatigue, you are not (as my Dad used to say) living up to your potential, now are you?
So, anyway, that’s the essence of the plan. I’m grateful (and feel blessed) to have been forced to come to grips with the obvious. This blog, of course, is intended to help identify and deal with the obstacles that hinder our pursuit of “a reasonable life”. One might say, charitably I hope, that any of my own observations on the subject might be more practical once I’ve taken the “log out of my own eye”. Touche’.
The bottom line, of course, is that we all might hope to keep learning and tightening up our knowledge and understanding of what I like to call “things of value”. One of these, now, is coming to grips with the damage that accrues from even seemingly benign habits and the gap between where we are now and where we should be.
As for my diabetes, prompt and moderately severe changes in my diet and daily activity level was able to bring my blood glucose readings within fairly “normal” limits within two weeks, without medication (other than for blood pressure). I’ve been producing basically normal daily average glucose levels (sub-110 or 5.5) for the past five weeks. I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds, down a total of 55 from my peak, with “only” another 25 or so to go.
My target metabolism, like my target weight, are going to evolve. I don’t know yet what level of optimum performance I’ll be able to achieve. My relatively severe curtailment of carbs in my diet (sub-75 grams per day) of the first two weeks, have now moderated to more reasonable levels near to 150-200 grams per day, roughly equal to 30%-35% of my total caloric intake.
I have no assurance that I’ll ever see a big bowl of spaghetti or a 4 slice pizza dinner or an ice cream sunday dessert in my future. Maybe, maybe not. It may not matter much, however, if I’m too busy doing all the things that need doing.
Like Newton told us, “bodies in motion tend to stay in motion”. So, hey, would love to chat, but I’ve sat here long enough.