Type II Diabetes: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Several years ago I received a grant to develop and offer an intensive program for adults with Type II diabetes. In keeping with many popular fitness programs, I called it “Diabetes Boot camp.” Twenty patients with diabetes and their partners participated in a 12-week program, attending weekly sessions. It was a privilege to participate in their quest for better health. We walked during every class and sampled low calorie, low fat, and high fiber dishes that we cooked. Class participants worked on changing eating habits and increased their exercise. We struggled to set realistic goals for ourselves. Making lifestyle changes is hard work. Maintaining them is even more difficult!
It was a rich learning experience for me. In preparation for the program, I wanted to have a better idea of what it was like to live with diabetes. For two weeks, I ate the recommended diabetes diet and took my blood sugars 2-3x a day. I attended The Everett Clinic’s class for patients with newly diagnosed diabetes. It was an eye opening two weeks! I developed a great deal of respect for the challenges of managing this condition. My conclusion—do everything you can do to avoid developing it in the first place!
Living with diabetes is a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week marathon. Sleep is the only vacation from medications, monitoring blood sugars, (sticking yourself several times daily, drawing blood, and measuring and tracking the amount of glucose in your blood), counting carbohydrates, and determining doses of insulin. It’s hard on everyone.
There is a lot of fear too. Big drops in blood sugars can result in shakiness, mood changes, and even unconsciousness. High blood sugars can also have big symptoms too. And, since diabetes often runs in families, patients know what can happen if they don’t manage their condition. They can face disability and declining health. They can lose limbs from poor circulation. It can be overwhelming to consider the long-term negative effects of poorly managed diabetes.
Ironically, the incidence type II diabetes has grown in industrialized countries largely because of the availability of highly processed, dense convenience foods and decreased exercise. I live in Seattle, and I make an effort to walk wherever I can. I walk to my local post office to pick up the mail, to the grocery store for milk, and to the coffee shop. Frequently, I am the only one hoofing it! Suburban development has also reduced the opportunity to walk. In the 21st century we don’t need to move our bodies to take care of our needs.
From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are still evolved to live as hunter- gatherers. Most of us have never hunted and the only gathering we do is at the local supermarket! Work has grown more sedentary, and office based. Recreation has also grown more inactive too with big screen TVs and digital toys.
At the same time, foods are created in factories rather than in fields. Processed foods are dense with calories, carbohydrates, and less fiber. Humans are opportunistic eaters—and as hunter-gatherers we are programmed to eat when food is available. Which in the 21st century is 24 hours a day! It’s a recipe for lifestyle conditions like diabetes!
The stage is set for diabetes in childhood. The growth of childhood obesity in industrialized countries has been epidemic. And we know, many children spend too much time in front of video screens, when in previous generations they would play outside. Recent good news—the rate of childhood obesity is starting to decline! The message of the last ten years has been translated into action. Schools have thrown out sugary drinks, deep fat fryers, and potato chips! Parents are keeping a closer eye on after school snacks. We are making progress.
What can parents do to help our children develop healthy habits?
Make exercise a regular part of family life. Make walking, biking, and hiking regular family outings. Don’t take no for an answer.
Limit screen time! Don’t get me started! Sitting in front of the tube, eating chips and cookies is a recipe for adult disease.
Don’t buy junk food and fast food. Keep it out of the house. We can all live with less of it. Stay away from fat laden fast food. An ounce of prevention is well worth it.