Working in the health and fitness industry, you get to meet some amazing people. Kate is a friend of ours, she works at Result Fitness in Durham City Centre. Having known Kate for a few years now, we asked if she would write a blog to share her story of training with Type 1 Diabetes. She very kindly agreed. Please read on to be inspired and reminded that no matter what happens in life, don't let anything stop you from doing what you love! If you want to follow Kate's continuing progress check out her Instagram @katie.siobhan
Stop. Think. Assess. Backtrack. I’m right in the middle of a set – lunges, my favourite exercise. I’m sweating, heart is pounding, I’m shaking and feeling tired. All signs of a good workout right – it’s what we want; to know we’re pushing ourselves to the max and getting a good workout which leaves us feeling tired, but like we’ve achieved something. Perfect. I’d continue on and finish the set…however in the back of my mind little alarm bells start going off and I need to focus on the situation and consider many factors. Why? As a type 1 diabetic these signs are exactly the same symptoms I get when having a hypo. Is that a word you’ve never heard of? Welcome to the world of living with Type 1 Diabetes – where every day of your life feels like a science experiment.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 6. My mother knew something wasn’t right from my behaviour - “You were tired. Very tired. Very quiet. Loss of weight. No appetite. Thirsty. Sweet tooth which you never had before. Sad. No energy. Night sweats. And you got even sweeter. Not grumpy at all” (I well up every time I read that) It was Guy Fawkes Day, 1993. I remember being in the nurses room, and her asking me if I’d brought clothes with me to stay in the hospital. Completely oblivious, I thought the hospital was having a firework display and we were staying over to watch it! I was indeed disappointed when what followed instead was being admitted to hospital with a blood sugar reading of 30.0 (A non-diabetic is usually around 4.0 – 5.9) and introduced to a world of needles, injections, blood tests and insulin. I can’t remember ever being upset, or it actually hitting me that this was now going to be my life – what sticks out the most is the green jelly and ice cream I used to get!
What is Diabetes? Contrary to popular belief – there’s more than just one type. Type 1 and Type 2 are the most known of, and are therefore commonly mixed up. Say you’re diabetic, and 90% of the time people think its Type 2. Upon hearing it’s actually type 1 I have, 50% will usually respond with “Oh, that’s the bad one, isn’t it?” along with a slight grimace. Thanks.
You cannot tell which type of diabetes a person has by looking at them. In general, people with diabetes either have a total lack of insulin (type 1 diabetes – that’s me!) or they have too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively (type 2 diabetes). The causes and developments of each are different. There are many common identifying factors for each type however there are always exceptions. Diabetes.co.uk outlines the differences below, however still stating “differences are based on generalisations - exceptions are common. For instance, the perception of type 1 diabetes isn't strictly true: many cases are diagnosed in adulthood.”
Common differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes
Usually diagnosed in over 30 year olds
Often associated with excess body weight
Often associated with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels at diagnosis
Is usually treated initially without medication or with tablets
Sometimes possible to come off diabetes medication
Type 1 Diabetes
Often diagnosed in childhood
Not associated with excess body weight
Often associated with higher than normal ketone levels at diagnosis
Treated with insulin injections or insulin pump
Cannot be controlled without taking insulin
Simply put, as a type 1 diabetic – my pancreas does not produce insulin. I pretty much have a useless organ floating about in my body. Why do we need insulin? Because it helps the body produce energy by allowing sugar (glucose) to enter our cells. Pretty important. Due to not having a functioning pancreas, I therefore need to inject insulin to ensure I maintain good control of my diabetes in order to not develop complications such as heart disease, nerve damage and amputation, and vision problems.
Since diagnosis, each day brings constant blood sugar level testing with my meter to make sure I’m in the desired range, numerous injections to correct the blood sugar levels (if needed) and also to cover the food I eat. (Why? Glucose comes from the food we eat!) Too much insulin and I’ll have a hypo (hypoglcemia – low blood sugar) and too little will cause hyperglacemia. Both are incredibly serious – an untreated hypo can potentially result in a coma or death, and prolonged episodes of hyperglacemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis which if left untreated can also result in death. I wish it was as simple as knowing exactly how much insulin to inject based simply on my current blood sugar reading, and as much as a massive nerd I am and really enjoy weighing out all the carbs I eat and working out equations of x being the required insulin dosage when every 10 grams of carbohydrates in food equals one unit of insulin added to what the correction dose is when y =current blood sugar reading take away 6 and divided by 3 - all in order to get the dose amount…. I have to think about SO much before injecting. The list of factors which affect your blood sugar is endless and all need to be considered to either reduce or increase the dose amount. Food. Stress. Sleep. Alcohol. Being Ill. Hormones. The weather. Time of day. And the biggest one for me? Exercise.
There are many reasons why I love exercising - the ongoing challenges you can put yourself through, the variety of workouts you can do, the goals you can set, the physical and mental aspects of it, the nutritional side of it, the results of consistent hard work, and of course the happy endorphins! The benefits and rewards from maintaining a healthy lifestyle are vast and varied – for diabetics, this includes helping to increase insulin sensitivity and therefore not needing as much insulin to process carbs. However, in order to enjoy the exercises and benefits, and in order to reach those goals, for someone with diabetes it’s not so easy. It’s difficult. My doctor’s general advice of “Before exercising, if taking insulin – half your dose” was just a starting point. Different types of exercise have different effects on your sugar levels – that’s one thing I have to consider before a workout along with numerous others: Am I in a blood sugar range I’m comfortable with? When did I last eat, did I take insulin, if so – how much? Do I need to take more to counteract a rise or do I need to eat something first in order to prevent a hypo?
During my workout – how do I feel? Should I test halfway? Why am I sweating so much; are my legs shaking from this never ending leg workout or am I having a hypo? Am I lacking energy because my levels are now high or have I just completely tired myself out from the workout?
Afterwards - When will I next be eating? How much insulin do I take post workout to make sure my levels don’t drop too much as a result of the exercise? Over time, and through numerous experiments, trial and errors, review of my own blood sugar levels reactions before, during and after a workout; I’ve learnt what works for me and how to react to the answers to all the above questions. It’s not guaranteed the outcome is always the same (some random factor may come into play) but it’s made me 100% more confident in working out.
Starting out and learning how to make my diabetes and exercising work wasn’t straight forward. In fact, some days were down right exhausting (and still can be) but I did it because I love exercising.Because I don’t want Diabetes to stop me doing something I love and have a real passion for. Rather than fight against it, or ignore it, I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about it. Leading an active and healthy lifestyle definitely contributes to maintaining good control over my levels – the two go hand in hand.
One of the reasons why I started my Instagram account was to not only have a place to share my love for fitness (and food…there’s a lot about food on there) but to also raise awareness about Diabetes and to hopefully help anyone who has reservations or is hesitant to start exercising. Diabetics can work out and enjoy exercising just like everyone else. As a personal trainer at Result Fitness, I’m incredibly thankful that I have the opportunity to also work with diabetic clients. It is so rewarding seeing them learn, applying different methods to their regime, helping with trial and errors/experiment and watching them become more comfortable with the idea of exercising while learning what works best for them.
There is also an amazing community on Instagram – other diabetics sharing their stories and their suggestions from their own personal experiences, leading to discussions to find the best way to apply or amend a suggestion to suit an individual as what works for one person may not work for another. It is definitely a good place to learn, educate, help and have a good rant now and then!
Exercising and Diabetes. Is it impossible? Of course not. Is it hard? Some days are harder than the others but I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is. Diabetes does not control me; instead I look at it as a part of my life that I –thankfully -can control. It shouldn’t prevent anyone from doing anything – especially when it comes to exercising and living a healthy lifestyle. Powered by patience, strength, positivity and insulin of course…anything is possible!