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DIABETES WEEK: Being diagnosed with type 2 during Coronavirus and putting diabetes in remission: Sean's story

Sean Carter-Selwood

Diagnosed with type 2 during the Covid-19 pandemic

I’m in remission now but I am fully aware that I still need to keep an eye on things. For now though, I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to enjoying a healthier future.

Sean shares his experience of being diagnosed with type 2 during the Covid-19 pandemic and how re-educating himself about food has enabled him to achieve remission.


Being diagnosed with diabetes

January 2020 began with me feeling pretty good. I’d decided to head to the gym to lose some Christmas weight and just feel healthier – as we all do in the new year. However, a few weeks later I started to feel quite rundown and dizzy, with pain in my kidneys. The pain got so bad I ended up visiting the out of hours doctor one weekend. They suspected kidney stones but when they tested my urine, they noticed my sugars were really high. The doctor decided to do a finger prick test, after which he said, “Well I’m not sure what’s wrong with your kidneys but you’re definitely diabetic.” I was handed a prescription for metformin, told to take two a day, and then book in with my usual doctor. A week later I sat at my GP surgery and was told I had an HbA1c of 111mmol/mol. At this point though, they couldn’t tell me if I had type 1 or type 2.

My diagnosis came as a real shock – I was 27 at the time. I didn’t really know very much about diabetes, why it was bad or what it could lead to. I just knew it was something to do with sugar. My grandfather had type 2 diabetes, but he had died when I was young. Looking back, I wish I had known more about it before I was diagnosed, then perhaps I could’ve prevented it. At the time I was in the obese category on the BMI scale and would describe myself as a bit of a couch potato. I work in an office job, which can be a dangerous environment – you spend much of the day sitting at a desk and there’s always cake about. 

Journey with diabetes

Managing diabetes during lockdown

My GP referred me to the hospital in March and I was offered an emergency appointment. However, when they tested my blood glucose levels, it appeared to be a normal reading, which left the consultant scratching her head. She asked for all my bloods to be redone and sent away to be tested. She explained that if you have type 1 then you can go into a honeymoon period where your pancreas kicks back in but then stops working again. They told me to follow a low carb diet, take metformin and gave me a blood testing kit. I had to take a reading four times a day and email them the results.

It’s safe to say I picked the wrong time to be diagnosed, given we are in the middle of a global pandemic. It was really hard to get in touch with the hospital to get my results. I had the phone number for the department and you could leave messages, but I think because of covid, call backs were delayed. Because of this I wasn’t getting much support. I wasn’t really told by the professionals what diabetes was and how food affects our bodies, I hadn’t been referred for an education course or been given the opportunity to speak to someone about my diet. At the same time, the metformin was also making me feel unwell. I think had my diagnosis come about last year when the hospitals weren’t under so much strain, things might’ve been different.

It wasn’t until June that I finally had confirmation from the consultant that I in fact had type 2 diabetes and that my dose of metformin needed to be doubled to four tablets a day. 

Diabetes UK and me

Support from Diabetes UK

From the time I was first diagnosed in January, I had been really trying to nail down my diet and was constantly checking my weight. From January to March I had been on a diet of about 800-1,000 calories a day, cutting out carbs and fats. Being on a very low-calorie diet was tough but I was so scared by my diagnosis that I managed to stick to it.

I was carrying out a lot of my own research online, but there was conflicting information on the type of diet to follow. Then I came across the Diabetes UK website, which gave me the tools to educate myself about the condition – otherwise I don’t know what position I would be in now. Once I understood what was going on in my body, I was able to take the right steps to fight it. Not only was the information about diet helpful but the videos on the website were great and reading about other people’s stories really helped, too.

Life with diabetes

Making changes

I now knew I needed to have some carbs in my diet, as that’s where we get our energy from – and some fat too. I increased my calories to around 1,600 a day and made simple switches, so instead of white bread and pasta, I would have wholegrain. I realised just how much sugar was in milk, so switched to unsweetened almond milk. I was eating normal meals but reducing my portion of carbs and incorporating more vegetables. I also changed how I shopped and started looking at the labels, always opting for the low-sugar version.

I think after you lose weight you realise what was causing you to gain it. My main meals weren’t too bad, but I would snack a lot and that was the problem. So now instead of a packet of biscuits, it will be something like a rice cake.

I hadn’t been exercising during lockdown, as I was aware that my diabetes put me at increased risk. However, I’ve now started the NHS couch to 5k, which I’m really enjoying. It’s doing a lot for my mental health as well, which was an unexpected but nice bonus. I’ve lost four-and-a-half stone and I’m going to keep going until I’m at a heathy BMI. I was 265Ib and now I’m 199Ib. The aim was to lose the weight in a healthy way. I’ve tried fad diets in the past and you always end up gaining more than you’ve lost. 


Putting my diabetes into remission

I knew about remission early on and it was definitely on my mind. I’m young and didn’t want to be taking medication for the rest of my life, especially with the possibility of this increasing over the years. The diabetes nurse from my GP practice got in touch and said given how much weight I had lost she thought my HbA1c test needed to be repeated. If my HbA1c was coming down, then I shouldn’t be increasing my metformin dose.

The nurse was hoping for it to be around 55mmol/mol but when she got the results she said, “I could cry, it’s come down to 33. This means you’re in remission.” I was over the moon; I just couldn’t believe it. The nurse explained, “We’ve not contributed to this and metformin can’t make those changes to your blood sugars – this is all down to you.” It felt incredible. 

When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea how much willpower, discipline and dedication it would take to live with, and fight, diabetes. I’ve had a lot of support from my partner, who even followed the diet with me to keep me on track – she’s so proud of what I’ve achieved. At first, because she sees me every day, she didn’t notice how much weight I had lost. Then my clothes started falling off me and one day she said, “You’re wearing a tent.”

I’m in remission now but I am fully aware that I still need to keep an eye on things. The nurse told me to keep up the healthier lifestyle and go back for an annual blood test, which is exactly what I’ll do. For now though, I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to enjoying a healthier future.  

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