As part of my goal to be more open about diabetes, I decided maybe I should do this little “basics” blog so if you read it and I write about it later, you’ll have somewhat of an idea of what I’m talking about :). I don’t have much of an opener for this one, I’m gonna take you through what type 1 diabetes is, the whole idea around “pumping”, why foods mess up my blood sugars and why exercise is weird as a diabetic but whatever. Here we go!
What is The Betes?
First off – betes = diabetes, just so we’re clear. This is not a simple question to answer and it requires a lot of knowledge of body systems and hormones and all that fun stuff. Type 1 is very different than Type 2. They have the same word (diabetes) in the title, but the two diseases are actually very different, so if you have Type 2 and want to ask me a question, I literally know nothing about it so I probably wouldn’t. I actually have this weird thing about preventable Type 2 diabetes and how if you have the opportunity to prevent it – JUST DO IT!! I would give anything to give up my diabetes if I could, but I can’t. So if you can get healthy and get rid of yours, please do it for the love of GOD. Anyways – moving on…
Basically, when we eat food, the food gets broken down into glucose by our bodies and enters the blood stream. This is all fine and well for healthy humans because then the muscles of the body use the glucose for energy and fuel and then excess is broken down by a hormone in the body called insulin. For us Type 1-ers, our bodies don’t produce any insulin so the excess glucose just hangs out in our blood stream. I know you all know what little tiny sugar bits look like, basically like sharp crystals – right? Now imagine a whole bunch of those in your blood stream. Too much of it for long periods of time can hurt your organs, your blood vessels, your eyes… basically everything. Your blood pumps slower, causing you to feel tired and gross and it’s just really not good for humans to have large amounts of sugar in the blood (One pro – you get to say you’re sweet ;)). Cue the needles and the insulin pumps! This is what we use to get the hormones into our bodies so that we can pretend like we’re normal healthy humans. The amount we give ourselves is different for every single person and can change day to day depending on what you’re doing – this is why diabetes is annoying, there’s no actual calculation for ANYTHING.
We also have to poke our fingers to make ourselves bleed multiple times per day to make sure that the amount of insulin we gave ourselves is, in fact, working in proportion to the amount of food we eat. Fun right? I used to be on needles, for the first 10 years of my diabetic life, 5 needles each day to be exact. I switched to an insulin pump 11 years ago and so now I do 1 needle every few days. A pump makes things more manageable because it gives little bits of insulin to you like, every 5 minutes throughout the whole day, just to keep blood sugars at a constant level. This little constant IV drip of insulin is called a “Basal”. Then when I eat food, I have to count how many carbs I’m eating. My nurse & doctor duo have established a good rate of insulin/carb for me, so my pump just automatically knows what I need. So I enter in the carb #, it gives me a number for the amount of units of insulin I need, I push a button and BAM – insulin pump gives it to me. This extra pump of insulin when I eat is called “Bolus”.
The doctor that us diabetics see is called an Endocrinologist. Luckily for me, my Endo is smooookin’ hot (and nice, and easy to talk to, and has diabetes himself) so I don’t mind going to see him. I’ve had doctors in the past who were just all around terrible human beings and I hated her so much (ok, just one doctor). The blood glucose measurement that my endo likes to take every few months is called an A1C. This is basically an overall average of your blood sugar over the course of 3 months. They make you fast for 12 hours and then go and sit while they stab a large needle into your elbow crease and take, what seems like, 3 litres of blood (it’s just like 3 vials, I’m being dramatic). The nurse that I go and see is called a Nurse Practitioner. She’s like my go-to woman when I have to wait 4 months to see my Endo, and she’s cool and rides a bike so she’s fun to go and see.
The insulin pump I currently use is a brand called Animas. I will be switching over to a Medtronic brand soon thanks to Mergers & Acquisitions but we’re not there yet and I don’t even know how to use that pump, so we’ll hang out with Animas for a while. An Animas pump holds enough insulin to last me around 2 days depending on what I eat (the more I eat, the more insulin I need). The thing that holds the actual insulin is called a Cartridge, and I fill those up myself whenever the pump alerts me that it’s low. The cartridge attaches to a wire that comes out of the pump, about 12″ in length, and at the other end is a little tiny needle that attaches to my body. The needle I give myself every few days is to insert a little IV into my stomach, this little IV is known as an Infusion Site, and it switches sides of my body and places on my core area once every three days. The wire then clicks into that infusion site, and we’re off running. My pump has a fancy little clip on the back side, so most times I keep it attached to the middle part of my bra (sorry if that’s TMI), and so if you see me fiddling with my boobs or staring down my own shirt in admiration, it’s probably just because I ate a donut or something…. Sigh. Lol. If I’m at the gym or in spin class, you’ll be able to see it attached to the backside of my pants.
Here is what it actually looks like if you were curious.
Food and diabetes is really fun, because you work with a dietician and they always want to know what you eat. I’ve grown to know what certain foods really wreck havoc on my blood sugars… white rice, rice noodles, rice paper for example, all quite bad. Obviously of course, candy, sugar treats, chips, all the delicious forbidden foods are hard to account for too, they just like to mess us right up. I think diabetes is one of the major reasons I got so into food and nutrition because I’ve been examining what I eat since I was 8 years old. Like how if I don’t eat enough protein between dinner and bedtime, I might wake up with low blood sugar because carbs will crash down instead of coming down at a steady pace thanks to protein. Or how if I have a glass (or 3) of red wine before bed, my sugars will absolutely go low in the middle of the night, but if I have white wine they’ll go really high. It’s all that nasty white stuff with zero nutrition that REALLY gets the diabetics. As a general rule, I just avoid white foods in general. Every person is different though and different foods will have different affects on your body and your diabetes.
Exercise and diabetes is another fun one. In theory, exercise should lower blood sugar, right? You’re exercising, using all the glucose and glycogen in the blood (google those words if you are unfamiliar) and muscles, but it actually could be the complete opposite. For YEARS I thought it was necessary to remove my pump completely to exercise, but since I started teaching spin, I’ve learned that it’s actually quite important to keep the pump on during exercise. Also, different exercises causes different results. Spin for example, sends my blood sugars high because of all the adrenaline from the high intensity of it all. If I do weight lifting though, my sugars will be MUCH lower because it’s lower intensity than spinning and although I’m working my muscles, the cortisol in the blood isn’t nearly as high. I caution however for the types of workouts that cause you to jump around like, a lot, a pump attached to your pants and jumping around will cause slight embarrassment if you’re not careful ;).
Hmm, I’m not sure what other basics to run past you right now… I’m sure something will come to me. I hope that was a good fun educational segment for you. Questions? Leave them in the comments belooow and I’ll be happy to answer :).