Remember that time you bought a fancy new gym membership, started working out again, feeling good about yourself, your new routine, the motivational LuLu Lemons you just splurged on, and then you realize you’re actually getting a little fat? Yeah, me too. But guess what, it doesn’t have to be this way.
My culprit? The biggest downfall to diabetes known to man (and by man I mean me): Fitness lows. These buggers will sneak up on me, bite me in the ass, and then, when I least expect it, make my muffin top go from mini to Costco size.
This is a challenge I’ve had since the day I was diagnosed in 2005. It’s a pretty simple equation. The harder I work out, the harder my blood sugars will fight me if I don’t pay close attention to them. Seems fair, right?
I was an athlete back in the day, so according to science, being in shape is something that was 100% mandatory for me. And, at age 26, being in shape is even more important because things are starting to hurt when I go up stairs, and because, let’s be real… who wants to be around a lady who doesn’t take good care of her bod. Working out is something I’ve always loved to do. I thoroughly enjoy pushing my body to punch stress in the face and to remind myself how strong I really am. However, as a diabetic, some of the joy of this process can be sucked out if we’re not extremely careful.
For the first few years I had diabetes, I let bad behavior slide when it had anything to do with sports or fitness. I would carbo load the night before games as I always had, but found that since my pancreas had benched itself, this method was no longer terribly affective. I was all over the place, and with no pump, I had very little ability to find themes or patterns that would make my numbers more predictable. Before games, I’d let my numbers rise a bit, because the natural ability our bodies have to burn off sugar while exercising was “enough”…about 20% of the time. Other times, I would test, correct, go out there, run my ass off for 90 minutes, come back to the bench, and be rocking a solid blood sugar of 45. I still have a distinct memory of testing at half time in a playoff soccer game senior year, being scary-low, chugging a gatorade and eating a handful of skittles (#powersnack), and playing like shit the second half. We lost, it was the last game of my high school career, and I’ll never forget that after all of that, I was about 300 after the game from over-correcting. Talk about all around fail.
Years later, I would find myself training for a half marathon. Still no pump in my life, but I did have a little bit more wisdom with regard to the pre-workout, mid-workout, post-workout rise and fall of the finicky blood sugars, or so I thought. I got a little cocky with it, and would often find myself dangerously stacking my insulin dosages to avoid staying high. I was training during football season so I would also find myself eating wings and drinking Shipyards on Sundays after long runs because …well, I had just run 8 miles, what could possibly go wrong? You get the picture about where this went…
I was a roller coaster of crazy. Well, I always am anyway, I’m me. But I mean my numbers. Since I ran in the evenings my lows would strike under the cover of darkness and disrupt my slumber almost exactly at 4am when my Lantus (long-acting) insulin really kicked in. It was so brutal. I’d spring up out of bed, sweaty, shaking, feeling all around pretty black out. And, since I was 87% asleep, my willpower was minimal. I would eat. Oh my god, the disgusting concoctions I would create were something to be featured on a stoner’s food blog. I would eat frosting. I would eat pretzels. I would eat pretzels that I dunked in frosting. Then, to top it off, I’d snag a handful of Ritz and a piece of cheese because…why not. It was as if I had convinced myself that lows were a free pass. That no calories would enter my body if I was correcting a low. I would wolf this garbage down as fast as I could, not measuring anything, not counting out 25g of carbohydrates and then waiting 15 minutes to re-test. I would just binge, think about how miserable I was, then face plant back in my bed, hoping for the best. Needless to say, the guilt complex that would abruptly bubble up the second I awoke was only rivaled by the nausea I would experience post-pig out. Almost every time I did this, I would wake up in the high 200’s essentially negating all the hard work I would do all day to fuel my body to run 13 miles. It was not good. I packed on about 10 pounds during the months I was training, and I refused to believe that my low-correction process was incredibly unhealthy both physically and emotionally.
Shortly after that half marathon, which I ran very successfully with shockingly stable blood sugars, I realized it was time to make some serious changes. It was infuriating to work so fucking hard on making progress towards a fitness goal, only to derail my own efforts with offensive midnight binge fests. The lows had to stop. And, the swings overall, needed some serious attention. That’s when Derek came in, and he changed everything.
Now, when I go through my spurts of, “maybe this is the year I’ll lose my baby weight!” and start hitting the gym more regularly, I remember that soccer game in Gorham in 2005, and how disappointed I was that I hadn’t been more careful. No system is ever going to be perfect. However, frosting is not the answer. I still get insanely frustrated when my numbers plummet after a workout. But now that I have a pump, insulin stacking is harder to do, and the control to cut dosages pre-workout is a no brainer.
Diabetes and fitness can be aggressive frenemies. Working hard is already enough of a physical challenge without fearing it will be totally sabotaged by your blood sugar. It took me a while to realize, too, that allowing my numbers to rise too high for a workout to avoid the lows, was just as lethal because, as we all know, artificial insulin injections also contribute to weight gain! YAY! SO, the moral of the story is: being low makes you fat and being high makes you fat. Right? Unfortunately, this is not far from true. So what’s the solution?
TEST. Yeah, I know, it hurts like hell and takes a grand total of 1 minute to do, but it’s truthfully the only way to figure out how your body is reacting to your workout. You’re the only person that can do this for yourself because as much as we all love the Tone It Up girls and Jillian Michaels, they don’t have diabetes.
Yoga, Spin, Barry’s Bootcamp, running, whatever your flavor of workout is, they’re all going to impact you differently. You can bet your bottom dollar that high-intensity cardiovascular workouts are going to chop your numbers down… and fast, so maybe you let yourself be a little higher than normal right before a workout, and store a healthy low-correcting option in your bag so you’re not tempted to ruin your your beast mode if you do crash afterward. Yoga can be surprisingly impactful on your numbers, too. I used to get low after yoga often. My hypothesis was because of the deep, low, and slow muscle work, so now I keep a coconut water in my bag just in case.
Again, those are just my experiences, yours can be different. But, there is no need to go through life fearing the fitness lows, or making excuses to not workout because of them. Testing and being well-prepared were what saved me from my weight swings, my low binges, and all the other fun stuff that comes with trying to look like the girls on the cover of magazines. Like I say in almost every Sugars post. Just…do it for you. Do it because you have been dealt a hand of cards that makes life a little more challenging and you owe it to your body to make it a fortress. To build it up a little stronger. To give it more of a sense of life and access to more excitement. And, of course, despite the infusion set sticker on your back, so that when you look in the mirror BUTT NAKIE, you can say, “oh damn, I look good.”