OnTrack Diabetes recently spoke with Whitney Lewis: a 29-year-old, social media savvy, married Californian you might not have heard of until now, but will likely want to search for online immediately after reading this. Here, Whitney shares her insights, stories, and tips on the management of type 1 diabetes to “bring some happy and education” to the confusion and burnout that comes with the territory of living with type 1 diabetes.
Diagnosed at 25-years-old, Whitney had spent more time with a working pancreas than others with type 1, as the peak age of diagnosis in the US is 14. It was only when she started to notice her frequently high pulse (so fast she'd sit down to try and settle it) and extreme thirst (it wasn't unusual for her to drink an entire carton of almond milk all at once) that Whitney began to think something was wrong.
After months of feeling lousy, two separate ER visits, and an original misdiagnosis of type 2 diabetes, she was finally confronted with the alarming truth—she had type 1 diabetes and she had no idea how she was going to manage it. Forever.
Listening to an endocrinologist explain the numerous details of what a day in the rest of her life would look like was overwhelming for a young woman who had always made healthy choices and had little understanding of what it meant to have “extremely elevated” blood sugars— 400 mg/dL, to be exact. “I went out to the car crying,” she recalls of the day she was diagnosed, “I was just in denial for quite some time, thinking it would go away. I went in thinking that maybe I was pregnant, not that I had an incurable disease.”
Thinking back to that first appointment, her “brain was going a million miles a minute” as the reality of living with a chronic illness for the rest of her life set in. Whitney didn’t exactly feel supported: “The information I was given by the doctor was essentially what I needed to know to survive; I didn’t get the information I needed to thrive with this disease.I had the science of type 1, but the science of nutrition was left up to me.”
Since starting her blog "Happy Pancreas" in September 2015, Whitney has turned a small space on the Internet into a hub of learning, positivity, and community that not only wades through what she so aptly terms, “the murkiness of diabetes,” but, perhaps more importantly, encourages the same hopefulness she herself exudes.
Her Instagram, for example, is littered with inspirational messages rallying acceptance and personal growth: “shift your thinking; cultivate the habit of gratitude. This will allow so much color, opportunity, love, and peace into your life,” reads one of her more recent posts.
She’s equally sanguine when it comes to the restrictions diabetes has imposed on her daily life: she might not be able to eat high-sugar foods every day, but she does grab her favorite Acai bowl every now-and-then; she is yet to master the carb “guessing game” that is dining out, but she does try to balance her sugars with a small dose of insulin mid-meal. She recently woke up in Paris in the high 200s after eating dessert before bed and miscalculating her insulin dose, but hey, she’s still learning too.
She admits she “has her moments”—times when she feels defeated by her disease, because she is, in many ways, just like every other person battling type 1 diabetes.
“Since my pancreas produces zero insulin, I am my pancreas 24/7,” she says. Whitney isn't simply an optimist, but an honest and practical individual, with an affinity for tackling her disease head-on and inspiring others to do the same. She may not be an endocrinologist, and she isn’t a nutritionist either, but she is your go-to girl for accessible and well-researched advice, diabetes-friendly recipe ideas, and a dose of positivity.
Now, nearly 4 years since her diagnosis, Whitney shares 5 simple lessons to get you on track.
#1. Knowledge is Peace as Much as it is Power
For me, staying balanced mentally is all about educating myself and learning about this disease—I think knowledge naturally brings a sense of calmness to the anxieties of the unknown and managing your blood sugars. The more you’re aware of your body, and the more you take that time and make the effort to understand how the foods you eat affect you, the more you will benefit. My purpose with "Happy Pancreas" is to simplify this disease as much as possible and help others to balance their blood sugar levels.
#2. 10 Minutes of "Me Time" Can Change Your Entire Day
Making time for yourself and having "me time" is vital for staying on track. For me that can be looking at scripture, reading, meditating, praying, journaling—it sounds like such a small amount of time but just 5 or 10 minutes in your morning can make a huge difference to your mindset and how you go about your day. Starting your day in the most peaceful way for you can be great for refocusing your mind and energy.
#3. Exercise is Our Most Underutilized Form of Therapy
Working out is a huge "out" for me. I got into a program called Crossfit two months after my diagnosis and that’s been my go-to workout. It’s mixed high-intensity cardio and strength training. There’s a little bit of everything, which I enjoy because you don’t get burned out or bored with it. Just staying active is a huge one—it releases endorphins, it really does. To me, exercise is effective therapy.
#4. Over-Limiting Yourself is a One-Way Ticket to Diabetes Burnout
There have been times when I've definitely over-limited myself because of my diabetes. One of my first vacations after being diagnosed was filled with overthinking and stress, because put too many restrictions on myself and couldn't enjoy it. On my recent trip to Paris, I just told myself that when I was there if I wanted a croissant, I would have a croissant. Obviously, I was still being mindful, you can’t just turn off diabetes; you can’t turn off counting and trying to do the best with your dosing, but relaxing a little to soak in my time there worked really well for me.
#5. A Happy Pancreas is a Happy Life
I try to eat clean most days so I can focus my energy on other things aside from worrying about my blood sugar. If I don't eat clean it turns out more stressful because I feel like I have to think through my day a little more: “I want to go on a walk, but what did I have for lunch? How much insulin did I use? Was it high-carb?” So I try to generally eat pretty low carb, healthy fats, and gluten-free. I do allow myself one cheat day a week. If I want an acai bowl or if I want something higher-carb for dinner I’ll eat that on those days.
Meet Katie Teasdale: Type 1, Blood Sugar Balancer, Workout Warrior
Having type 1 diabetes always presents challenges but sometimes the best way to work through them has nothing to do with finger pricks, carb counting and/or insulin. It’s all about changing the conversation in your head and challenging your body.
If there was ever a poster child for empowering yourself by doing just that, Katie Teasdale is it. Diagnosed at 6 years old in her native South Africa, Katie has spent the past 24 years learning how to think and act as her pancreas – a challenge that has taught her when you push yourself to your limits to battle the hardships of diabetes, you will reap the rewards.
“When you’re first diagnosed you are probably thinking, ‘Why? Why me?’” she says, “But then you come to realize you’re not the only one going through this—you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. You’ll have bad days, but you’ll push through them.”
Living successfully with a chronic condition requires attention to the mind and the body, says Katie. “There is so much out there about how diabetes affects you physically, but mentally you have to be switched on 24/7,” she says. “It gets to the point where you realize ‘this is my life’ and you have to accept it. One of my favorite quotes is displayed on my refrigerator so I see it every day: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” To me, this describes the strength of a type 1 diabetic and it's a mindset you have to adopt each and every day.”
How does she maintain this mindset? With the help of her loving family and a supportive community on social media, Katie has channelled her love of fitness to find peace between the pokes. Six days out of 7 you’ll find her starting her morning in the gym: sweating it out with a banana on hand to counter any hypos, squatting, lunging, and checking her blood glucose levels as she goes. Last month, she even completed her first half marathon.
Katie credits MyFitnessPal for fuelling her love of nutrition, her mom for instilling her with clean-eating habits, and the Instagram community for inspiring her with their stories, tips, and steady positivity in the face of obstacles. However, Katie really has herself to thank for staying in control of her life and her body. It's easy to attribute credit to the people around you (and even the devices you wear), but, ultimately you are the one dealing with the highs and lows and constantly finding a way to fight through them. Here, Katie shares her 5 favorite go-to’s for managing type 1 diabetes.
My Go-To App:
Apps are a great tool to help manage type 1 diabetes—MyFitnessPal, DAFNE, Carbs&Cals and Tabata are the ones I like best. I love using MyFitnessPal to record my food, ensure I’m getting the right amounts of macronutrients, and to spot any trends between certain foods and the effect they have on my blood sugar. The app also makes it easy to find out the carb content of my meals which helps me to prevent over or under-dosing my insulin.
In terms of fitness, the Tabata app is an essential part of my routine as I use it to set timings for any interval workouts I create. You can use the app to vary the time spent on each part of the workout and set it to as many cycles as you want. This is perfect for when I’m doing a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) or ab workout and don’t want to constantly be having to check my watch (which would probably distract me and lead to an injury—I’m very accident prone!)
My Go-To Workout
HIIT workouts are my go-to when I’m in need of a cardio fix and in the mood for an intense, but quick session at the gym. It’s great being able to pick and choose my own exercises so I can keep it varied and avoid the boredom of doing the same thing day-in day-out. I tend to use bodyweight exercises which I can do at home or even outside if England is graced with a rare bout of good weather. Check out the video below to see how I incorporate my favorite bodyweight exercises into a HIIT workout.
My Go-To Motivator
My mom, without a doubt, is my biggest motivator. For those moments of celebrating great blood test results, ranting over unexplained episodes of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, or just someone to talk to, she’s my number one supporter. I will never be able to thank her enough for everything she’s just for me since my diagnosis over 20 years ago. She's experienced so much with me and if there's anyone to put a smile on my face after a tough day, even with just a hug or to listen to me, it's her.
Joining the type 1 community on Instagram is another source of inspiration. For me, social media is a non-stop motivator. I’m constantly in awe of the variety of posts from other T1Ds about food, workouts, blood sugar controls, experiences, and fun adventures! I almost never leave a social media platform not excited to try something I saw online. Joining such a supportive community of other type 1s was a terrific decision. It’s enabled me to learn so much about managing my type 1 diabetes.
My Go-To Recipe
I can 100% relate to all the quotes and memes directed at people with a peanut butter addiction. Some like it on toast, some like it in pancakes, and some would gladly sit with a spoon and the jar with an oddly delirious smile on their face. (I fall into all three of these categories.) I love baking, and love baking, even more, when it involves my Peanut Butter Energy Balls.
They are SO tasty and I’ve recently tested out a pumpkin variation that I think will be perfect for the fall months! Energy balls are great as a healthy snack on the go, a pre-workout boost, or a small breakfast. They can even be modified to your taste buds with different ingredients and are so easy to make. First, mix together 2 mashed, ripe bananas, 200g of old-fashion oats, and 200g of crunchy peanut butter. Then roll into 10 energy balls and bake for 15-20 minutes in the oven at 340 degrees. Just make sure to account for the 14g of carbs per serving!
My Go-To Hypo Remedy
I find juice boxes and bananas are the easiest hypoglycemia remedies to carry around. I rarely leave home without a banana to counteract any low blood sugar levels resulting from exercise. I’ve also learned that you should never be embarrassed or apologetic if you do experience a hypo, but it’s always best to be prepared with a snack that will balance your blood sugars. Type 1 diabetes is not something you brought on yourself. Never apologize.
Meet Lauren Bongiorno: Type 1, Yoga Lover, Health Coach Extraordinaire
OnTrack Diabetes recently sat down with diabetic health coach, Lauren Bongiorno, to talk pigeon poses, achieving your best A1C, and the best advice she’s ever received. Check out our quick-fire round with Lauren below.
Your most memorable trip?
Traveling and seeing different parts of this world is one of my biggest passions so this is a tough question. I can take myself back to so many different places and find memories that touch me in a different way. But I think if I had to pick one, I’d say hiking the Grand Canyon with my best friends this year has to be my most memorable trip. The energy in Arizona is incredible and it was such a nourishing and connecting trip for all of our souls!
Your favorite yoga pose?
Is all of them an acceptable answer!? Handstands are my favorite strength pose, and pigeon and frog poses are my favorite restorative poses. I love handstands because they took me a long time to perfect, and throughout the journey I learned so much about myself and the importance of patience and perseverance. I love pigeon and frog pose because they are both really deep hip openers, and for most of us we store our emotions in our hips. It’s just such a great release!
The food you most often crave?
I love salty and sweet. Dark chocolate with sea salt is my jam.
Your top tip for A1C management?
My top tip for A1C management is to reflect and identify your body’s blood sugar trends by writing everything down.
One of your current goals?
Right now I’m in the process of creating holistic health resources for people with diabetes outside of my one-on-one coaching. In January 2018, I'm launching The Diabetic Health Journal – a 3-month guide to achieving your best A1C. It’s a mindful journal to be used in between the endocrinologist appointments to achieve your best diabetes control both in your mind and body! The journal is so valuable and such an incredible resource. My goal is to get this into as many diabetic hands as I can. Ideally, I would love endocrinologists to have them to give to their patients!
One piece of advice for people living with T1D?
I’ll share the best piece of advice that I ever received – “lean into what makes you different.” For so long I hid my diabetes because I thought it made me seem weak. It took me 17 years of living with T1D before realizing that it is actually my greatest strength.
Want to hear more from Lauren? Follow her on Instagram @lauren_bongiorno
Meet Craig Stubing: Type 1, Podcaster, Runner
How does Craig Stubing, host of Beta Cell Podcast and co-founder of Type One Run balance everything he's doing AND his blood sugar levels? Find out below in our quick-fire round with Craig.
Your most memorable trip?
In April 2017, we had 10 people with T1D and two family members form a Type One Run team in the SoCal Ragnar Relay race. Over the course of a day in a half, we took turns running over 200 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego. The whole time, we were stuck in two cramped, stinky vans full of beeping Dexcoms, insulin pumps, and low supplies. It was an incredible experience and really showed me how amazing in-person meetups can be over just online connections.
Favorite podcast memory?
When I was interviewing Jessie Bear, my blood sugar went low and I had to stop and get something to eat at the same time she gave herself a correction for a high. It was a good reminder that T1D never gives us a break and was a funny moment in the middle of her episode.
The food you most often crave?
One of your current goals?
My main focus for this year is to do fewer things, but do them better. Fewer projects overall and focus more on the ones I care about the most.
One piece of advice for people living with T1D?
Find your T1D community. Wherever you are, there are probably other people with T1D nearby. Find them, get coffee, chat, and form a community together.
Top tip for A1C management?
I talk a lot on my Instagram about why I think A1C is stupid. It doesn't really show blood sugar control. If you want to measure control, look at your percent time in range. The two best thing that have worked for me are basal testing (making sure your basal rate is right) and eating healthy, low glycemic carbs instead of high-glycemic ones (except when you're low).
Want to hear more from Craig? Check out his website or follow him on Instagram @betacellpodcast or on Facebook @betacellpodcast. Keep up with Type One Run on Instagram @Typeonerun.