5 Things I’ve Learned about Exercising with Diabetes

It’s November 26th which means it’s day 26 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and exercise. There’s so much I could say on the subject, so I decided to settle for a bit of a round-up post that explains what I’ve learned about exercising with diabetes over the years…

I exercise on a daily basis.

This statement is not a faux-humble brag, nor is it an exaggeration. Unless I’m sick, I work out in some form or fashion every single day. My workouts will vary in their intensity, but one thing is consistent: My diabetes plays a major role in how long, when, and what type of exercise I choose to do.

Since I grew up playing sports, I’ve had just about my entire lifetime with diabetes to figure out how to make it peacefully coexist – or, at least, merely coexist – with whatever exercise routine I’m completing. As a result, I’ve learned quite a few lessons along the way, and I’ve come to recognize several patterns that my diabetes follows when I exercise:

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My diabetes is practically BFFs with exercise.

1. My diabetes is happiest if I work out first thing in the morning. I never thought I’d be the type of person who works out before eating breakfast, but trial and error has taught me that this is the way to go in order to better manage my blood sugars during a workout. Fasting exercise has worked wonders on my blood sugars: I never have to worry about dealing with an insulin-on-board-inducing low blood sugar, nor do I have to be concerned about what the food I ate prior to my workout will do to my blood sugars while I’m exercising.

2. Different types of exercise affect me (and my blood sugars) in different ways. Many people probably relate to me when I say that weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) often yield stable blood sugars during workouts but then trigger the need for more insulin hours later, whereas cardio (such as dancing, running, or circuit training) usually causes sudden drops in blood sugar levels. Of course, it depends on the timing, duration, and intensity of the workout, but it’s interesting to see how different types will require me to react in different ways in terms of my diabetes care.

3. Sometimes I need to suspend my insulin, sometimes I don’t. Again, whether or not I suspend my insulin – or even run a temp basal – depends heavily on when and how I exercise. If I’m doing my morning routine (which happens 75% of the time), then I don’t really do anything with my basal rates: I just keep them running normally. But if I’m taking a midday walk or decide to exercise in the evening, I often have to do something about my basal rate to avoid crashes or spikes. Insulin suspensions or temp basals are wait-and-see situations in those cases.

4. The hardest part about exercise and diabetes is that I can do the exact same routine every day and get different results. If I worked out at precisely the same time, for the same amount of time, and with the same sequence of movements every single day, then…my diabetes wouldn’t give a damn. Every day of life with diabetes is different because of the variables that inevitably cross my path. Things like mood, that time o’ the month, stress, diet, illness, and more can cause major changes in my blood sugar levels. It’s my job to react accordingly to those changes, but that doesn’t mean I always hit the mark on the first try. So with that in mind, it can sometimes be hard to accurately predict how my blood sugar will fare after every single exercise routine. Just thinking about it can be more exhausting than the workout itself.

5. My diabetes is my biggest motivator/fuels my desire to exercise. At the end of the day, I work out because of my diabetes, not because I’m trying to sculpt washboard abs (though I wouldn’t complain if that actually happened). My diabetes loves exercise: It results in an increase in insulin sensitivity and it helps tame my blood sugar levels overall. How could I not be motivated to work out every day with outcomes so tangible?

Dealing with Diabetes When You’re the Maid of Honor

No, no, no. Not today diabetes. Dammit.

The morning of my cousin’s wedding, I woke up to a blood sugar of 237 after a night of fighting elevated levels. There was no rhyme or reason for the high blood sugar – I hadn’t eaten a single thing for 16 hours at that point, but I had changed my pod an hour or two before going to bed.

Why You Should Get a Flu Shot (If You Haven't Gotten One Already) (2)
When you’re the MOH and you also happen to have diabetes, you worry about a lot more than just your speech or your makeup.

WTF was wrong? Was the pod’s cannula bent? Was I high due to wedding day jitters? Would the highs persist all day?

These were the thoughts racing through my mind almost as soon as I woke up the morning of my cousin’s wedding.

I didn’t have time to worry about my MOH speech, or whether my hair would turn out the way I wanted to, or even to drink a celebratory mimosa while I got ready with the rest of the bridal party – I was too preoccupied by my elevated blood sugar.

All I could bother to think about was a potential solution before we all walked down the aisle.

Somewhere between applying my eyeshadow and having the 111th bobby pin secured in my hair (yes, it truly took 111 bobby pins to make my intricate braided up-do possible), I remembered “The Incident” from last year. I’d slept through a high blood sugar that, the following morning, refused to come down. As my frustration grew, so did the pain in my belly that lead me to the bathroom, where I came very close to passing out. One ambulance trip and ER visit later, I discovered that my pod’s cannula was bent, leaving me with no doubt that a pod malfunction was responsible for the whole ordeal.

With that memory vividly replaying in my mind, I made the executive decision to change my pod a couple hours before we were due at the wedding venue. And I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am that I listened to my intuition to do so. Upon removing it, I noticed blood at the site – not as bad of a sign as a bent cannula is, but a possible indicator of a problem. By the time we were in the venue’s bridal suite, my blood sugar was sitting pretty at 90 and I was finally able to focus on the beautiful, meaningful afternoon.

Sure, it was a stressful morning and far from an ideal situation, but I am extremely proud of myself for how I handled it. I didn’t panic the way I normally do. I didn’t shed any anxiety tears. I kept the issue pretty well-concealed from the bride, who shouldn’t have to worry about her MOH’s health on her special day. My calm approach paid off, and though it sucked to waste almost two days’ worth of insulin when I disposed the wonky pod, I knew I should pay closer attention to the fact that I did what needed to be done.

And even better was that my diabetes mostly cooperated with me the rest of the day. It didn’t stop me from delivering a fantastic speech with the matron of honor. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying some tasty wedding food, cake and all. It certainly didn’t keep me from tearing up the dance floor with my enthusiastic family. And it didn’t end my night early as I went out with my boyfriend, the newlyweds, and the matron of honor and her husband to a bar to shoot some pool and continue our celebrations.

Turns out that dealing with diabetes when you’re the maid of honor has a lot to do with keeping a cool head and living in the moment, two things that are so important to do in a variety of situations.

My Diabetes Hates Weddings

So basically everyone in my life right now is engaged, or on the fast-track to getting engaged.

And that’s awesome! No, seriously, it’s an exciting time for a lot of my family and friends. And I’m happy to be part of it all because I like going to weddings. Who doesn’t love to celebrate love?

Well, I can tell you what doesn’t love to celebrate love…MY DIABETES.

My diabetes effing hates weddings.

My diabetes hates weddings SO much that I’ve yet to go to one where it doesn’t act up in some way.

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I was naive enough to think that it would actually be a good diabetes day during the last wedding I attended. And it was, for the most part: I woke up, had a Dunkin Donuts sandwich for breakfast, got dressed and made-up. I showed up for the ceremony with a slightly low blood sugar that was swiftly corrected with a mini box of raisins (oh, if only I knew how many more I’d consume that night…).

I was fine, right through the cocktail hour and the start of dinner. But that’s where the troubles began. You see, there weren’t many passed hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour, and I could’ve really used some because I hadn’t eaten anything besides the sandwich and the raisins all day long. By the time dinner started, I was ravenous and basically shoved anything within arm’s reach into my mouth. This included a lot of cheese, meats, and pieces of flatbread.

If I’d actually been thinking about how my blood sugars usually respond to slow-acting carbs in things like flatbread, I might’ve actually wound up okay. But over the course of the next several hours, as wedding guests were whooping it up on the dance floor, my blood sugar was making a slow and steady climb up into the 300s! When I finally realized this, I started taking correction boluses that, apparently, were far too aggressive…because when I finally ended the night in my hotel room around 1:30 A.M., I was in the 70s. And dropping.

My lowest blood sugar was 43 that night. I ate multiple packs of raisins, 5 or 6 glucose tablets, a FiberOne bar, and half a pack of peanut butter crackers. All between the hours of 1:30 and 4 in the morning. It was exhausting. I was tearful and sweating so badly at one point that it looked like I had just come out of the shower. I even wound up sending my sleepy boyfriend down to the lobby at one point to buy me an orange juice, because I was running out of low blood sugar remedies. I drank half of it and was relieved to see my CGM showing, at long last, a diagonal up arrow. I couldn’t believe that I’d just spent the last few hours hovering below my “low” threshold on my CGM, but I didn’t waste any more time thinking about it – I was extraordinarily tired and happy to finally go to sleep.

But now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve realized that I need a new strategy for myself and my diabetes when it comes to weddings. I’m going to be my cousin’s maid of honor next month, for goodness’ sake, so I want to do everything I can to ensure “decent” (i.e, blood sugars under 200 but over 80) for the special day.

A key to success, I think, will be regularly scheduled meals and making sure that I avoid an empty stomach at all costs.

A1c: Keep it a Secret or Share it with the World?

This post originally appeared on ASweetLife.org on May 12, 2015. I felt very strongly about keeping my A1c to myself four years ago. I’m still not too keen on sharing it with the world for the reasons I explain in this post, but I have been known to celebrate A1c victories on social media by posting particularly exciting results. Where do you stand on the spectrum? Keep it a secret, share it with others, or somewhere in between?

Over time, I’ve grown more comfortable with the concept of sharing as much of my diabetes story as possible. I’m open to the idea of answering questions that others may have for me, but there’s a key piece of information that I don’t think I will ever willingly share online: my hemoglobin A1c.

Some might make the assumption that this is because I feel ashamed or defeated by that number. I won’t lie, there are times in which I do get disheartened by my current A1c – particularly when I expected to hear a more favorable report from my endocrinologist.

Rather, I think the real embarrassment stems from the comparisons I make between my own A1c and the numbers reported by others. When I began blogging for ASweetLife just over two years ago, that marked the start of me exploring the world of T1D blogs. It was awesome to connect with others virtually by reading about their own personal experiences with diabetes. I admired the courage that many demonstrated by revealing some of their greatest challenges and obstacles they had overcome in their journeys. It seemed that improved A1c numbers were a common theme for nearly all of them.

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What do you do with your A1c information?

At that point, I started to compulsively compare my number to everyone else’s numbers. I seriously questioned myself and my ability to obtain a better A1c reading. I mentally berated myself for having a less-than-perfect number. The rational part of me knew that it was not wise to measure myself against others, but I just couldn’t seem to help it.

After a while, it dawned on me that the road to better A1cs had not been smooth for any of these individuals. It was marked by divots, twists, and turns along the way. As such, I wasn’t being fair to myself as I sought to see a better A1c. I know that it’s hard work and that I just need to focus on my own overall health and well-being (as opposed to that of other people) as I continue to strive for that 6.

Regardless, don’t expect to see me posting my A1c to my blog any time soon. I don’t really think I need a daily reminder out there for all to see of what my A1c was at a given moment in time. Instead, I think it’s important that I focus on what’s happening now and what I can do to help my current state of being. So for now, I’m content with keeping my A1c to myself.

I Dos and Don’ts: My Tips for Attending a Wedding with T1D

I can always count on diabetes to make life’s most joyous occasions just a bit more challenging…so I shouldn’t have been surprised when my diabetes threw several curve balls at me on my cousin’s wedding weekend.

There was the moment at the rehearsal dinner when I stood up to get something and hit my leg against a chair, literally knocking my pod off my thigh. (But I didn’t even realize it for another 20 minutes.)

There was the moment later that night, after the rehearsal dinner, that I discovered my blood sugar was high and that my mealtime dinner bolus probably was never delivered.

There was the moment the next morning that I realized my breakfast options were limited to a giant, carb-y bagel or a massive, sugary blueberry muffin.

There was the moment when I was with the bridal party – applying makeup, styling hair, and trying to calm the bride down – that it hit me that I had no idea what to do with my backpack (a.k.a., my diabetes bag) during the ceremony, as I had to be standing up there with the other bridesmaids during the vows.

There was the moment I psyched myself out big time by wondering what the hell would happen if I passed out in the middle of the ceremony in front of all of the esteemed guests.

There was the moment I went a little too overboard on drinking Prosecco at the reception…and a few more cocktails at the after party.

There was the moment I woke up the next day with a high blood sugar and hangover from hell.

Needless to say, there were quite a few diabetes “moments” over the course of an otherwise beautiful weekend. As a result of them, I’ve decided to document some wedding dos and don’ts for myself, as this won’t be the first time this year that I’m a bridesmaid in someone’s wedding. Here’s my unofficial roundup.

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Showing off my decked-out pod at the wedding reception.

Do have plenty of back-up supplies. I got lucky this time around because my parents were a phone call and short car ride away from me when my pod fell off. I should’ve been carrying insulin and a spare pod on me, but at least it was within my mother’s reach at the hotel room.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Things happen, and I’ve got to learn to accept them more quickly so I can better adapt to a situation. It took me awhile to forgive myself for the pod snafu at the rehearsal dinner, and if I hadn’t snapped out of it, then it could’ve ruined the night for me.

Do try to plan meals when possible. I knew that I should avoid a high-carb breakfast on such a busy morning, but I can’t resist a blueberry muffin, especially when it’s one of two breakfast options I had. I wish I’d thought to bring food that had accurate carb counts on it so I could’ve had more predictable blood sugars throughout the day, but I did come back down from the sugar-induced high relatively promptly.

Don’t forget that family and friends are willing to help. My “problem” with my backpack was solved by handing it off to my boyfriend about 30 minutes before the ceremony started. I didn’t miss any photo opps with the bride and bridesmaid during the hand off and I felt better knowing it was in good care.

Do remember that time flies. I had to keep myself in context; after all, I was standing up in front of the guests for less than 30 minutes. I knew there was relatively little insulin in my system and that I was starting to level out somewhere in the 100s by the time the ceremony started. The odds of me passing out were slim, and I needed to give myself that reality check.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Duh, that’s drinking rule #1! I’m embarrassed to admit that I maybe had two glasses of water during the entire reception and after party. It’s not like there wasn’t water available, so I don’t know what I was thinking. But I do know that I was incredibly lucky to hold onto stable blood sugars well into the night, despite my lack of hydration.

Do have a plan for hangovers. Sometimes, they happen, and they’ve got to be dealt with swiftly. After some consultation with my mother, I set a temp basal to fight against my high blood sugar and downed glass after glass of water. By early afternoon, I was feeling much better. And even though I had a bellyache, I didn’t yak, so I suppose that’s a silver lining.

And one extra “do”…do have fun with diabetes devices! I decked out my pod in a Pump Peelz sticker that had an image of the lighthouse we were near on it. Sure, it wasn’t visible to anyone but me (and a few people I couldn’t resist showing), but it still made me feel extra special and coordinated with the wedding venue. Sometimes, its the little things in life.

So besides taking several valuable dos and don’ts away with me from this weekend, I’m also walking away with a wonderful first experience as a bridesmaid to a cousin who’s always felt more like a sister to me. When it comes down to it, my irritation with diabetes doesn’t matter – it’s the love and celebrations I felt all weekend long that do matter.

Brunching with ‘Betes

Confession: I’m a brunch lovin’ millennial who also really hates brunch.

The reason I hate brunch (besides waiting all morning long to eat my first meal, I get hangry) is that it annihilates my blood sugars.

Breakfast Alley
It’s not uncommon for me to spend several hours after brunch trying to correct a high blood sugar.

It probably has a lot to do with the aforementioned fact that the timing of a typical brunch is typically not favorable when it comes to my basal rates and insulin-to-carb ratios. On a normal weekday, I’m used to eating breakfast within an hour of waking up. My body and my blood sugars are very much so accustomed to this pattern, so when it’s interrupted, it shouldn’t be any wonder why they don’t respond well.

It’s not that I don’t try. I do everything I can to offset the lateness of a brunch meal by running a temp basal and ordering as low carb as I can. And it seems to work well, up until I get up to leave the table and head home. Often, I find myself correcting two or maybe even three times after brunch, and it’s extremely annoying.

Maybe I could help curb spiking blood sugar by ordering just one mimosa, as opposed to two or even three (or just skip drinking them altogether, but seriously, I’ve had enough mimosas in my life to know how to properly bolus for them). Maybe I could insist to my friends that brunch plans should be earlier and force all of us to wake up early on a weekend morning. Maybe I could skip brunch plans altogether.

But that would be accepting defeat. Just like I refuse to let diabetes ruin any aspect of my life, I won’t let it stop me from enjoying brunch with whomever I please. I’ll figure out how to avoid post-brunch highs, I just know it. It’ll just take a little more time and patience…and several more brunch outings. Yum.

5 Things That I Don’t Mind About Having Diabetes

I thought about how I should title this blog post many, many times. It didn’t feel right to say “5 Things I Like About Having Diabetes” or “5 Things That Make Diabetes Okay”…because I will never like having diabetes, and I will never be okay with it.

But that being said, after living with it for 21 years, there are some “perks” to it that have made it somewhat more bearable. Okay, a LOT more bearable. Besides insulin, diabetes technology, and the like, there are five things that I came up with that make diabetes suck less for me.

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First, and most obviously…diabetes has brought wonderful friendships into my life. I’ve written about these friendships many times before and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so in the future, because they’re invaluable to me. I have some regrets about not realizing the importance of peer support when it comes to diabetes when I was younger, but maybe I figured it out in adulthood because some part of me knew that was when I would need it the most.

Second, diabetes has made me stronger. I won’t downplay the fact that it increases my anxiety and stress levels…but I also can’t deny that the trials and tribulations of life with type 1 diabetes has made me a tougher person.

Third, diabetes has forced me to be an obsessive planner. I do wish that I could live a bit more spontaneously sometimes, but honestly, I’m pretty proud of my ability to think ahead and plan well in advance of things. These planning skills have translated to other aspects of my life, too – I wasn’t on the party planning committee at work just for the heck of it!

Fourth, diabetes has taught me so much about nutrition. I’ve been reading nutrition labels before I could read actual books. I’ve met with nutritionists at various points in my life to learn how to eat a balanced, healthy diet that consists of the right amount of carbohydrates for me. I’ve educated myself on the power of the glycemic index and how it impacts blood sugar. Without diabetes, I’m not so certain that I’d have such a clear understanding of how different foods affect my entire body. I’m grateful to know so much about nutrition, because I think it makes me a healthier person, overall.

And fifth, diabetes has lead me to several interesting (and in some cases, compensated) research opportunities. Yes, you’ve read that correctly – my diabetes has allowed me to be a research study participant in a handful of studies and I’ve gotten paid for my involvement. The amounts have varied over the years – anything from a $5 Amazon gift card to a $200 stipend – but it’s not just getting paid that makes research participation worth it to me. It’s also knowing that I could be making a difference to the larger diabetes community. For instance, offering detailed feedback on a diabetes device or product might help make it better in the future, and if that means I spend an hour on the phone answering questions, then of course I’ll do it.

In times of diabetes hardship, it’s important for me to remember these five things. Diabetes was a shit card in life that I was dealt, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen to me. Reminding myself of these bright spots help to make life with diabetes a little bit better.