Editor’s Note: While the writer wished to tell her story in hopes of inspiring others, she has asked to remain anonymous. For her privacy, we’ve removed all names from this first-hand account.
I first learned I had type 2 diabetes in 2011.
“You’re diabetic.” That’s what they said. I remember it. The words sounded so strange to me, so foreign. I never thought I’d be sick, much less have diabetes. But there I was, sitting in a hospital, being told something I didn’t really understand. Something I didn’t really want to believe.
So I chose not to. I set aside my diagnosis and went on with my life. I guess I felt like it wasn’t that big of a deal, that it was done and over with—but of course, it wasn’t. I still had embarrassing symptoms, which in my case meant frequent bathroom trips that made it hard to work. I was still overweight, which made it hard to get around. And I still just flat-out didn’t feel good.
Looking back, that was no way to live, but it was the only way I knew at the time. So I kept eating what I wanted and paying the price later. I just figured that’s how it was going to be for me.
But then one day, about three years ago, something changed. I was a whopping 230 pounds, in my late 50s, and hard-pressed to keep a job because my symptoms were so debilitating. They say when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go: up. For me, that meant taking my diagnosis more seriously.
I wish I could tell you that this is the point in my story where I completely changed my eating for the better. That I cut out all sweets. That I only cooked the most nutritious, healthy meals. That my blood sugars have been perfect ever since. But that’s not true—not by a long shot.
No, it was—and still is—little changes, rather than big ones, that helped me lose weight at first, and then lose some more weight, and then ultimately realize that what I ate was directly related to how I felt. So now, I’m trying to change my habits the only way I can, step by step.
But changing those habits has required some homework on my part. I didn’t really know how to make healthy choices at first. Subscribing to a magazine for people with diabetes has helped a lot. I read it to get inspired with advice, tips, and recipes.
Working at a school and seeing how the next generation is learning to eat has inspired me, too. Just looking at today’s menus for school lunches, they’re so much better! They get fresh berries instead of cookies; they have a veggie salad bar; they have pizza made of whole wheat crust. Just the other day, we offered kiwi—some of these kids have never had kiwi in their life. Watching the students learn about healthier choices is refreshing and has given me a new perspective for my own diet.
All of these things have helped me learn how to take better care of my body, but most importantly, I think, is the fact that it’s been a learning process. I used to be the kind of person who would just grab a muffin, donut, or slice of carrot cake when I was leaving the house. So I went from that to grabbing a breakfast bar or a protein bar. And after realizing that even those options affected my blood sugar, I went to a banana and peanut butter. It was a gradual process that taught me a lot of lessons along the way, but I think I needed to go through it to understand how my body reacts to what I eat.
That last part’s important. I had to accept that this journey is my own and nobody else’s. What works for one person with diabetes may not work for another. Banana and peanut butter sit well with me, but they may not be right for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution—it’s kind of just trying things over time.
What helps is that I can see how my choices affect my health, almost in real time. I keep a food diary to track how the food I eat affects my symptoms, and I check my blood sugar twice a day. If I’m within my goal range and haven’t had symptoms of high blood sugar, I know I’ve done something right. If I’m not within my goal range, I adjust for next time.
But for all my trying, sometimes it’s just downright hard. I live in a rural area that doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of healthy food choices. There are fried foods galore…but healthy stuff? Not so much. Plus, I work two jobs, seven days a week to make ends meet, and the healthy food I can find is often outside of my budget.
The old me might give up and say I have no choice. But the new me—the one motivated to make small changes and turn her life around—is resourceful. I found a farmer’s market nearby that’s open once a week, so I try to buy my groceries there if I can. I make smoothies for a sweet fix with coconut milk instead of milk or ice cream. I make big pots of stews and soups that I can freeze for later. And just this week, I bought salmon to use in one of the recipes I’ve wanted to try for a while. It’s the little things!
What I don’t want to admit—but will—is that I still make mistakes. Food has been my addiction for a long time. I’ve had ups and downs, and on the hard days, eating still comforts me when I know it shouldn’t. I still hate going down the ice cream aisle. It’s a struggle even now. But I refuse to let that addiction define me.
So I stick to my small changes, because they’re the ones I can make happen. If I do get off track, like going to the refrigerator to get that ice cream cone, I’ll make a note in my food diary. Usually, some sort of stress makes me turn to foods I know I shouldn’t eat. Knowing my triggers helps me avoid them in the future.
But even when everything’s going right, I second-guess myself. That’s especially true when I’m around my family, because sometimes they just don’t get it. I have to explain that no, I can’t have that piece of cake you worked so hard to bake—I can only have a small bite. No, I can’t take the leftovers—even though I always used to before.
It makes me feel like a stick in the mud, but at the end of the day, I’m doing this for my health. So that I can be around for my grandkids and enjoy every minute of every day.
And I’d like to think that I’m a positive influence for them, to tell you the truth. The other day, I went to my daughter’s house for dinner and she had fixed spaghetti squash instead of regular spaghetti. It’s a small thing, but I noticed it. I think she’s starting to realize what I have, the small things matter.
After all, small steps can turn into big leaps. Small choices can turn into habits. No, I’m not one of those people who always has their blood glucose under control or makes perfect meals. I don’t know any of those people. I just do what I can, when I can. If you’re in the same boat as me, I encourage you to do that too: take it day by day, and celebrate all the little victories along the way.