A low-carbohydrate, grain-free diet has put my diabetes in remission, and I believe it can help you too.
A History of My Problems With Sugar
So, you read the title and assumed I had a problem with sugar? You are quite right, I did, but not the problem I am sure you think I had.
All children enjoy sweet things don't they? All children are greedy for sugar aren't they? These are both sweeping statements that are patently untrue. Some children don't enjoy things that are too sweet. As a child, I always preferred fruit or savoury treats like salted peanuts to sweets, cake or pie. At the age of seven, I was rebuked by my mother for refusing to eat her lovely home-baked lemon meringue pie. Yes, it was very lovely, but experience had taught me that it would give me a headache.
I was quite wise for a seven-year-old. I was also generally very healthy and quick to make associations between foods that disagreed with me and feeling ill. Lemon meringue pie—even my dear mother—gave me an excruciating headache within half an hour of eating it. She thought I was lying and was hurt that I rejected the treat. I now know that it was a warning sign.
Adolescence and Young Adulthood
In my teens, I was a competitive swimmer—hyper-fit and in training daily—but being offered glucose tablets between races made me feel physically sick. The feeling was one of acute pain and dizziness. I didn't know why then. I now do.
In my twenties, I refused breakfast on a regular basis; cereals left me feeling empty and the Full English was allegedly unhealthy. So, no breakfast for me. When I was out shopping with my mum we might call in a cafe for a coffee and I would refuse the cake or Danish she offered. She asked why. The answer was simple. Eating sugar made me feel tired and hungry but I could not explain this to someone who thought a snack was the answer to mid-morning hunger. A much better answer for me was to do without food until late afternoon otherwise my energy would crash.
A Family History of Diabetes
A quick look at my genetic history might have provided answers to my sugar intolerance. My great grandmother had type 1 diabetes, my father and my uncle both had type 2. In my father's case, cardiac symptoms and migraines presented years before any blood sugar issues became apparent. He observed a low fat calorie controlled diet his entire life so it all came as a shock. He was slim until angina made exercise impossible. In time I was to follow in his footsteps, but as I wasn't in a weight loss spiral and did not actually crash diabetes was not predicted.
Me, Aged Eleven, With My Little Sister and Grandparents
What Happened When I Stopped Swimming
I gave up the swimming to do my GCEs. There were too many demands on my time with schoolwork and learning the guitar. Something had to give, and at this point, the swimming was no longer fun. What nobody knew at this point was that my weight would increase. What followed was a lifetime of failed diets, and by the time I began to get ill, I was about four stone over weight, despite following a regime of around 1000 calories a day for years. At this point, the know-it-all experts will say I must have been lying.
That is not the case.
I was now fighting a battle against the NHS and trying to find out why I felt so tired constantly. Eating made me sleepy, not eating made me dizzy and sick. I couldn't win. I developed some neurological symptoms, shaking in my hands and balance issues. The neurologist diagnosed mental health issues and a morbid fear of diabetes. That was SO helpful! Then I had a lovely and very persistent Spanish GP who insisted on monitoring my food intake and my fasting blood sugars over a period of about two years. The food diary I kept shocked her. She told me I should eat more and that I probably had carbohydrate intolerance.
Eventually, when the fasting blood sugar was high enough, they sent me to the diabetic nurse who said I had type 2 diabetes, needed some special courses and prescribed metformin because it was quite obvious that calorie control and exercise had made no difference whatsoever. She wasn't going to insult my intelligence, it was incurable, would get worse over time and needed monitoring.
At this point, before I show you the awful and embarrassing picture below, I was in fact attending a gym three times a week, doing an hour's workout followed by fifty lengths of the pool. How lazy could a gal get?
Me, Fat and Poorly in 2008
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What Made the Difference?
Being taken seriously for the first time in years made a huge difference. I now had a GP and a nurse onside, and they both recognised that the enemy was not calories—it was my genetically inherited metabolism. The treatment I finally got was to make a real difference.
A quick word of explanation as to why, in my opinion, pre-diabetes is not treated with drugs in the UK as it is in the states: here, diabetic patients are entitled to free prescriptions, and diabetic medications seem to trigger the process.
The metformin? It worked like a miracle drug. I lost half a stone in six months despite eating more and I felt twenty years younger.
Me in 2013
Then the Sugars Began to Rise
When my blood sugar started to rise again in 2016, I began to get worried. Sensible eating and metformin was no longer holding it back. I had been too frightened to try the Atkins diet although I knew there was a possibility it might help. At this point I discovered Grain Brain, a book that frightened me. It was possible that diabetes could lead to Alzheimer's and that carbohydrates had a big part to play. A friend on Facebook recommended I read the Wheatbelly books too.
Now, it is fair to say that I never ate a lot and that I was almost vegetarian. I am allergic to potatoes, dislike pasta and rice sends me to sleep, even the whole grain version. My only excursions into carbohydrates were therefore wholegrain bread (two slices at breakfast and the occasional sandwich), literally occasional sausage rolls and apple pie, starchy vegetables, fruit, pulses and peanuts. It was not going to be easy, but I went for it!
Ten Days of Strict Grain-Free Dieting
Now Looking at One Year of Wheat-Free, Low-Carb Living
Do you know my last series of blood tests returned EVERYTHING in ideal range? I could, I am told, stop the metformin and I probably will with care. I no longer bother counting calories or, I regret to say, net carbs. I don't really need to. Being low-carb has become a habit. I am not a fascist or an evangelist for grain-free eating, but having read the scientific evidence, I made my own decision.
I am grain-free except for oats, which I have in moderation. I enjoy things I previously thought were very naughty like fried breakfasts, nuts, cheese and dark chocolate. I don't feel hungry. I often have to remind myself to eat, in fact. (Ketosis will do that because metabolising fat dulls the hunger hormones whereas sugar swings increase them). More importantly I am well, fitter, happier and, I think, younger looking.
Years of following the advice of dieticians and health gurus achieved nothing for me. I became diabetic because I inherited genes that made me carbohydrate intolerant. I did not have to be greedy to get fat and starvation diets and being a gym rat made no difference.
I am sharing my story because current health advice is often a one-size-fits-all story that is cruel and unkind as well as untrue for people like me. There is actually an alternative. I know there are people out there who are type 2 diabetic because they do eat too much of the bad stuff and exercise too little. Perhaps, like my late father, they became unable to exercise, but we are not all the same.
Be honest about your eating habits and if, like me, you are being let down by poor advice try the strict grain free low carb approach. If it works, what have you to lose? In my case, three and a half stone, four trouser sizes and two shirt sizes down and that awful, nagging tiredness.
Me, on the High Bridge, January 2018
Have you ever lost weight on a diet?
Grain Brain - certainly worth a read!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.