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Type 1 of a Kind

Meet Whitney Lewis: Type 1, Blood Sugar Balancer, Hope Giver


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 like want to search for online immediately after reading this. Here, Whitney shares her insights, stories and tips to “bring some happy and education” to the confusion and burnout that comes with 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 one) 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 handle 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 everyday, 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.

To see more of Whitney, head to Happy Pancreas, follow her on Instagram @happypancreas and check out her takeover of our Instagram account @ontrackdiabetes.

Whitney On How To Thrive with Diabetes

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 makd the effort to understand how the food you eat affect you, the more you will benefit. My purpose with "Happy Pancreas" is to simplify this disease as much as possible.

Check out Whitney's cheat guide to her favorite book, Gary Scheiner's Think like a Pancreas on Happy Pancreas.

#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 mind-set 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.

Updated on: August 25, 2017
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