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Why a diabetes diagnosis can be a wake-up call

Tags: diabetes , diet

Why a diabetes diagnosis can be a wake up call - largeAround 2.9 million people in the UK are living with a diabetes diagnosis, the majority with type 2. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you will suffer complications – if you can change your lifestyle.

Here, Teresa Elkin, 51, an educational adviser from Northampton, reveals how she turned her life around after her diagnosis with type 2 diabetes.

My diagnosis was a wake-up call for my unhealthy lifestyle

“For years I’d been in denial about my unhealthy lifestyle. I worked long hours in advertising and, at one stage, had a two hour commute each way to work in London. It meant that I was always rushing and eating on the hoof – skipping breakfast and grabbing coffees and muffins from takeouts.

“At work I’d be sitting down all day and regularly buy snacks to keep me going and eat big bowls of pasta or high fat, pre-packed sandwiches at lunchtime. I would get home too late to take exercise or cook – usually eating a ready meal warmed up in the microwave and pouring myself a glass of wine.

Weight gain

“From the age of 40 my weight began to creep up – my dress size increased from a size 14 to a size 22 over about ten years. It was gradual – but as every season came round I found my clothes didn’t fit and I had to buy new ones.  Most of the weight went on around my middle.

Feeling unwell

“Three years ago though, I started to feel very fatigued. The symptoms started literally overnight – I developed a huge thirst and had a pins and needles sensation in my arms and legs. At night I’d wake three or four times with painful cramps in my legs.

“I felt so unwell that I went to my GP who asked me for a urine sample so he could check for diabetes. He said I had the classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes. His initial diagnosis was proved right after I took a follow-up glucose-fasting test.

“I was totally shocked – I never thought something like this would happen to me. My GP explained type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level, or when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin that is being produced.

“He explained I would need to take care of my health, monitoring my blood sugar levels and making some lifestyle changes – namely, losing weight by eating more healthily and being more active.

Changing my lifestyle

“After the shock wore off and the implications of my diagnosis began to sink in, I started researching my condition on the internet. Some of the information was very scary and I decided not to read that – instead I found the charity Diabetes UK’s website which was much more positive about managing diabetes.

“My GP urged me to take exercise but advised me to find something I could fit into my daily routine – he said if I joined a gym I probably wouldn’t be going a few months later. I decided just to start walking every morning before work. At first I couldn’t walk that fast – but gradually I built up to half an hour of brisk walking every day. I’d come back slightly out of breath and very sweaty – but it soon got easier and I started to feel good too.

“I saw a hospital dietician about my diet and she advised me that I needed to eat three meals a day, each with carbohydrate content such as potatoes, bread, rice or pasta. She also taught me how to read the labels on food packets so I could reduce my sugar intake. The key to weight loss, she explained, was reducing portion size – she didn’t believe in banning certain foods and said everything was okay in moderation. This appealed to me as I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to a very restricted diet.

“I made sure I ate a good breakfast, lunch and evening meal, reduced portion size, ate more vegetables, cut out all sugary snacks, and swapped them for fruit and cooked all my meals from scratch. I started taking fruit to work and didn’t buy any other food during the day. They were just simple changes – but gradually the weight started to come off – slowly but surely. I lost about two or three pounds a month and people soon started to notice. Because I looked and felt better too, I was keener to stick to my regime. Sometimes my weight loss would plateau but I found if I stuck with the diet and exercise, then my weight loss would restart again after a few weeks.

“I had my blood sugar levels checked every three months with a blood test by my diabetes nurse. At first I wasn’t prescribed any medication but after two years my GP prescribed the drug metformin which helps to control blood sugar levels.
Weight loss

“In three years my weight has dropped from over 100kg to 89kg and I’ve just bought a pair of size 16 trousers – so I’ve dropped four dress sizes.  My blood sugar levels are in the healthy range now and I’m hoping that my new healthy lifestyle regime is for life and that I won’t go on to develop any complications such as eye, kidney or circulation problems.

“My diagnosis was really a wake-up call for my unhealthy lifestyle – but diabetes doesn’t have to be the end of the world – it’s really down to you.”

For more information about diabetes and metabolism or dealing with diabetes, visit the be healthy section of our website and read the various medical articles available.

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