August 26, 2008

How One Woman Eats With Diabetes

By Judy Grigoraci

I'VE been asked countless times "How did you lose your weight?" I had lost 60 pounds over the winter of 2005 and into the spring of 2006, and many were naturally curious. My response was always the truth - diet and exercise, the same thing everyone is told and most follow, at least for a spell.

What was lacking in the response was my motivation. My weight reduction was not from illness. I felt fine and was one of those who "didn't know I had diabetes" until the blood test in December 2005 said so. I can say I'm one in a million - not in the flattering way the phrase is usually posed - but because I'm one of the many millions of you with diabetes.

Food and diabetes are so entwined. I've never known another chronic ailment that can be controlled and managed with, of all things, what you eat! Or what you don't eat.

Healthy vegetarians and vegans can re-embrace meat without peril. Whether or not clogged arteries may return is iffy in cardiac and vascular patients who don't follow a strict routine - there is high risk but not an absolute.

Let a diabetic stray from a dietary regimen for a certain length of time and see what happens.

Certain types need medication supplements in tablet and injection forms, but food plays such an important role. Diet and exercise were the two words spoken to me that December day and diet I did, determined to help myself in every way.

During the months of losing, I experienced the same food cravings and hunger pangs from the diet as everyone else who abruptly changes their eating patterns.

The challenge and temptation was just as great (more so because of this food writing and cooking and food invitations) as for the next dieter - my stomach thought my throat was cut.

But I did it, never explaining that being diabetic was the motivation. I wasn't ill and I wanted all the credit for keeping with the 1,800-calorie diet and exercise (which is 30 minutes of walking daily). It was important no one thought the ailment made me sick and the weight magically fell off.

There wasn't a set goal. My weight was allowed to reach its own level naturally, based upon caloric intake.

Beyond my physician's advice and recommendations, much credit has to be given to Saint Francis Diabetes Care Center's director and certified instructor Julie Burns and registered dietitian Rich Packard for imparting an understanding of how to best manage the condition with diet.

I'll always remember the first words from Julie: "There isn't anything you can't eat." That was the second relief I had felt - the first being that insulin wasn't necessary.

However, there's a "but" to her statement. You can eat, but no longer with abandon and at all times of day and anything that's handy. Old habits have to be eliminated. She and Rich provided answers to my diet questions. They gave me a good base and I figured it out from there.

Like a lot of you, I take the carb choice approach, keeping an eye also on calories and fat per serving. It's easiest to do and so far very successful. Meals and snack are at a set time each day. I don't eat every food group allowed, opting for larger amounts of vegetables and fresh fruits. And I don't do sugar substitutes, even Splenda, due to an adverse reaction. My blood sugar numbers have steadily remained in the low to below normal range.

In the coming weeks, besides giving recipes (most recipes are already diabetic-friendly, just dependent upon keeping correct portions) I'll name local restaurants and give the particular menu items in each that I enjoy without harm. You may like to go there, too. Some locations may surprise you.

The disclaimer I attach to the restaurant referrals is that I know foods react differently in each of us regarding what we ingest and blood sugar levels. A particular menu suggestion isn't "one size fits all" even from food groups that are "good for us."

You are invited to contact me with comments, questions, requests, tips, personal experiences and your own special-interest recipes - information that may be shared with others.

In exchange for my restaurant news, I also want to give your dining-out recommendations. Send me the names of restaurants you have found and what food they have that's compatible with your diet, whether in Charleston or outside the city, including areas throughout the state. We all "have fork, will travel."

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