Wednesday, July 13, 2016

oh, hello blog, I forgot about you!

Note: the following post is lengthy and personal. The TL;DNR version is - I self-diagnosed as type 2 diabetic and am dealing with it successfully and it doesn't suck too much; recipes to follow.

It has been a while since I posted anything. Many things have happened. I started a Master's degree, got a real job (in health communications, yay!) and euthanized my marriage, which had not been healthy for a very long time. In the process of all this, I had to face the reality of how I'd been using food as a coping mechanism. Most of the time, I quite consciously made bad feelings go away with the application of things like croissants, peanut butter m&ms, potato chips and their "healthy" brethren (hey lentil snaps, I'm looking at you), and other assorted treats. "What do my feelings taste like today?" was a question that came up frequently. I was fully aware that I was pacifying my emotions with food, and I was okay with it. It worked. It meant I didn't have to change much else. Occasionally when things were stable I could do a Whole 30 or whatever and bring my weight down to manageable levels, but I didn't really change anything that could affect my dietary decisions long-term.

But, after I started my job, which I do love, but it all takes place at a desk (apparently in order to qualify for a standing desk with the government, you need to have been in a pretty severe automobile accident) I started feeling weird. Jittery but tired, not sleeping well. I had a suspicion of what was wrong, and it was confirmed when I hauled out my blood glucose monitor (obtained during the borderline-gestational-diabetes I enjoyed during my second pregnancy). Sky-high fasting glucose - indicative of at the very least major insulin resistance, but possibly high enough to qualify me for a type-2 diagnosis. Also I was at a minimum 40 lbs overweight (which does not sound like a lot, but remember I'm barely 5' tall. 40 lbs on me is like 70-80 lbs on someone who is a normal height. And, too, I think there's a lot of individual variation in terms of the excess weight one can carry and not suffer health effects - and I think I drew the short end of the stick there and can't cope with much.)

I have to renew my life insurance later this year, and the last thing I want is to be identified as an obese type-2 diabetic. Fortunately I have the dietary knowledge and understanding of biological processes to know how to fix this without running to my doctor, who probably has better things to do than tell me what I already know. Stop eating crap, and exercise intelligently.

In order to sustainably stop eating crap I had to take some concrete steps to get back to feeling in control of my life. Because sugar WORKS when nothing else does. (Ok, maybe psychiatric meds do too. But I'm unreasonably anti-drug for someone who works for PharmaCare.) Unfortunately, one of those steps was actually doing something about my relationship problems, which turned out to be of the "irreconcilable" variety. This of course brings its own set of stresses, but it's remarkable how much less I feel the urge to gobble sugar when I am responsible for the proximate causes of the stress, and actually capable of working to resolve both those and the ultimate causes. Control over life is so hugely, massively important. I couldn't have done this without the stable job, functional career plan, and incredible net of social support I enjoy. The desk job precipitated the crisis, but it also provided me with the independent means of support to resolve it. Agency - it's a wonderful thing.

(And, for those of you with a more neo-liberal view of the world - I'm not fooling myself that my ability to pull this off isn't due about 90% to the white middle-class privilege that affords me the financial and social capability to land a good job after years out of the work force and extricate myself from an untenable marriage without stigma. Ok, political ranty part over.)

Of course I'm posting this because it's working. It was surprisingly not difficult to make a mental shift from my self-perception as someone who just takes comfort and pleasure in food and consequently suffers from a bit of pudge, to someone who has a metabolic disorder that requires a restricted diet. I had to do away with the idea of myself as fundamentally whole and healthy, but that's kind of reality. I've successfully avoided sugar and refined carbohydrate (including flours; even "whole grain" flours are still refined) for over 3 months now. I've been using the gym, albeit not as frequently as I'd like, and riding my bike or walking to work. I try to get in at least one decent hike up a steep hill (Mt. Doug works) a week. My fasting blood glucose has dropped from dangerously high to just outside of normal range. I've dropped a substantial amount of weight (not sure exactly how much) and I have way, way more energy.

Food is still hugely important to me, emotionally - but more so as a means to connect with people than as a direct mood modifier. I've enjoyed sharing meals with so many friends over the past few months - THAT is a healthy use of food, I think. It's surprisingly easy, most places, to avoid starch and most sugars (not all. there is still a ton of hidden sugar in restaurant food.) One of the upsides to the "epidemic" of obesity-related metabolic disorders is that most restaurants are pretty clued in to why you don't want the potatoes or bread, and are happy to leave it out or give you more veg. Even food courts are fine - you can get curry without rice, Korean meat, kimchi & veg without rice and sauce (still tasty!), straight sashimi without rice, Greek food that's just salad and skewers of meat.

The other thing I've realized is that it's okay for me to admit that I love sugar and grains and starch. Sometimes, you love things that don't love you back. It's better to acknowledge it as a loss than to try to pretend that those things aren't wonderful. I think I've gone on about relationships with food before - this is a more nuanced, gentle view of it, I think. Cookies aren't jerks, after all. I do love them, but I can't enjoy them. Unrequited love sucks, but I think it's still better for your soul than twisting it into hate...and there's a better chance that unrequited love can slip quietly into the indifference that is the true opposite of love. I long to be indifferent to the charms of croissants, but I don't think I'll manage it any time soon. In the meantime, I acknowledge it, and I cope, and I remember that I can still love steak, every vegetable on the planet, pork chops, bacon, fresh fruit (although the upcoming fig season may be challenging for my insulin levels), and cheese. I'm still pretty lucky, food-wise. I live in about the best place in the world for good, fresh, healthy food, and I have the privilege of being able to afford as much of it as I need.

I will try to post more recipes. I've had requests for simple, single-person meals and since that's something I'm working on developing for myself (now that I only have children half the time) I think it's a good goal. So stay tuned - and pester me if you don't see anything!