Shortly before Christmas 2016, I had blood tests performed for the first time in about 8 years. I'd switched doctors - and it turns out, my new doc was much more on his toes than doctors I'd seen previously. He called me a few days after my appointment and gave me some bad news: I had type II diabetes - and I had it bad. My blood sugar was 260, and my A1c test, which indicates what a person's blood sugar has averaged in recent months, was 9.5%. At 9% medical guidelines say to put the patient on insulin.
I was shocked. In fact, I was so upset, I mistakenly hung up on the doctor before he was done speaking with me!
But unfortunately, this wasn't my first brush with diabetes.
Beginning to Understand Messed Up Diabetes "Science"
Eight years earlier, while pregnant with my second child, I'd been diagnosed with prenatal diabetes - a type of diabetes that only strikes pregnant women, and then (usually) disappears. (Though having it means you're at higher risk of developing type II diabetes later in life.) At that time, I had to be medicated, and went through all the standard nutritional training that's given to diabetics of all types.
I had a terrible time getting my blood sugar under control, and I remember thinking, "Carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body. What if I just lower my daily carb count?" So I did, and my blood sugar improved...but my dietitian freaked out and told me I had to eat more carbs. Once she ordered me to go home and eat three cups of popcorn. "It will be good for you," she insisted. I did as ordered...and got very sick, my blood sugar skyrocketing.
And yet, my doctors scolded me, saying, "If you just eat the way we tell you to, you'll avoid getting diabetes later in life." When I explained that previous to my pregnancy I ate just the way they were telling me to eat now, they looked at me incredulously.
A Whole Food Diet Wasn't Enough
Fast forward to my recent diagnosis. I'd been eating a whole foods diet for a long time - and a lower carb one at that. I avoided wheat and rice, though I did not entirely omit them from my diet. I ate tons of veggies, and rarely ate fruit or sweets. So I was frustrated when my doctor said, "You really need to stop drinking soda."
"Doc, I never drink soda. Not even diet soda."
"Well you need to stop eating sweets."
"Doc, I very rarely eat sugary things. Not never, but rarely."
"Well, all that processed food..."
"Doc, I almost never eat processed food!"
When I explained how I did eat, he was surprised. We concluded that my genes play a big part in my diabetes, since there is type II on both sides of my family. (In fact, everyone on my father's side has type II - even the thin folks. Yep, you can be thin and still get type II diabetes.)
But then my doctor said the words that changed everything: "Look into a keto diet."
The Key Diet for Diabetics
I'd heard of the ketogenic ("keto") diet before. I knew it was "another low carb diet," but didn't know anything beyond that. In fact, I figured it was pretty much the same thing as the Atkin's diet (which, incidentally, was the only diet I ever successfully lost weight on...and trust me, over the years I worked hard at soooo many diets!).
So I went home and started Googling. Fortunately for me, I ran across a fantastic Facebook group called Reversing Diabetes. Here I learned that it wasn't just a keto diet I needed - it was a therapeutic keto diet that was required. If I followed that diet, I learned, I could, like many thousands of other people, reverse my diabetes.
Happily, the diet was pretty effortless for me. I cut all wheat and rice from my diet. I cut all fruit. I chose only lower carb vegetables. I made sure I ate only moderate amounts of meat. (There is some controversy about whether or not high amounts of protein can cause problems for diabetics.) And the biggest change? I dramatically increased the good fats in my diet. In fact, healthy fats (like olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, bacon drippings, and lower carb dairy like butter, cheese, heavy cream, sour cream, and cream cheese) now made up 70% or more of my diet!
For most people, all that fat is a hard thing to wrap their mind around. But study after study shows that "good fats" are GOOD for our bodies. (I'm not talking about unhealthy fats - processed polyunsaturated fats such as corn, canola, soybean, peanut, sunflower, and grapeseed oil, or processed trans fats, like margarine and vegetable oils.) In fact, countless studies show the saturated fats that have been demonized in recent years are even good for you. (Read more about healthy vs. unhealthy fats here.)
The amazing thing about this was that unlike every other diet I had ever been on, I'm not hungry all the time. I feel totally satisfied, even with smaller meals. In fact, I often skip lunch because I'm just not hungry.
The Results of Keto
|Left: Before keto. Right: 25 lbs lighter after 3 months...and still losing!|
And doing this therapeutic keto diet (also called "Low Carb, High Fat," or "LCHF"), here were the results:
* Within a few days, my blood sugar had dropped to the low 100s - not quite "normal," but much better and definitely out of the immediate danger zone.
* Within about a week, my blood sugar was in the 80s and 90s; that's generally accepted as totally normal!
* After three months, I'd lost 25 lbs. and three clothing sizes. The weight just melted off. I've always struggled with my weight, but this weight loss was effortless!
* After three months, my cholesterol, which had been a bit high, was normal. My bad cholesterol was down and my good cholesterol was up.
* After three months, my A1c was 5%. NORMAL! In fact, according to my blood work, I no longer have diabetes!
Of course, there is no cure for diabetes. I am still diabetic. If I change the way I eat, my blood sugar will rise again. BUT as long as I continue to eat therapeutic keto, my blood sugar will remain in the normal zone. Without medication!
Living with Keto
Can I live with this diet for the rest of my life? Absolutely, unequivocally YES! I feel full and energetic and well. Do I miss some foods? Occasionally. If I have cravings, which isn't often, it's mostly for popcorn. (I think because it's hard for me to get enough salt in my diet...because when your body starts burning fat instead of clinging to it, it also stops clinging to salt; so you need to consume more salt while doing keto.) Eating flavored pork rinds (I know! I can hardly believe I eat them, either!) totally wipes out that craving. And fruit. How sad is it that I finally got the fruit orchard I've longed for and now I can't eat the fruit?! But I can eat some low carb berries, like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, in small quantities. And, joyfully, I enjoy and appreciate them more now than I used to.
Most of all, knowing that I'm preventing all the horrific complications of diabetes, including:
* Heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke
* Loss of vision
* Nerve damage and loss of limbs
* Kidney disease
* Hearing impairment
* Gastroparesis (slow emptying stomach)
* and Alzheimer's disease
gastroparesisis all I need to keep me on track! If I'm ever tempted to stray, I just remind myself of the very real fact that carbs/sugar are poison to my diabetic body. I really have no desire to eat poison.
This is so do-able. Many thousands of type I and type II diabetics have done it.
But What About the American Diabetes Association?
I know some diabetics who go on therapeutic keto and get their blood sugar down like mine, only to have their doctor tell them they must eat more carbs because their blood sugar should not go below 7%.
Notice that the doctor clearly understands that more carbs equals a higher blood sugar count.
Also notice that the doctor doesn't want his patient's blood sugar to be normal. (Normal is 5.7% or lower, folks.)
How can this be? I can't get into the minds of these doctors, but my opinion, and the opinion of Dr. Bernstein (who is a type I diabetic who was the first in modern times to write about how low carb diets control diabetes), many doctors see diabetics as cash cows. Get some diabetic patients, and you're in for years of expensive medical treatment due to direct treatment and complications. I hate to think any doctor would put his financial gain over the health of his patients, but I can come up with no other reason why doctors would insist their patient's blood sugar should be above normal. (By the way, my doctor is not that way. He celebrated with me when my blood sugar returned to normal.)
What about the American Diabetes Association? Why do they advocate a high carbohydrate diet for diabetics (even while mentioning that carbs raise blood sugar)? Again, that's tough to answer. Certainly plenty of research shows that high carbs equal high blood sugar in diabetics, while low carbs equal low blood sugar in diabetics. So one has to wonder if the ADA is also playing the money game. Are pharmaceuticals funding the ADA? I don't know, but it sure makes me wonder.
Frequently Mentioned Concerns
But going into ketoacidosis is deadly!
Yes, it can be. But fortunately ketoacidosis is something completely different from from going into ketosis, which is what you do on a keto diet. Learn more about the difference here.
But you have to eat carbs or your body shuts down!
First of all, no healthy diet should have zero carbs, because you'd be unable to eat any vegetables. Secondly, you do not need to eat carbs. If you reduce your carb intake, your body simply starts making it's own carbs! And it starts burning fat instead of carbs. Don't believe me? Check out these sources:
BioMed Central: "Very low carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass"
Huffington Post: "Actually, You Don't Need Carbohydrates for Energy"
Graeme Thomas: "Are Carbohydrates Essential Or Not?"
Do you get enough nutrients without eating fruit?
Yes! Eating a good mix of lower carb veggies gives me all the good vitamins and nutrients I need.
But fruit is good for you!
Sort of. Fruit is full of sugar, which is why historically it's been treated like a dessert. Yes, it has nutrients in it, but nothing you can't get from vegetables and animal-based foods. And yes, it has fiber. But that does not take away the high amount of sugar/carbs the fruit has, and the fact that they affect your blood sugar.
But low carb diets count net carbs!
Most low carb diets do; that's true. They go by the theory that fiber in food "cancels out" some of the carbohydrates - so eaters subtract the fiber from any given food's carb count. This is why some people refer to certain recipes as "zero carb" even though they clearly have carbs in them.
The problem is, the carbs in such foods still affect your blood sugar. Fiber may delay your blood sugar reaction, but there is still a reaction. So while counting net carbs might be fine for non-diabetics, it's a no-no for diabetics.
But how can you loose weight while eating all that fat?
Because you've been lied to. In the 1980s, dieticians demonized fat, but the science was based on now-acknowledged made up stuff and some very dubious studies. And did you know that one of the big pushers of the modern low fat diet/whole grains movement, Nathan Pritikin, discovered, (according to Sally Fallon in her landmark book Nourishing Traditions), that a fat-free diet lead to many medical problems, including depression, difficulty concentrating, mineral deficiencies, hardened arteries, and weight grain?
Fallon also points out that fat wasn't officially blamed for heart disease until the 1950s. Since that time, "the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per person per year to four." And yet, the rate of heart disease and obesity became epidemic during that same period.
Natural fats are good for you. Your body needs them!
But you'll die of heart disease eating all that fat!
Actually, no. The world's top cardiologists now say dietary fat has nothing to do with heart disease. In fact, they say healthy fats can improve your heart health and that carbohydrates are probably more to blame for heart disease. This, this and this are just three of the many studies that have come out in recent years that support these claims.
I could never eat such a restrictive diet.
Actually, unless you eat anything and everything, you already eat a restrictive diet. :) But truly, I don't feel deprived. One of the joys of adding fat back into your life is that everything tastes so good! As any good chef will tell you, fat equals flavor. And there is such a wide variety of really delicious food you can eat on this diet, it's hard to feel deprived.
Get real; what's most challenging about this diet and how have you overcome these things?
I haven't had a ton of cravings, but when they hit, they hit hard. I already mentioned my popcorn craving and how flavored pork rinds vanquish them. (They have to be flavored for me to find them edible. I'm going to experiment with making my own, more wholesome flavorings for plain pork rinds.) I also sometimes really miss the freshness of fruit in my mouth, even though I really never ate much fruit until we moved to our new homestead last year. I overcome this by knowing the exact carb count of cherry tomatoes (1 per tomato), and often have 4 or so for a snack. I also cautiously eat a few strawberries or raspberries now or then. Chocolate cravings at that time of month are challenging, too, because I think I'm allergic to Stevia (I feel lousy after eating it), and I just can't make myself eat bad-for-you artificial sweeteners. I plan to experiment with some other natural sweeteners (like Erythritol) soon. When I was sick a few months back, I craved carbs - I suppose because that's what I grew up eating while sick. I learned to make "90 Second Bread," which has only 5.7 carbs per serving.
Another challenge is eating out. We don't do it often, and if we go to an American style restaurant, I'm just fine. But if my hubby craves Chinese or Mexican? Yikes. Recently, I picked what I thought would be an okay meal at a Chinese restaurant: beef and green beans. But it spiked my blood sugar; it had a sauce, which I'm sure had either sugar or flour or both - even though I questioned the waitress about any sugars or flours in the dish and she assured me it would be without them.
People tend to think family gatherings would be challenging, but I'm blessed with a family that understands the seriousness of diabetes and tries to make sure there's something I can eat at all gatherings. If you're not so fortunate, plan to bring keto food to the gathering, or eat before the gathering.
The Skinny on Fat
Why the War on Fat Was a Huge Mistake
23 Studies on Low Carb and Low Fat Diets
The Ketogenic Diet 101
A Guide to Healthy Low Carb Eating with Diabetes
Facebook's Reversing Diabetes Group Files
My Facebook Group of Keto Recipes (Very Low Carb/Keto/LCHF Recipes)
My Pinterest Page of Keto Recipes (LCHF Diabetic Recipes)
Diabetic friendly recipes on this blog
Signs You May be a Diabetic
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