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“It’s tough to walk around a supermarket and decide which of the enormous kaleidoscope of foods we should be eating”

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Following an injury to his back, Rob became a lot less active and was told he had prediabetes – which then developed into a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. After his daughter was diagnosed with Type 2 they’ve been supporting each other with making healthier lifestyle choices.    

Rob Hallett
Living with Type 2 diabetes since 2014

"Something that’s really helping me is a whole approach to food called intuitive eating. Fundamentally, it’s about your relationship with food. We live in a society where we’re absolutely surrounded by food. It’s everywhere."

Rob’s journey with diabetes

  • Diagnosed with prediabetes in 2010 – where your blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to be in the diabetes range, putting you at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • By 2014, he'd developed Type 2 diabetes.
  • His daughter Lucy has binge eating disorder and was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
  • The pair use their experiences of the condition to support each other.

Friends and family

In 2010, my GP said he was concerned about my blood sugars. He thought they were a little high and that I might be pre-diabetic. In 2014, I was told I had developed Type 2 diabetes, although the vast majority of the time, leading up to my diagnosis, I didn’t have any symptoms.

"I felt quite fatalistic about it. I knew it was coming. I’m big. One of my mother’s sisters had Type 2 diabetes. It wasn’t so much a shock as a disappointment." 

I remember telling my daughter, Lucy, and her sister and my stepson. They were all very supportive and understanding. My big concern was that, because of Lucy’s weight issues, which are caused by her binge eating disorder, that she would end up becoming diabetic too. And lo and behold, it was about a year later that she was diagnosed with Type 2. Like a lot of people, I think she hoped that it wouldn’t happen.

When Lucy was diagnosed I was upset, because you don’t want to think of someone half your age having the same diagnosis that you’ve got in your sixties. I wanted to help, as I had a head start in terms of understanding diabetes.

Now, we sometimes go shopping with Lucy. My wife, Jan, has showed her what to look out for on food labels, but because she has dyslexia, those little tables with numbers in them are quite difficult for her to process.

"Food labelling is one of my real bugbears. I’m lucky in that I have a scientific background, but the way it’s done is ridiculously unhelpful. It’s too complicated and it’s not helpful for people with food sensitivities or diabetes. Check out Diabetes UK's Food Upfront campaign on better food labelling."

Diet, nutrition and active living

I have been overweight most of my life. However, I also used to be extremely fit and active. I’ve always been a walker. From the 1970s through to 1993, I was a runner. I used to swim and play squash too.

"Then, in 1993, I was getting ready for my morning run and as I was putting my socks on, I slipped two discs in my back. I was off work for over two months. It was really bad."

My GP said he thought my days of running were over. For more than six months, I couldn’t do any exercise, and I put on a lot of weight. I’ve never quite been able to shift it since. 

Walking and swimming are the only things I can do, and life’s been very hectic for the last 25 years, and I’ve never managed to get back to where I was before in terms of fitness. Much as I miss it, I can’t run.

My diet has changed a lot over the years. These days, I’m vegetarian most of the time. My wife’s vegan, so we don’t have much in the way of animal products in the house. I’ve always had a passion for fruit and cereals. Looking back, I think my diet has always been a bit carb-heavy. Since I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve tried to decrease my carbs a bit and increase protein.

Biggest challenge

The biggest challenge is simply the amount of food that’s available. I think for people who have diabetes, it’s hard to walk around a supermarket and decide which of the enormous kaleidoscope of products, are the foods we should be eating. It’s really tough. That’s what I’ve found most difficult.

What has helped me most

I’m a bit of a tech ‘geek.’ I like my gadgets. When I was diagnosed I asked my GP if I should be monitoring my blood sugars. He said that wasn’t recommended according to the national guidelines, which state that you have your HbA1c monitored every six-12 months and you have an annual diabetic check and advice. 

I wasn’t happy with that. So, from 2014 until last year, I was monitoring my bloods after every meal. It did have some benefits in terms of helping me modify my diet, but not as much as I’d hoped. I’ve stopped monitoring my blood sugars now, because I feel I’ve gone as far with that as I can. For me, that process allowed me to identify some foods that would make my blood sugar spike. 

My HbA1c has steadily been going down from the high 50s to the high 40s. I think it’s in part due to having been prescribed Alogliptin in addition to Metformin. I think that has enhanced my control. 

I’ve also been more active, which I think has helped. I’ve been trying to increase my walking. On average, I walk 3-4 miles most days, which is a way of controlling my weight as well as helping my blood sugars.

Something that’s really helping me is a whole approach to food called intuitive eating. Fundamentally, it’s about your relationship with food. We live in a society where we’re absolutely surrounded by food. It’s everywhere.

What you need to get back in touch with, is what you really want and what you really need. It’s about trying to be scrupulously honest with yourself. I try to pause and question whether I truly want to eat something I’m offered.

What I wish I'd known

When I injured my back and stopped being so active, I wish I’d realised there were other things I could have done to replace running. 

When you run, you get hooked on the endorphins it gives you. I became depressed, not just because I’d hurt my back, but because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I think it took me a long time to come out of that, maybe two years. I started trying to swim a bit, but it didn’t really fit with working. Gaining weight didn’t do my mood any good. 

It wasn’t so much being diagnosed with diabetes that made me feel low. It was the fact that I had to rethink what I was always used to doing.

"Sometimes, I play this game with myself, ‘Had I known, I would have been more careful with my diet and who knows, I might not be diabetic.’ But that’s a dangerous game and it’s not very helpful." 

And maybe if I’d tried harder, I could have changed things. But when I spoke to my brilliant GP about those feelings, he was very helpful. He knew any kind of diagnosis is not nice. With his support, I was able to accept it and do my best with the situation I am now in.

Diabetes UK and me

I’ve found online resources, such as the Diabetes UK website, very helpful. I look at the forums and read the newsletters. My daughter, Lucy, and I have found the cookbooks very helpful. You can get them from the online shop. They give you food and meal ideas, which are very helpful too.

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