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Andie's story: How Learning Zone is helping me

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Andie

January 2021

The weird thing is I actually eat more often now than I used to — three meals and two snacks every day.

Andie has lost two and a half stone in the nine months since she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by changing her eating habits.

Diagnosis

Lockdown

When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in January of this year (2021) I wasn’t an ounce surprised. My dad’s lived with type 2 diabetes for ten years, and five and a half years ago I was told I had prediabetes - I did also have gestational diabetes with my daughter eleven years ago - so by the time I was diagnosed I was already doing regular blood tests to monitor my prediabetes

I actually found getting my type 2 diagnosis in the coronavirus winter lockdown a helpful time to focus on my health and start trying to make changes to my routine. Being post-Christmas and shielding during a lockdown, as well as not being in work as schools were closed, I’d probably been picking back up some less healthy eating habits, and I was definitely moving less. So in a strange way, it was a good time because it got me back on track with better habits. 

Life with diabetes

Getting back into a routine

When I wasn’t having to work, I wasn’t going to restaurants or squeezing in rushed meals when life got hectic - it was easier, because I could be more controlled about what I was eating, had time to check my blood sugar and take my medications at the right time. I must admit it’s got harder again now I’m back working at the school - if I don’t have time to heat up the healthy lunch I’ve brought in, I’ll end up eating in the school canteen (I’d never normally eat a white bread roll these days if I can help it!). 

Activity

When my daughter’s at her kickboxing class I’ll always still fit in even a 30 minute class, which is more than I was doing before. It’s also given me time to explore ways to take care of my health and put them into practice. 

Diabetes UK and me

Finding Learning Zone

When I was searching for support online, I found Diabetes UK's Learning Zone. I’ll admit that I did start out with a bit of a jaded mindset - I thought I was just going to be told to have tiny portion sizes, stop eating everything I love and feel miserable. But once I’d signed up to Learning Zone and taken the health MOT I realised —  'this is just what I need'.

When you’re diagnosed with diabetes you get a blood glucose monitor, and you’ll be given lots of information from the experts. But you don’t necessarily remember off the top of your head what your blood sugars should be before you eat, or exactly what food you need to eat to correlate with your blood sugars, in day to day life.
 

Learning Zone for me is about helping me to understand what changes in my blood sugars mean, noticing patterns, and knowing what’s going to help me manage my diabetes best.

I’ve learnt that I don’t have to stop having the things I love, there are just healthier ways of keeping them in my life! 

Food and healthy eating

Losing weight without 'missing out'

My favourite thing about using Learning Zone is adapting my favourite recipes.

The weird thing is — I actually eat more often now than I used to - three meals and two snacks every day. But I’ve lost two and a half stone since my diagnosis at the start of the year — and it’s been through small increments so I still don’t ever feel like I’m ‘missing out’. in fact, the diet I’ve been supported to adopt through the Learning Zone is the most enjoyable I’ve ever tried. 

Fake Nandos

I properly love a takeaway — but thanks to the Fakeaway Food hacks in Learning Zone we have a ‘fake Nandos’ every other week in our house and haven’t had a Nandos takeaway since last year! I know what’s going in it and can take out the less healthy elements — and my daughter loves it! The food hacks have made me think differently and consider other possibilities - if I do get a takeaway, I’ve learnt which ones are more healthy. I might get Turkish now instead of pizza, because I know they’ll do lots of veggies and bulgur wheat. 

Food is really important to me and I was finding it virtually impossible to find healthy alternatives to West Indian and Caribbean food online, which is what I grew up on. It’s very carb-heavy — you’ll have rice, dumplings, yam, dasheen, eddoes, a rum cake and mac and cheese — and usually at least one thing will be fried too, and there’s a lot of pressure in a typical Indian or Caribbean family to eat a bit of everything. 

Healthy swaps

What I’ve been finding helpful from Learning Zone is knowing what are the best choices to make that fit into my life — like brushing food over with oil instead of deep frying it. I’ve started making samosas in the oven instead of frying them, and swapping potatoes for sweet potatoes — which is a game changer! 

Even going out  to restaurants, I’ve learnt some healthier swaps — cauliflower and aubergine curries in an Indian restaurant are healthier and more filling, and I’ve managed to get my friends into vegetables they’d have never eaten before! 

When certain foods and ways of cooking are such a central part of the culture you’ve grown up in, it can take a little while to adjust - I’ve explained to my mum that I’ll eat rice and peas with her, but will cook my own so I can swap the rice for brown rice and use less coconut.

Even if cooking food isn’t something you’re confident about, I’ve found that you get familiar with your favourite recipes from Learning Zone and they start becoming second nature once they’re under your belt. Sometimes there’s nothing like pressing the reset button and Learning Zone really makes that easier to do. 

Different treats

There are so many little things I’ve picked up from Learning Zone that are easy to keep in my routine: I can still have chocolate (which I absolutely love) but instead of having a whole bar of dairy milk now, I’ll get 6 little Hotel Chocolat low sugar range chocolates, and have one of those as a treat with a cup of tea at the end of the week. They’re so much tastier it’s worth waiting for! And Learning Zone was how I found out that grapes are a big no no — and a lower sugar swap would be having an apple every day — nobody tells you that! 

Sharing the learning

Learning Zone hasn’t just helped me. It’s helped make a difference to the children with type 1 diabetes in the school where I work. We bake a lot at school to raise money, and I’ve been able to learn recipes from Learning Zone that I can share with them, and that I can bring into school so they can participate in. Before they'd have missed out on activities like this.

And that’s so important to me. I try to share things that I get from Learning Zone with the parents of the children I work with  — the information is out there, but sometimes there is so much, it helps to be given it in bitesize chunks  — and from a reliable source. I hope that it’s helping these kids learn from a young age that their diabetes doesn’t have to stop them from taking part in things  — and helping them feel more confident about managing their diabetes. 

 

Emotions

Removing stigma

A huge thing for me is that I don’t see my diabetes as an illness, but rather a condition that I have to manage (which I had initially been ill from). I’ve got a few other conditions too, and the fact Learning Zone has given me simple, straightforward and easy-to-understand information I can build into my day-to-day life has made such a huge difference in making my life more manageable, and enjoyable. 

I once worked with someone who lost his foot due to type 2 diabetes complications. I don’t think he ever really came to terms with his diagnosis and the lifestyle changes he’d have to make to manage it. I think for certain groups of people — for example perhaps older men, who have maybe not grown up feeling comfortable to feel through or talk about their vulnerabilities. Being able to see videos of people like you talking openly about their diagnosis, and normalising type 2 diabetes rather than it being something you have to be ashamed of — would make such a huge difference to accepting and being able to live better with their diabetes.

If sharing my experience helps someone understand there are tools out there that can help them feel a little less scared, anxious, or overwhelmed - I am very happy.

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