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Diabetes For The Day: Part Two.

A few weeks ago, I had a co-worker who wanted to experience diabetes for the day to help him better understand what life with diabetes can be like.  His experiment prompted another co-worker to want to give it a go.  For her day, she tested her blood sugar approximately 10 times, wore a make-shift "insulin pump" that we fashioned in a hurry out of a Kool-Aid box (sugar-free Kool-aid, don't worry), and tried to "think like a diabetic" as best she could.  She recorded her numbers, her food, and her experiences.  (And her feedback was amazing - check it out!)

Makeshift insulin pump
Insulin pump made from yarn, a band-aid, and a Kool-Aid box.  Of course!

Kerri:  You have a very definitive food philosophy.  Why do you eat the way you do?

Co-Worker:  I’ve been writing about health and nutrition for 10 years now, and as I’ve followed the scientific literature, I’ve formed some basic beliefs about the way we fuel our bodies and how that impacts everything about us. I tell people to think “caveman” any time they are unsure about how to eat (or even exercise). Our DNA hasn’t changed a bit, and our bodies were beautifully designed to thrive on the nutrients that come from animals, fish, and plants. Diabetes or no, when we eat “from the earth,” blood sugar and insulin levels are steadier. When we consume too much of the stuff that is made in factories and comes with a long list of ingredients on the box, among many other negative effects blood sugar and insulin are on a lifelong rollercoaster. And, increasingly, research is showing this is an important factor in the physiological damage that leads to cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

(Are you bored yet? Can you believe I still find it all fascinating?)

Kerri:  How did testing your blood sugar affect the way you thought about food?

Co-Worker:  It didn’t change what I ate or how I thought about my food, but it made me more conscious of my various states -- very hungry, very full, lightheaded. Because I was obsessively looking at the clock all the time and figuring out when I could test next and wondering what my blood sugar was doing.

Kerri:  Did you find the blood sugar testing to be painful?  How comfortable were you with the process?

Co-Worker:  The actual prick didn’t bother me, except when I accidentally had the thingie turned up to 4. But I ended up with a surprisingly sore fingertip the first day, because I thought I should do all of my pricks on the same finger for some reason. When I got in my car, it hurt pressing the button to make my window go down and when I was doing yoga later, it hurt to have my fingertips pressing into my mat!

Close-Up of Pump
This was how we clipped the "pump" to her clothes for the day.

Kerri:  How did the blood glucose numbers make you feel? Did any of your results make you raise an eyebrow?

Co-Worker:  I expected to see more fluctuation, so the steadiness of my numbers amazed me. And I have to say, I felt great about my numbers because they seemed to vindicate -- in a very concrete way -- the way I eat and the way I advise others to, which is basically protein with everything you eat, no low-fat anything, and treat all “white” foods as if they’re straight sugar. And don’t drink soft drinks other than unsweetened tea. My consistent blood sugar levels made me feel more confident that I’m doing the right thing and interpreting the research correctly. My poor friends and co-workers! If I wasn’t already, I will now be totally insufferable.

Kerri:  Do you feel as though you have a better idea of what life with diabetes is like?  What else would you want to know?  What are you grateful for not knowing?

Co-Worker:  Just a tiny bit, I guess. It was humbling to see that I can prick my finger a gazillion times and end up with blood spots on my clothes and experience the exasperation of running out of test strips and yet, really have only a smidge of an understanding of what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone living with real diabetes. I did have this one moment where I realized I’d forgotten to test and I was exercising and I kind of panicked for a split second, as if there could be real consequences. And there was another time when I was sitting somewhere very relaxed and having fun and suddenly had another little momentary freak-out that I’d forgotten about the whole diabetes thing for a little while and oh my god, did I mess up my experiment? I guess what I’d like to know is how well someone with real diabetes would do eating the way I do, and how closely you could stick to it. And what I’m grateful for not knowing is what’s it’s really like having to stay so on top of something 24/7. There’s nothing in my life I need to be aware of all the time like that. And the only time I did feel that was when I had a baby and that’s just a bit different.

Kerri:  Did this experiment make you appreciate your health any more?  Less?

Co-Worker:  I’m pretty good at appreciating my health, because I’m a cancer survivor and maybe a bit because of what I do. But did it make me aware that I’m lucky I don’t have diabetes? Yes. Unless having diabetes would mean I’d be more like Zippy, my hero.

[Editor's Note: This particular co-worker has slapped the nickname of "Zippy" on me because I'm incessantly chatty and fast-talking.  Hers is "Princess," for dozens of lovable reasons.  We all have nicknames here in the editorial department - and t-shirts to prove it - but that's a story for another post. :) ]

Zippy - er, Kerri:  Do you think other people who are close to diabetes, but aren’t diabetic themselves, should spend a day as a diabetic?

Co-Worker:  I think everyone should. Honestly, for some, it wouldn’t really increase their level of empathy or understanding. But yeah, if we’re talking about borderline type 2 -- and it’s a result of poor eating and lifestyle -- if I were a doctor and I wanted to strike fear in my patients’ hearts to get them to start taking care of themselves, I might use it as a strategy.

Kerri:  Anything else you want to add?

Co-Worker:  Oh my gosh, no. I’m such a blabbermouth. :)

The results of her blood work were as follows (these are her notes):

7:08am  102
Coffee with half and half and splenda

9:22am  121
More coffee, 1 plain cookie, nuts

11:37am  130
1:20pm  95

Snack & lunch: HB egg, cheese stick, nuts; small pesto pasta w/chicken,
small beet salad, 3 plain cookies

3:45  131
6:20  107

Yoga class, drank coconut water

7:50  126

Thin crust pizza with mushrooms, spinach, garlic oil; salad, olives, 2
glasses wine

9:19  105
10:54  95

THURSDAY (did not write down food)
7:30am 101
11:39am 99
1:52pm 98
3:20pm 102

I think her numbers are an interesting contrast to those of my other co-worker, who ate more pizza and white breads and subsequently saw more spikes.  It's amazing to see how food affects people without diabetes  - this helps me to clearly see how food affects me. 

Another co-worker just finished her day with diabetes, and I'll have her results in the next few days.  Have a great weekend, guys, and I'll see you on Monday!! 


I think I want to try this even if it's just to see how the food I normally eat affects my blood sugar.

I'm confused, mainly because of her response to the question "How did the blood glucose numbers make you feel? Did any of your results make you raise an eyebrow?". If this person does not have diabetes, then her response "I expected to see more fluctuation, so the steadiness of my numbers amazed me. And I have to say, I felt great about my numbers because they seemed to vindicate -- in a very concrete way -- the way I eat and the way I advise others to ..." makes very little sense, how on earth does that vindicate her advice, in fact, it seems to suggest the opposite is true for people without diabetes.

Everyone else who has the benefit of physiologically-delivered endogenous insulin, the range remains remarkably tight regardless, so that is no vindication.

But a far more "genuine" diabetes simulation experience would have been for her to follow her own recommended advice only to see numbers which defied what she was expecting!

Scott - Actually, I thought I agreed with you until I saw the results from the previous person's experience and the one that my other co-worker just completed. Out of the three people who have been "diabetic for the day," two of them ate white bread, bagels, and pizza and saw their non-diabetic blood sugar spike up to levels such as 191 mg/dl and 163 mg/dl. This co-worker (the one who is the focus of this post) doesn't eat that kind of food and she also didn't see any notable spiking. I thought that was interesting, seeing non-diabetics hit blood sugars as high as 191 mg/dl.

But I agree - having her follow a good eating plan and STILL seeing spikes - that's the true "diabetic experience"! :P

I really love the idea of people being diabetic "for a day" to understand what it's like. I wish some of my friends/family would try it.

I would also really like to have them actually inject real insulin and force a low (under supervision), as that is one of the scarier parts of being diabetic.

This is so awesome. I wish this was a TV show. That would be cool to see.

Great "pump" BTW.

So jealous of how close she hovered around 100 on the second day. When it's working properly, the human body is amazing!

Thanks for doing this Zippy! Having been diagnosed a year ago (my diabirthday was July 7th) I sometimes forget how overwhelming it can be because I'm always just dealing with it. Reading about how a diabenewbie deals with it reminds me how much we go through as part of the routine.

I love the moments of terror she felt when she thought she'd forgot. I have run out of many restaurants using unflattering language because I left my kit at home! It happens to the best of us.

Is it just me?...but....what in the world are "plain cookies"? And coconut water? Do people actually drink that?

BTW...awesome pump!!

I'm paranoid I have undiagnosed diabetes and this is my first blog to read - great first read! This is exactly what I'm looking for - what do "normal" people's bg do when eating.

I'm so glad your friend ate pasta so I could see where it went; I wish she would have documented her second day's food, too.

I ate popcorn w/gram for gram amounts of butter tonight and got a 150 2 hrs pp and was really bummed. I followed up w/2t of cod liver oil and it went down to 117 1 hr later. Anyway - I really appreciated this topic.

I'm celiac, and after you get the hang of finding gf food, it's tolerable. I'm trying to prevent diabetes (I'm 100 lbs overweight) and have to say, I loved your friend calling diabetes care much akin to having a child; so true. Diabetes mgt. is a ball and chain (sorry, but I love my kid) and I've only been doing it for a few months. (Best antidote is your friend's diet in my book as well - save a little popcorn once in a while).

I feel like a mad scientist. Thanks for blogging and sharing. I must get some shut eye or my bg will rise. ;0) Yawn.

I too want to try this as I want to know how food stuff which I eat affects my blood sugar. Your illustration was like a video tutorial.

What your coworkers are doing is admirable, but I have to say that all they are truly "experiencing" is the annoying, mundane tasks of having to think about food or pricking their finger.

To me, that's not what I wish people understood about diabetes. I wish they knew what it felt like to do the right thing, or the same thing, and feel SICK from it. Maybe there's a way to "simulate" a low or a high for a person w/o diabetes. A way to make them understand the frustration that accompanies trying very hard - which, indeed, is part of it - and still associating numbers with failure and self-doubt. Or actually feeling the lethargic, nauseous, aggression-filled highs and trembling, sweaty disorientation of a low.

I guess I fear an "I don't see what's so hard about pricking your finger" response from the non-D community.

This was great - I have one suggestion for your next "victim" - have them pick out foods, amounts, guess dosage - then you eat exactly the same and record your numbers for contrast. I always hate when I calculated everything perfectly and the numbers still dont work out - I think that would be more of an eye-opener for a non-D person, to see that doing it "right" isn't good enough most of the time...

Hi Kerri,

What is the theory against low-fat alternatives? I am a type 1 diabetic, in fit shape (slightly below my ideal body weight) with good A1C values. I have never heard "no low-fat anything" is the way to go. Thanks for your help.

That's pretty cool but I don't know if I could be that disciplined to do it all day!

I just have to laugh, not because I didn't find this very informative, but because of your co-worker's blood sugars. Wow... I'd love to have those numbers. I'm in the 400 - 700 and it's not a pleasant feeling. Good blog and I can/'t wait to see more.

Whose Glucose monitor did she use or did she buy one for the days? I want to try this I am only 13 but my friend has diabetes and not to mention Steven Johnson Syndrome, but I want to try but am unsure of meter situation.

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