Emma, a working mum of six-year-old twins, lives in Soham, Cambridgeshire. Devastated by her diagnosis with Type 2 diabetes, she was left to find information on her condition by herself. Determined to make changes to her diet and lifestyle, Emma has lost 19kg. Emma hopes that documenting her journey on our Learning Zone will not only help her reach her goal of losing more weight and coming off diabetes medication, but also help others newly diagnosed with Type 2.
Has lived with Type 2 diabetes for just over a year
“I was always at the back of the queue. I took care of everyone apart from myself – mum first, wife first. But if I’m not happy, I’m not healthy, then it will affect everyone.”
Emma's journey with diabetes
- Now 33, Emma was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in March 2018.
The stigma of having Type 2 has left Emma feeling ashamed and embarrassed about her diagnosis.
Emma knew that she had to change her diet and lifestyle to be healthier, fitter and happier – for the sake of her six-year-old twins and her husband.
She’s had very little support from her GP, but has been helped by her family and friends to stick to her goal of losing more weight and coming off all diabetes medication (known as diabetes remission).
Emma is documenting her year in monthly videos for My Diabetes Year on Learning Zone, sharing her challenges, discoveries and tips and advice.
Back in August 2017, away on holiday in Cyprus, I had a really bad chest infection and ended up spending four days in hospital with pneumonia. Looking back, I wonder if the infection was made worse by the fact that – at the time – I obviously had undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.
In hospital, they said my blood sugar levels were high and suggested I get them checked by my GP when I got home. But I remember thinking: ‘It won’t happen to me, I won’t get diabetes’, and I wasn’t in a rush to see my doctor about it.
I was overweight, so I wanted to lose some weight before I went to my doctor to have any blood tests. I lost 7kg and then saw my GP the following February. At that point, I didn’t think that my results were going to be that bad.
When I got my blood test results, my HbA1c was 100mmol/mol. My dad has Type 2 and my mum’s a nurse, so I knew anything over 48mmol/mol was diabetes.
"My doctor was really laid back about it all, gave me a leaflet and told me to come back in three months."
She also said she’d refer me for a diabetes education course – I heard nothing for a year and had to chase this up myself.
"After my diagnosis, I was devastated – I felt like my life was over. I got my metformin and then sat in the car on the phone to my mum and sobbed my heart out."
I just kept thinking: ‘What do I do now? How do I sort this out?’ I had to find all the information about diabetes myself.
I truly believed that I’d be fine – I wouldn’t go on to develop diabetes. But I now realise I could probably have prevented it, and that’s part of what I felt ashamed about. I now work so hard to make sure it doesn’t progress. I’m determined and I know I can get on top of this.
Only those closest to me know about my diabetes, as I’m still embarrassed about it. I feel there’s a stigma – people just think it’s because you’re overweight that you get Type 2 diabetes. When I first found out what my HbA1c was, it took me 10 minutes to tell her – I was so embarrassed.
People can be horrible and I think that’s why I haven’t really told anyone. It gives people a reason to be mean to me. And I don’t want people to think badly of me.
"I get really upset when I think there are people who would judge me."
Friends and family
My dad has lived with his diabetes for 23 years, but hasn’t changed his lifestyle – he just takes lots of tablets. He still eats chocolate and lots of carbs, but I refuse to be like that.
"I’m too young and I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me. So I have to keep well."
I’m determined I’m not going to end up like that.
My husband is a personal trainer and fitness freak, and was always worried I’d develop diabetes. After my diagnosis, my husband was initially a bit like, "I told you so", but now he’s really proud of what I’ve achieved as I’ve lost a lot of weight. My mum has never seen anyone drop their HbA1c so fast, the way I have.
He and my mum would sometimes comment when I ate certain things, but they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. But as soon as my eating habits were brought up, I could feel myself stiffening and not wanting to listen.
I know that my husband feels that my diagnosis is the best thing that happened to me – in a way – and feels that I would have spiralled out of control had I not been diagnosed with Type 2.
Ironically, as a personal trainer, he’s had clients who have diabetes. It’s also helped our relationship, as I am happier. Although it sounds stupid that I’m diabetic and I’m happier – I’m not happy about that part, but I am happier about the changes I’ve made.
Care and treatment
My first annual review marked a year since I was diagnosed with Type 2. And it felt quite different from a year ago when I was devastated. That feeling has subsided now, although I still wish it hadn’t happened.
But I have come a really long way in a year. I’ve still got a long way to go on my journey, but I haven’t really had any formal help from anyone. My mum said I should be getting health checks, so I had to research into it myself as I could only think of a few checks that I’ve had done. No one’s ever given me a leaflet of what I need to do. So I had a little google and read some pieces on the Diabetes UK website about the tests I should be getting.
"These are the 15 Healthcare Essentials – the checks that I am entitled to. But counting them up – there were only six of them that I was aware of."
I wasn’t given a leaflet or anything when I got diagnosed, telling me I was entitled to anything like this.
Managing my Type 2
In a way, I think that my diagnosis is a blessing, as it’s made me sort my life out and think about what I’m eating and drinking. I had to be really honest with myself when I was first diagnosed – I knew the family history and I felt like I’d brought it on myself.
"I realised that no one else could do this for me – it’s literally down to me to do it. My aim is to get my HbA1c down lower enough to come off medication."
I was always at the back of the queue – I took care of everyone apart from myself. I just felt I should be mum first, wife first. But I have to be Emma – if I’m not happy, I’m not healthy, then it will affect everyone.
And I don’t want to prematurely die or be in a state where I can’t live my life well – especially when I’m older. And for the kids – I don’t want them to think that I can’t do things because of my diabetes – that Mummy’s unhealthy or be ashamed of me in any way.
Diet and nutrition
Since I was diagnosed, I’ve completely changed my eating habits. I got an app where I count all my carbs.
"I realised that I was in denial about my lifestyle before, thinking that it wasn’t that bad. I just wasn’t fully educated."
A colleague at work has diabetes, so I told her about my diagnosis. She immediately wrote down the amount of carbs I should have at each meal. That clicked with me because I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of 13, so a lot of the food I eat is made up of carbs. So I booked an appointment to see the diabetes nurse for advice, who was really helpful.
One thing I’ve learnt is that portion size is so important. Having said that, when I weighed out a portion it didn’t look like much at all. By the fourth night of watching my portion sizes, I was crying – a pizza from the shop is a whole day’s worth of carbs! Knowing what I know now, I just can’t believe food isn’t labelled better.
Activity and exercise
I always used to be one of those people who said they didn’t have time to exercise, but I now realise that if you want to, you can make the time to do it.
Walking was how I got started on my exercise journey after I was diagnosed. My friend Hannah used to take me out for walks as I didn’t know what to do. I could vent to her about how I was feeling. It was nice and easy and I always felt better afterwards.
After I started walking, I started doing the gym myself. My husband created a programme for me and I’d also do fitness classes. But now that my weight loss has slowed down, I have a session with a personal trainer session once a week.
"It’s a lifestyle thing for me now – I need to be fitter and I need to be healthier, so that I can come off my medication and prolong my life and keep myself healthy. I enjoy exercising now when I see the benefits."
When I decided to get a personal trainer, I’d already lost 10kg by then, but then it got harder to lose. And now I’ve been convinced to do a 10k. And my personal trainer is going to do it with me – and running isn’t her thing, so it’s a goal for her, too.
"I have taken progress pictures of my weight loss – and in the side profile ones, you can definitely see an improvement."
You can’t see where you are until you see where you’ve come from – so I thought, ‘Let’s be proud of yourself, Emma’, and I posted photos of me before I started the gym and the progress I’ve made.
But it was also a very scary thing for me to do, to get myself out there. Because this also makes me accountable because people still ask me about my journey – how I’m doing.
I’ve booked my 10k for August – it’s really given me a bit more focus. I have my goals – weight wise, health wise, blood sugar wise. So it’ll be exciting next January when I have done nearly all of them – or I’m well on my way to completing all my goals.
I am determined to keep them going. And I’ve got a lot of support around me – and that is very helpful.
My Diabetes Year on Learning Zone
When I started to document my year for the Learning Zone and told my children about it, they asked if I was going to be famous! But, for me, it's a good way to learn more about my diabetes and it will hold me to continuing on my journey.
If by doing this, it helps someone else to not feel as lost I was when I was diagnosed, then it’s completely worth it.
"It’s helping me – I’d like to look back on this in two years’ time and hopefully by then I’ll have lost more weight and I’ll be off medication. My achievement will be documented for me, as well. And I should feel proud of myself."
It was quite a big thing to take this project on because I hadn’t told anyone about my diagnosis. I was so ashamed of it. Now I feel I have a renewed confidence to see where I’m going to go with this. I’m determined to see it through and to keep going.
Diabetes UK and me
When I first got diagnosed, I used to go on the Diabetes UK website to look at recipes.
I didn’t want everyone to know I had diabetes, so I bought the Carbs & Cals app, so I wasn’t constantly flicking through a book. I would weigh everything I ate and enter it into the app. I can also scan a packet and add my own recipes to the app, too.
My mum’s a member of Diabetes UK too and gets Balance magazine – she always used to keep the vegetarian recipes you get sent. So when I was first diagnosed, I received a pack of information from Diabetes UK and one from my mum, too.
"I had to find all the information about diabetes myself and my mum suggested I call Diabetes UK Helpline. I spoke to a really nice person who sent me lots of information and recipes."