How did your type 2 diagnosis come about?
I’m a clinical psychologist, so I should know better, but I put the fatigue down to overwork, my blurry vision down to getting older and my hunger down to sugar lows from not eating well. I had a lot of symptoms I’d been explaining away. As my hunger became abnormally strong, it struck me that diabetes was probably causing my symptoms. I had the blood test on my 55th birthday. Six days later, my GP called me at 7pm. I knew the results must have been startling for her to call at that time, but I had only recently learnt that my fasting blood glucose level was 18. At that stage I weighed 147kg. I was terribly obese. I had yo-yo dieted for years and my mother has type 2, but part of me still thought I’d never get diabetes. It sounds strange but I was completely shocked and yet not even slightly surprised.
What was your response to the diagnosis?
I immediately made a 180-degree change to my diet. I ate healthy, lean and pristine and started to exercise. I could only walk for six minutes before I’d get puffed and my hips started to hurt. Just walking around my yard was enough to get my heart rate up. I lost 30kg in six months, then I hit the gravel. I wasn’t terrified anymore, and without fear as my prime motivator, I got back into all the habits that had made me an over-eater in the first place.
How did you end up finally changing the way you eat?
At one stage, before my diagnosis, I was studying hard and under incredible stress, so I stopped taking care of myself. I’d come home and have Tim Tams for tea. I live on my own, and part of the problem was that I could never think of things to cook. Then I discovered a website called skinnytaste.com, which has tasty, healthy recipes. Now I do a big cook-up every Sunday, so when I come home from work I already have a healthy meal that just needs heating up. I also love salads with interesting dressings.
How is your health now?
I take diabetes medication and I don’t know what would happen to my blood glucose levels without it. I hope one day to go off it but at the moment it makes me feel more secure. I’m probably only losing 1kg a week but my weight has been more stable. I’ve learnt to set goals differently now.
Tell us about how you set your goals now.
I went through a stage of losing 3kg a week and my endocrinologist asked me what my next goal was. I said I wanted to get to 100kg and he said, ‘No, your next goal is one more kilogram and don’t put a timeframe on when to get there.’ I’ve learnt to accept a slow rate of weight loss, instead of yo-yoing, because having a really good week and then a really bad one is seriously terrible for me.
Did you have issues with food as a child?
I went on my first diet when I was 11. When I look back at photos I can see that I was a normal weight, but I misinterpreted becoming curvy as becoming fat and cut myself back to 800 calories (3350kJ) a day. If I could coach my 11-year-old self now, I’d say go to yoga and get involved with something that makes you move. That would have solved the problem.
Was your mother able to help you, given she has type 2?
When I was diagnosed my mother was incredibly helpful and I was so lucky to have her support. My dad’s response to my diagnosis was really unhelpful. He was very well meaning, but he said he’d been worried about me for a long time and I’d never been willing to do anything about my health, and so now of course this has happened. I wanted to punch him. I told him I just needed him to support me, and that venting his fear and shock wasn’t helpful. There is shame in this illness for me. I might have a genetic predisposition, but if I’d eaten properly I might have dodged it. I ate myself into this problem and in order to unravel it, I have to come to terms with what is driving that behaviour.
How much better are you feeling these days?
When you are obese, everything is an effort. Now, everything is more pleasurable, even just to stand up and walk around. There is so much more joy to be had these days and that gives me much more resilience with stress. I’m much more present and I’m participating more in my day. I’m getting there.
By Heather Wiseman