Hi, my name is Kris and I’m a Type 2 diabetic. For many years I wasn’t very good about taking care of myself — before and after my diagnosis in March 2002.
Then this horrible week happened in June 2012. And to cope with it, I started walking my dog five days a week. This time last year I was able to walk about three miles in about an hour. When I decided to start walking, my friend Ilyse, who is a breast cancer survivor, challenged me to walk the Torchlight Run. I didn’t think I would be ready for it as the event was a month out from that conversation. Instead, I walked the inaugural Bra Dash 5K, and she walked with me. By that point I decided I wanted to be a runner and when we walked at Lake Wilderness I told Ilyse I wanted her to run my first 5K with me, likely in December.
Then I did something I never thought I would do in my life: I became a runner.
Somewhere along the way on this journey I became an inspiration to others, particularly women, to start exercising. I don’t understand it. Honestly, I just started walking out of guilt and grief over the death of my first dog. I felt like I neglected her and our other dog. I started walking just to deal with it but then it became something else.
When I signed up for the Bra Dash 5K I knew I had to train. I had to be serious. And as I trained, I started researching how to eat like someone training for an athletic event. I started out simply. I started cutting back on my carbohydrate intake. See, I lost about 15 pounds before this all started, but not in the best way. I’ll be honest. In the fall of 2011 when I started covering more fall sports, particularly football, I started skipping meals and my medications to manage my diabetes. It was a really messed up way to develop portion control. I do not recommend it. But six months later I could only eat about half as much as I did before high school fall sports season started. One good thing came out of that bad series of decisions. But, I still ate a lot of crap.
I love pizza. I love wings. I love pasta. I love chocolate. I really love chocolate. And Red Vines and doughnuts and pastries and cake and bread. Oh, and I like beer, not the cheap mass-produced domestic stuff. No. The expensive craft microbrews which have a ton of calories and carbs. I don’t drink much at one sitting, one or two at a time, but that’s a lot of calories.
At that time I probably ate out for lunch at least three times a week at Red Robin, Trapper’s Sushi, Applebee’s and the Rock, just to name a few of my favorite spots. I ate out fairly frequently on weekends, too.
That had to change. At some point I decided I would eat out once a week for lunch at one of those favorite places, the rest of the time I would be much more careful about what I ate. I decided I would go out for dinner during over the weekend. I am lucky my husband likes to cook. And he is understanding. For five months I cut out desserts, pasta, pizza, all alcohol and began slowly removing most other types of beverages from my diet.
By the time I was ready to shift into the Couch to 5K running program, I had lost another 10 pounds. Unfortunately, despite all the hard work, I still wasn’t making the best choices as a diabetic. My doctor switched up my medications and told me to test my blood sugar regularly then adapt my dosages accordingly. I didn’t do that. I just went off the medication she wanted me to stop taking and just took the new one she gave me in July.
Then I went back to the doctor in early October and everything looked good until the labs came back. My A1c, which is a measure of the average number of my blood sugar levels, was 8.8 percent. That was bad. Very, very bad — and I was upset. Somehow, that didn’t derail me. I was four months into a series of better habits and lifestyle changes. I kept going. This time, though, I started tracking my blood sugar levels. I got my numbers under control within a week and at that point I was a few weeks into the Couch to 5K running plan, which lasts nine weeks. It’s worth noting that I get up and workout first thing in the morning. That’s when I have to do it. I make time for it. You can’t make excuses. That is the quickest way to sabotage yourself. Don’t do it. Don’t be your own worst enemy.
The extra weight kept coming off, fat was replaced with muscle. I ran my first 5K Dec. 9. I decided to run five more by the end of June. In January, I saw my doctor again. My A1c was a beautiful 6 percent. I lost eight more pounds, inching my total fat loss to 38 pounds, I think. I was starting to put together the idea that exercise plus the right fuel and hydration for my body, which is a runner’s body, was the key to my success. That thinking like an athlete rather than focusing on weight loss and deprivation was the key.
I kept running. I felt better all the time. I discovered that on days I ran I could eat a little bit more carbs and take a little bit less medication. I ran three days a week, so nine to 10 miles total, then in late December added a cross training workout so I was back to four days a week of exercise. During the next few months I started cutting out other things. I quit drinking diet Snapple iced tea. I quit drinking Vitamin Water Zero. I quit drinking anything other than one cup of coffee with breakfast in the morning and water the rest of the day. The biggest victory was quitting soda. I weaned myself down to one small can of Coke Zero on weekends after my run on Saturday. A hectic weekend in mid-March led me to drink too much diet soda and it took me an entire week to recover.
No more soda for me which is no small feat. My soda habit began when I was in middle school, more than 20 years ago, and it took me two years of effort to quit.
Sometime in the past seven or eight months I decided to have at least one day a week where I don’t eat meat. I did this because I started reflecting on my eating habits and realized I was, at most, eating meat once a day and sometimes I would go two or three days straight without meat. My sister is a vegetarian, a vegan really but she likes chocolate and ice cream, so eating vegetarian dishes were a part of my life since I was 6 or 7 years old — she’s almost 12 years older than me and quit eating meat or consuming most animal products when she was 18, if I remember right.
One thing I decided to do early on, if I remember right, is allowed myself a cheat day. Typically Saturdays I would eat whatever I wanted, especially at our lunch or dinner out as a family, which helped avert the feeling of deprivation though that’s not really an issue because this is all about thinking of myself as an athlete so I fuel and hydrate accordingly.
That means I don’t eat most fast food. Once a month I may eat at Ivar’s or Taco Time. But their ingredients are better and a few pieces of fish with coleslaw on the side is considerably healthier than anything you could get at one of the big national chains no matter what they may say is in their healthier or low-calorie options.
As I get deeper into this running journey I have also started eating more organic foods. I don’t like every organic food I eat and doing an all-organic diet is challenging but I figure the fewer chemicals I put into my body the better. This is a choice I made for me. I won’t judge you if you don’t shop exclusively at Whole Foods. I sure don’t. Not everything in my shopping cart is organic. But, I try.
At my last appointment with my doctor in early June I was down 46 pounds from my highest weight at the end of my pregnancy. I had just run my sixth 5K a few days earlier. I was eating four or five small meals a day. At that point I lost eight inches off my chest, 13 inches off my waist and another eight inches off my hips. My A1c was 5.9 percent.
When I met with Pam Kramer, a registered dietician and diabetes educator at MultiCare, a few weeks ago to talk about the Summers End Fun Run I caught her up on all I accomplished since October. She’s a runner. And she works with diabetics just like me. Kramer told me I needed to write about what running has done for me because other diabetics need to see my story.
I am absolutely not here to pat myself on the back. I am not trying to inspire anyone. I am trying to add years to my life. I want to watch my daughter grow up and maybe have another baby. I want to be healthy. But I do want everyone to know, whether they are a type 2 diabetic like I am or not, they can get healthy.
You have to decide to start when you know you can form those healthy habits. You have to accept it will take time. It will take work. It will require patience.
And it will require putting all the pieces together. Exercise or dietary changes alone will achieve some results but learning how to combine activity with the appropriate fuel and hydration will truly change your life. It changed mine.
I’m a little more than a year into this journey to better health. The support I have from my husband, my friends, my family, this amazing community, blows my mind. I could not have accomplished any of it without that support. Something Steve Murray, pastor of Real Life Church, has told me is that people are attracted to a vision. If you have a vision, one that is positive, conversations will revolve around it and support will flock to it. That is what I found in my journey to become a runner.
I just ran the Torchlight 8K July 27 with my friend Ilyse. I will run the Bra Dash 5K this year. I will run my first 10K Oct. 6 and a couple more after that then I will begin my half marathon training in December — ooh, it occurs to me that eating during the holidays will be a bit more pleasant! — and possibly run my first half marathon in early March.
My goal is to get to a size eight. For years I was between a size 18 and 20. As I write this I am a size 12. I won’t weigh what I did when I graduated from high school but I will be able to fit into clothes from that period of my life. When I can wear my prom dress I will take a photo and post it to Facebook.
In the years since I was diagnosed I always wondered how other type 2 diabetics were able to manage their health through diet and exercise. I thought I was just going to always take medications and always be heavy. Then I started walking which led to running which led to this domino effect of change. Never again will I be the diabetic who doesn’t take care of herself. I may have weak moments or tough days, but, all those collective bad habits are gone. I’m a type 2 diabetic who is in the best health and shape of her life. And it will only get better.