Low Carbing Works To Control Diabetes!
If I wrote a book on the details of the diet I grew up with, this would have to be the title. I marvel that I have even lived long enough to embrace the low carb way of life. My results are a testament to the fact that low carbing is not “A” way of eating. It is “THE” way of eating if you’re interested in living long and being healthy.
My mother left us to our own devices for breakfast by teaching us how to cook dry cereal and cold milk. Its a wonder to me how she developed this method considering the breakfast we were subjected to if we went to her mother’s house.
Breakfast at Granny’s house was a spectacle of domestic engineering. I’d wake up to the intoxicating aroma of bacon and sausage frying and fresh biscuits baking. Stumbling into the kitchen, following my nose, I was rewarded with an awe-inspiring sight: The Breakfast Table. There was always a plate of fried eggs with two degrees of yolk-doneness, runny and hard-cooked, and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Next to those would be a plate or bowl piled high with crispy bacon, sausage and fried bologna. Yes, all three. Every day. Surrounding the eggs and meat were no less than three bowls of gravy. You heard me. I said three bowls of gravy. This is The South, my friends, and gravy is king. We had your Red-Eye Gravy, made with grease and water. We had your normal gravy made with a roux of grease and flour, thinned out with half milk and half water. Then, the pièce de résistance, we had your gravy of gravies, Bulldog Gravy (AKA: milk gravy or country gravy. Up North, y’all call it white sauce). This is a thick, rich, exquisite concoction made with a super thick roux and pure milk. You could almost stand a spoon up in the stuff. Richard Simmons once came to Nashville and announced to the press afterward that folks in the South even dip their babies in gravy. He wasn’t just whistling, you’ll pardon the expression, Dixie.So, we’ve got three different styles of eggs, three different breakfast meats and three different kinds of gravy. What other damage could we possibly do? I’ll tell you. In a word, biscuits. Not just any biscuits. We had Granny’s homemade, thick, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits that would make you slap your mama for feeding you those Northern things out of a can. It turned out that, for me, the eggs and meat were mere seasonings for the biscuits and gravy. Don’t even get me started on the pear preserves. Maybe the most miraculous thing about Granny’s breakfast was that everything came out hot at the same time. While Mom may have been a slouch in the breakfast department, she more than made up for it by suppertime. Mom really shined with Starch-A-Rama suppers. My favorite was potatoes fried in Crisco in an iron skillet, cornbread baked in Crisco in an iron skillet, and a big ol’ pot of pinto or Northern beans. (I still believe that the iron skillet played a part in why I have such iron-rich blood today. Funny that I was anemic back then.) Add to this, a big bowl of sauerkraut cooked with hot dogs sliced up in it, and you have the favorite meal I always chose when it was my birthday.
I learned how to eat from watching my mother. She’d leave the leftovers out on the stove after we cleaned up the kitchen to make sure they were handy in case anyone needed to munch. Few of the leftovers ever made it to the fridge. Mom would take a saucer and get some leftover fried potatoes on it. I would watch, drooling, as she would take out a couple slices of white bread. She was very methodical. She would tear off exactly 1/4 of the bread slice, position it over a likely clump of fried taters and carefully pinch the bread square to pick up said clump of taters and pop it into her mouth. I learned this quickly. The same method was used to eat breaded and fried summer squash and okra.
We never thought about carbs or cholesterol or sugar in those days. Everybody was healthy as a horse. No diabetes, no high blood pressure and no heart disease. Granny and Mom never knew any better.
And Then Things Changed…
By the time Granny was 65 in about 1978 she had developed diabetes, followed quickly by high blood pressure and heart disease. Within 10 years, she had several strokes and episodes of congestive heart failure. For the last three years of her life, she was an invalid. But, right up until the day she died in 1991, she would have had beans and cornbread for supper if she could have eaten them.Mom developed diabetes in her mid 40’s, actually a couple years before Granny did. For the first couple of years, she tried to give up sugar. That is all the doctor told her in regard to adjusting her diet. Well, you don’t put sugar on white bread, cornbread, fried potatoes or gravy.
Her attempt to control her blood glucose with diet failed miserably. She went on oral meds, and ultimately insulin. She also went back to eating sugar. Mom was a great believer in the “this little bit won’t hurt me” method of diabetes control. After a few years, she learned to manipulate her insulin, taking a little extra shot to cover all her little bits. She didn’t end up gaining a whole lot of weight because she never took enough extra insulin to truly cover all the little bits she racked up over the course of the day. Her blood glucose level stayed in the 250-300 range all the time. Her doctor was baffled. He declared her a brittle diabetic, meaning her sugar could fluctuate wildly for no apparent reason. She also had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Over the next two decades Mom developed glaucoma, a common complication of diabetes. In 1998 she had her first stroke, which she never fully recovered from. Her left side remained paralyzed. In 1999 she developed a sore on the paralyzed foot, which resulted in gangrene, which resulted in her leg being amputated. In February 2000, she had another stroke. She developed an infection that produced the highest white blood cell count many of the medical professionals attending her had seen in their careers. Her kidneys shut down and even dialysis twice a day was insufficient to clear the toxins from her blood. She hung on, passing in and out of coma, long enough for me to get to Ohio to see her. My name was the last coherent word she uttered in her life. She quietly passed away within 24 hours of my arrival. She was only 68 years old.
This scared the holy bejeebers out of me.
My Battle With Diabetes
I had been diagnosed with diabetes around 1989. A futile attempt to control it by diet and exercise resulted in my doctor continually upping my dose of glyburide until I was taking 15 a day! She was trying to avoid taking the shocking step of putting me on insulin!
The doctor sent me to a dietitian, who gave me a booklet outlining the diabetic exchange diet. The dietitian started me out at 1000 calories a day, most of which was, you guessed it, carbohydrates. I lost weight on this diet for about two weeks, and not an impressive amount either – about 3 pounds. This most likely represented the depletion of the glycogen supply in my liver which typically weighs between 3 and 4 pounds.
The dietitian was thrilled! Over the next two weeks I lost another pound. The dietitian was concerned. Over the next two weeks I lost nothing. The dietitian started accusing me of cheating on my diet. In the meantime, I had lost a measly 4 pounds after enduring a month and a half of starvation dieting.
What was happening is that the tiny engineer inside my body panicked! (I like to think of him as Scotty, since I’m an incurable Trekkie.) He saw that the warp drive was offline and we were operating on impulse only. The dilithium crystals had completely deteriorated. Scotty immediately diverted all remaining power to life support only.
“Captain,” he shouted, “I canna gae ye annathin but minimum life support under these conditions!” Scotty had declared a red alert and put the ship on STARVATION MODE.
During the next two weeks of the exchange diet, to Scotty’s credit, I managed to gain two pounds. The dietitian was livid! After enduring 30 minutes of her trying to convince me how serious my condition was and how dangerous my cheating was to my health, I stood up, put an eyebrow on stun, (a la Spock), and expressed my disbelief that her parents were EVER married and walked out, never to return. She’s lucky I didn’t deck her first.
In that entire two-month period I never cheated on the diet. Not once! To prove it I drove directly to Dairy Queen and had a banana split. I ate myself into a drunken stupor, literally, for the next week, and declared an end to dieting in my lifetime. I started handling my diabetes the same way my mother did. I avoided sugar most of the time well, sometimes Oh, all right! I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, diabetes be damned!
My doctor finally buckled and put me on insulin in 1994. Over the course of the next 5 years she increased my insulin incrementally until I was taking a whopping 50 units every morning and still taking 10 glyburide every night. My blood glucose hovered between 290 and 350.
In 1999 I found Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution in the clearance bin at Wal-Mart for $1.99, said, What the hell, and threw it in my cart. A couple weeks later, I picked it up and started trying to read it. What I remember was “blah, blah, blah low carbohydrate, blah, blah, blah, induction, blah, blah.” At that point the sandman would start beating me to death. After a couple attempts to read the hows and whys of the plan, I skipped to the Induction portion of the program. I made copies of the Do’s and Don’ts and tried to follow the program one day. I wasn’t happy with it, so I jumped on the Internet to find a reason to quit. Bam! No problem! I cant follow this diet! I’ll lose muscle, and calcium in my bones. And, ye gods! My pancreas might even explode! I picked up the book and decided to store it someplace safe. I put it with my precious genealogy material, which is to say I chucked it on the floor in my bedroom.
Then, Mom died. I saw myself going the same way she did in 20 years. I high tailed it to my new doctor the moment I returned to Tennessee in early March of this year. The results were not good:
- Weight: 257 (Normal: ???)
- Glucose: 258 (Normal: 72-114)
- HbA1c: 11.7 (Normal: 7)
- Cholesterol: 281 (Normal: 130-200
- HDL: 55 (Normal: 30-85)
- VLDL/LDL: 226 (Normal: 0-172)
- CHO/HDL: 5.1 (Normal: 1-4.5)
That HbA1c is a tricky, new beast the doctors use to keep you from fooling them into believing you are controlling your blood sugar. You used to be able to fool them by eating correctly for a couple of days before the test and/or taking extra insulin. (That’s what Mom used to do.) The HbA1c will reveal to the doctor how your blood glucose has behaved over the last two months.
Doc decided to change my meds. (Duh!) He put me on one Actos per day, a blood glucose-lowering agent, and 45 units of 70/30 Humilin in the AM, and gave me a new insulin, N. I was to take 25 units of this new insulin at night. As we all know, insulin is the culprit that helps Scotty pack on the fat. I didn’t change my eating habits at all. The new meds worked only too well. Sure, the glucose wasn’t floating around in my blood any more because Scotty was snagging it and storing it! Over the course of the next 3 months I put on 28 pounds!
I’m basically a slow learner. I was not concerned over much about the scale telling me I weighed 285 pounds. Everyone knows these cheap scales aren’t accurate. I bought a new, better cheap scale and got the same result. I ignored it! Then, my clothes started to get tight. Unphased, I declared that the damn dryer was shrinking my clothing all of a sudden. I decided to get on the fancy doctor-type scale they have in the fitness center at work. Turns out they were in cahoots with my two cheap scales at home. How could I weigh 285 pounds? I talked to several people at work who told me that the scales weighed them the same as their doctors’ did. How could that be? Id been taking my meds, and I had cut down to 3 scoops of ice cream and a single candy bar a day.
All right! That’s it! Exploding pancreas be damned! Where’s that @#$% Atkins book. It took me two days to find it. I finally picked up a two-foot stack of precious genealogy records and Jimmy Hoffa handed me the book. I took the book and quickly covered him back up. (Sheesh! Somebody has GOT to clean up this mess! Er, I mean, organize these irreplaceable records.) I sat down and started actually reading the book. My husband had to get sunglasses to protect his eyes from the continuous flashing of the light bulbs going off over my head. I suffered an epiphany!
Low Carbing Gave Me A New Lease On LifeI embarked on the Atkins way of eating on August 20, 2000. I went back to my doctor on September 23rd after only a month on the Atkins plan. New results:
- Weight: 275 (Was 257, but remember, I packed on weight following the @*&^# nutritionist’s recommendations and zoomed up to 285!)
- Glucose: 118 (Was 258)
- HbA1c: 9.5 (Was 11.7)
- Cholesterol: 214 (Was 281)
- HDL: 69 (Was 55)
- VLDL/LDL: 145 (Was 226)
- CHO/HDL: 1.5 (Was 5.1)
The doctor took me off my night insulin, cut back my morning insulin, and gave me a new oral med: glucophage. Since then, I have had to cut out my morning insulin cause my blood glucose drops way to low if I take it. I’ve also dropped another 5 pounds. I told Doc I was on the Atkins diet and he was neither concerned nor happy about it. That was before he saw the lab results. After he saw the results, he called me himself to tell me what they were. He said I was on the right track. He didn’t directly support the Atkins plan, but he came close.
If They’d Only Known…
Mom and Granny never knew any better. If her doctor had espoused the teachings of Dr. Atkins, I know that Granny would have used the 10 years from 1978 till 1988 to improve her diet. She always did what her doctor told her to do. I have no doubt she would have been alive today at 87, since her grandmother lived to be 107.
Mom had a problem doing what her doctor told her to do if it didn’t fit what she wanted to do. But, if she had been told to go on the Atkins plan, she would have tried it, and the family would have supported her. She wouldn’t have read the book unless the good doctor had titled it True Story: Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, but she would have made me read it and translate it into Southern for her. I believe with all my heart and soul that she would never have suffered the fate she did if only a doctor had told her to go on the Atkins way of eating.
Its too late for Granny or Mom, but, its not too late for their descendants! I am walking, breathing non-insulin-taking, lower-cholesterol-reading proof that the Atkins plan works.
Return to Low-Carb Induction.