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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Food and healthy eating

Enjoying what you eat is one of life’s pleasures, but sometimes it can be tricky if you have diabetes. Here we share stories from people who have learnt how to manage their condition and continue to enjoy food.

Deborah wearing a beekeeper suit

Deborah Goodman

Changes to my lifestyle

I’m really happy about my journey so far as I think I have come a long way. I have cut down on the snacking and swapped my breakfast so instead of having my regular sugary cereal bar I now have rolled porridge oats. I am now drinking more water (2 litres a day on average) and my alcohol intake has halved. I’m also doing more exercise.

For me it’s always been about making small changes as they’ll eventually add up. I knew this programme was going to benefit me in the long run and making small changes makes me feel confident that I can continue to keep up with these lifestyle changes in the future as they are sustainable. What I’m aiming for is a healthy lifestyle.

Read Deborah Goodman's complete story
Michelle stands on a beach, smiling

Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY

In the kitchen

The diagnosis properly fired me up. I was really bloody minded about it all. I didn’t want to be on tablets and decided I’d do anything to avoid that. I was offered a place in a class to help with my food and nutrition. I said I appreciated that it’s probably very good and helpful for most people, but I’ve had years of sports nutritionists telling me what to eat. I knew what I had to do – partly eat fewer starchy carbs, but mainly I had to cut down my portion sizes. 

I’ve become very creative in the kitchen. My husband came on board, which made all the difference. When you’re facing something like diabetes, it’s important to have a good support system.

You have to be realistic, too. Life is for living, so I’m a huge advocate of adopting a lifestyle that you can sustain.

Read Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY's complete story
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PaulDiagnosed in August 2018

Seeing results

I lost around 12 pounds in my first week. From my research I knew that a lot of people who had managed to put themselves into remission tended to initially lose weight very quickly. When I returned to see the nurse after three months my HbA1c was down to 42 – it had been 51 when I was diagnosed. The nurse thought she was seeing things on the scales. I had lost around four stone in the first four months. 

I’ve now lost around seven-and-a-half stone and my HbA1c level has stabilised at 37 to 38. People don’t even recognise me and I feel so much younger and fitter – I’ve rewound the clock at least 15 years. I notice little things, like when I’m walking with work colleagues who I used to lag far behind but now they can't keep up with my natural walking pace. I’m also cycling again, sometimes up to 40 miles, which is something I never thought would be possible. I’m even finding myself running upstairs two at a time – the things I thought were long in the past.

I’m now confident in knowing what I can eat. I only eat small portions of carbs, like bread, potatoes and rice, but large helpings of green vegetables. Sweet stuff is mostly out, though not entirely off the menu. 

Read Paul's complete story
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Julie TaylorAugust 2019

Reintroducing food

I’m still on the trial now, roughly 14 weeks in, and this is the food re-introduction phase. I can have no more than one soup or shake a day and two small meals. I eat the meals off a side plate – half is filled with vegetables or salad, a quarter with lean protein and the rest with carbs. The idea is to not exceed 1,200 calories daily.   

Seeing my numbers improve has spurred me on, it’s one of the brilliant things about the programme. They check your blood sugar and weight every time you go to one of the meetings and they give you a graph so you can see how it’s changing all the time which is really motivating. 

I’m now allowed to have two small meals a day, alongside a soup or shake. The small meals are based on NHS guidance for healthy eating, so I eat my meals off a side plate.

Half the plate needs to be vegetables or salad, two varieties of each, and a quarter of the plate should be lean protein and the other quarter should be carbs. We have also been told to drink one litre of water or a sugar free drink a day – I never used to drink water so this is a new thing for me. My skin is a lot healthier now and the water fills me up between meals. 

The liquid phase of the programme ended just before Christmas so we could eat Christmas food but there was a warning that if we went back to our old habits then we would just have diabetes again. This stage of the programme was a lot harder and I started writing down everything I ate and drink on a fitness app to make sure I didn't go over my calorie allowance. It’s easy to eat sub-consciously and you don’t realise what you’ve been eating until you’ve finished so this helps keep me on track. 

Keeping weight off

The trial finished in September and the final three months was about keeping your weight down. You have much better habits and so it’s easier to maintain a low weight. I now understand that energy in your body and energy out of your body must be a balance. 

I don’t worry about maintaining the weight. It makes complete sense and I feel so much healthier and happier – it’s life changing. 

Read Julie Taylor's complete story
Karen smiling

KarenDiagnosed with type 1 at four years old

Eating with gastroparesis

Balancing diabetes and gastroparesis can be a nightmare, particularly if you’re being sick and are going hypo. Sometimes you can suck a sweet, or I’ve tried glucose gel, which works quite well. When I first got gastroparesis, I stopped eating healthier foods, because they took longer to digest. Running the risk that what I ate was going to get stuck in my tummy, I didn’t want food that was going to keep me fuller for longer!

I love vegetables and had previously had a healthy diet, but I gave up eating dark green vegetables because I’d experience a cramping in my gut. I didn’t really eat brown bread, either. Then if I did eat those sorts of things, because they were new to my system, digesting them was quite uncomfortable. For years, my diet wasn’t great.

In January 2020, a comment from the doctor who was giving me my botox made me realise I needed to lose a bit of weight and get fitter. I Googled a lot and looked at calories on packets and worked out how thing affect my system. Then, I started off slowly and gradually increased fibre and fruit in my diet.

The first 21 days were difficult. At one point I thought, ‘I just need to stop this.’ But then I told myself to keep going, that my gut would get used to these changes. And it has. It’s been really good.

It took about a month for my system to get used to it. Thanks to my botox treatment, if I have a sandwich now, I can choose brown bread over white and I eat loads more fruit and vegetables. I also try not to take it to the point where I’ve eaten too much.

Getting active

I also started walking more. I do about two hours a day now. I leave early, then do a lap around the hospital where I work, which is about a mile. I often have to go to the pharmacy at the other end of the hospital, so that involves more walking. Then at lunchtime I get a 20-minute break so I then do another lap, and then I do two in the evening, which is nearly two miles. Because I’m only doing it for 20-25 minutes at a time, it feels easy. And while I found going to the gym made me have bad hypos, walking doesn’t make my sugars drop as drastically, so it’s more manageable for me.

Recently, at my annual diabetic review, I discovered my HbA1C had gone from 59mmol/mol to 54. I was so made up! I’m hoping it’ll be even lower at my next review.

Changing my eating habits – I don’t want to call it a ‘diet’ – and making lifestyle changes have made such a difference.

Read Karen's complete story
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